REVIEW OF VECTORWORKS 2016
By John Helm Architect
2016 could be the best year yet for Vectorworks. There is one big addition to the software that might just make all the difference. In just about every review I have written I have complained that it was still best suited for the small to medium firms due to its lack of file sharing. That is it was possible but difficult for more than one person to work on a file at the same time. Well it looks like they took my advice that is, mine and many others. And they didn’t just make file sharing possible they made it easy and intuitive.
The first thing you will do when installing the new version is use the new Migration Manager command which can automatically migrate custom workspaces, preferences, templates, favorite files, and libraries to the new Vectorworks version. This should be a welcome tool as it eliminates most of the tedious work of resetting everything when you install the latest version.
From my initial look it will make team work easy and fun. They have taken a sort of social networking approach in which team members can communicate with each other while working on a team project. If you need extra layers, post a note and a team member can respond agreeing to make them. A complaint which I might call an advantage is that individual objects cannot be checked out for work, one must check out an entire layer. That’s what makes it intuitive; VECTORWORKS users are familiar with the layer setup so the team manager can easily assign layers to team members. I can imagine the confusion without a lot of management in that rival product Revit where “work sets” can consist of just about any object.
I immediately wondered if file sharing could also be used over the internet, that is could someone work on a project from home or from another office while others worked on it in the primary office. I could not really try this myself but here is a quote from Christiaan Briggs, “I’ve been using Project Sharing over a VPN between my home in London and our office in London, both on very good internet connections. The save and commits were quick (much much faster than WGR updates for instance). Very workable in my opinion. On a slower connection you might have to go get a cuppa tea but I suspect it would still be very workable.” I would say that this also opens up some great opportunities for smaller offices to joint venture on projects they could not do on their own. I can even imagine joint venturing with offices in other countries. Yeah, I could be available, get your office working round the clock using different time zones.
What else has changed; they talk about 100 improvements. Of course those improvements are spread throughout the various disciplines that VECTORWORKS covers so my focus will be on the big ones and those closer to my field of architecture. Here is a short list taken from the VECTORWORKS press pages:
- Project Sharing is an intuitive means for teams to communicate and collaborate while working concurrently on the same Vectorworks design file.
- Subdivision Modeling allows designers to transform primitive shapes like spheres and cubes into any form imaginable.
- Marionette is the first and only cross-platform, Python®-based graphical scripting tool in the AEC, landscape and entertainment industries. Designers can create visual scripts that take advantage of Vectorworks software's 2D and 3D modeling capabilities, integrating seamlessly with BIM environments.
- Energos offers a dynamic, intelligent gauge of a building’s energy performance during the design process and is based on the Passivhaus calculation method.
- Point Cloud Support allows designers using their preferred 3D scanning device to capture a physical location and import a 3D point cloud object into Vectorworks software to manipulate and measure.’
- Roof Components and Styles will interact with wall components ensure accuracy in the documentation of sections and elevations. Roof faces and roof objects now have the same component representation as walls and slabs, further extending the power of BIM.
- Landmark Site Modifier and Hardscape Tool Improvements help landscape professionals and urban planners design more efficiently and be more creative with pavements and walkways, including sloping hardscapes.
- Several New Features and Improvements in our Renderworks module include an upgraded MAXON Cinema 4D® render engine, Caustic Capabilities with refraction of light through translucent surfaces, Ambient Occlusion that adds depth to designs with more realistic shadowing and the New Grass Shader, as well as new camera effects, such as depth of field, exposure, vignette and bloom, allow for more realistic and striking visualizations and animations.
No it’s not for modeling your latest tract house subdivision project. Take any shape and manipulate it until you have created that impossible to build shape that will get you fired either by your client or your boss. But hey how much fun did you have doing it. I imagine Zaha Hadid wishes she had a copy of VECTORWORKS, maybe she does. This is one of those features of VECTORWORKS that most architects won’t get a lot of use out of but it also shows the breadth of the program. Design a chair as below to be 3D printed or that 1960’s looking concrete free form structure from the VECTORWORKS demo video. Why not take the program home and design some cool toys for your kids that you can 3D print.
What you can do with Surface Modeling
There is one that brings a smile to my face. They call it “Marionette, the first industry, cross-platform, Python®-based scripting tool”. Why am I smiling, it’s because it will allow one to write a program that automates some repetitive activities within VECTORWORKS without actually writing anything; just pick and choose from a list of predefined bits of script that appear in graphical form. Connect the pictures with lines and there you go; you’ve “written” your own little program. We architects who couldn’t care less about learning coding have got to love it. OK so I’m not totally sure how I would actually use it but it seems a great feature and I’m sure the ideas on how to use it will arrive.
Above is my attempt at using Marionette. First you connect the “Nodes” as shown then “Wrap” them to make the block called Create Column (the Wrapper) then proceed to run it. Inputs of radius, height, etc. are input in the Object Info pallet of the “Wrapper”. There is a learning curve but it’s doable.
Point Cloud Support
I admit I had to do a Google search to find out what the term means. Point cloud is the name given to various methods of 3D scanning of objects which can be anything from a simple toy to a complex building. VECTORWORKS now allows the import of point clouds in several formats. The idea is that VECTORWORKS can use the imported images to manipulate and measure. This is ideal for working with existing buildings. The important thing to keep in mind is that the industry is going more and more virtual. With VECTORWORKS and most other BIM software the virtual walkthrough has been around for a while and as the software gets better so does the virtuality of the walkthrough. Can we now combine our BIM model with real world scanned buildings and environments. The next step is the use of visualization goggles to let the viewer immerse himself in our architecture before it’s built. Next step after that is that we don’t even have to build it; just let the occupants imagine that it exists and interact virtually.
When we look at new features we have to look at those that are really new features not just changes or improvements to the existing program. Energos is just that. Saving energy is the hot topic these days. Energy calculations have been required in states like California for years and in Europe many countries are requiring all new construction to meet high standards of energy performance. So what could be better than a program that comes with VECTORWORKS and runs within it, no need to export to an outside program. That’s pretty much in keeping with what I have always like about VECTORWORKS. That is that it’s one program that will do everything the designer or architect needs to do to complete a design and present it.
Here is a quote from the VECTORWORKS help file: “Energos is the integrated energy analysis component of the Vectorworks Architect program. With both graphical and numerical feedback based on the Passivhaus calculation method, Energos allows you to evaluate the energy performance of a building even if you are not an energy analysis professional. Easy-to-understand feedback will assist you in both the early design stages and as the building design evolves.”
Of course there is a bit of work involved; your model must consist of elements that contain the information regarding energy consumption, heat loss or gain, etc. However, to make the job easier the program comes with some basic configurations for residential and non-residential building types.
Typical readout from Energos showing a performance level
Renderworks is the rendering feature sold as an add on to the various versions. It’s a must have as most of the 3D rendering capabilities are lost without it. The question is why design in 3D and not be able to present it in the best way possible. It is improved again this year with an upgraded MAXON Cinema 4D® render engine. What this means is that the user need not go to any other software in order to produce spectacular photo realistic renderings. Some people will tell you there are better choices for rendering, but do you really need to do more than you see in the picture below. The only thing to be disappointed about is not having the projects that allow fully using the program.
Renderworks samples from the VECTORWORKS website
3D Export to PDF
You made that great model of your design now what. You invite your client to your office or take your laptop to a meeting for a virtual walk through and you might even make a movie, or print out various views. All of that is easy with Vectorworks. But an even easier and more fun thing for your client is being able to send him the model that he can view, walk through, and play with at his leisure. This was possible in the past with the viewer program. But with the export to 3D PDF this becomes easy for the designer and the client. The 3D PDF program allows one to turn layers on or off, make sections, walk through and fly over. It’s all very easy and uses the Adobe program most of us already have. This is a feature not given much attention in the news releases, but really, a very useful tool.
3D Modifiers for Slabs and Create Slab Style
This is a big deal. You could do this in the past by creating a slab then combing or adding elements to an extruded polygon. But how much fun is that. The new tool makes it easy and you can even create slab styles for use on other projects.
Slab Created with the 3D Slab Modifier Tool
Other changes and improvements
Here is a list of a few that I have not covered but think are important you can read about them on the VECTORWORKS website:
Linked Section Markers
Door and Window Improvements
Stair Improvements, woops they missed this one
Improved Autojoin Walls
Roof Component Styles
Section Elevation Marker
Story and Style Edit Menu
Props are symbols made in such a way that in 3D views they always face the viewer. This is useful for making and placing objects in rendered views. Since, they are 2D they add very little to the file size. They are basically like props in a stage setting. I have made several using pictures of real people and have them for sale on my blog: http://www.helpudesign.blogspot.it/ On the blog you can also find past reviews of VECTORWORKS.
VECTORWORKS is both a Mac and PC program so the files can go between them without issues. Many architects are afraid of AutoCAD, that is how can they work with all those consultants who use it; they needn’t be. VECTORWORKS comes with a long list of import export options including, IFC, 3DS, Dwg, etc, allowing one to move easily amongst the various popular CAD and BIM programs.
Training and Learning Vectorworks
I contend that anyone with experience using computers, and other CAD programs can pick up the basics and be productive with VECTORWORKS on their own in a few days. But there are online and onsite courses and perhaps the best way to train new hires or learn oneself is to get a copy of Jonathan Pickup’s “Vectorworks Architect”. He takes a step by step approach starting with the basics. If you spend a week going through all the exercises you will be good to go on just about any project. If you are really a newcomer to CAD start out with “Vectorworks Essentials”. http://www.vectorworks.net/training/guides.php
I have not attempted to touch on all the features of VECTORWORKS but to discuss a few of the changes and additions in the latest upgrade. As far as I can see nothing has been taken away and only new stuff added. So have a look at my previous reviews which you will find on the internet for more discussion of other features. http://www.helpudesign.blogspot.it/2015/01/vectorworks-2015-review.html. This year’s issue has made some really big changes which will make it an absolute purchase or upgrade for any but the one man office. Primarily I’m talking about file sharing. It has been the one big thing missing from the program and now it has it. VECTORWORKS is a well-rounded program which is easy to learn. Check around for user reviews on the internet and find how people have picked it up and been productive in just a few days of self-study. The designer series comes with a full set of packages, lighting and set design, landscape design, architecture and just design in general. Use it to design a poster, a chair, a tool or a cathedral. In today’s world where we all have to at least be prepared to move sideways in our careers what could be better than knowing how to use a program that can go along with us.
I used it to modify this Logo, and I’m thinking about building a Murphy Bed for the guest room workout room at home.
The sad thing is that too few people use VECTORWORKS compared to Revit and AutoCAD. And that has nothing to do with the quality of the program.
Easy to learn efficient to use
It’s a one stop shopping program for anyone in the design business.
No need to learn and purchase 2 or 3 programs to get your work done
File sharing is easy to use and learn.
Offsite file sharing is possible using VPN
Energy analysis included in VECTORWORKS architect.
The price is reasonable.
Allows cross over work from architecture to design, lighting, stage design, and landscape design.
Numerous import export options makes working with consultants using other programs easy.
Non plug in symbols cannot be modified in batches.
No multi view screens
Relatively low user base
Limited job opportunities in the architecture industry
I like and have used VECTORWORKS for years in my architectural practice. I would like to see more people using it; I have not had a lot of experience with other programs and I am not capable of or willing to say other programs are better or worse. I was also given a free copy so that I could write this review.
Helm & Melacini Architects