Designers entering the profession today might not believe it, but there was a time not too long ago when the closest an architect could get to computer-aided design was an Etch A Sketch. The release of AutoCAD in 1982 revolutionized the industry, and 25 years later, the design process is being turned on its head yet again, with the popularization of 3-D modeling and building information modeling (BIM). In some ways, says Autodesk senior vice president Jay Bhatt, the latest change is even bigger: “Unlike CAD, which moved drafting from paper to screen, BIM represents an entirely new vision and workflow for the A/E/C industry, where digital design tools capture and make available consistent and coordinated information to all stakeholders in the process.”

BIM is emerging as an industry standard, and Autodesk is once again at the forefront with Revit Architecture. But, Bhatt says, “Because BIM represents such a paradigm shift, ubiquity will not happen overnight.” Not everyone has jumped on the BIM bandwagon. Some users are content with 3-D modeling. Since even the idea of working in 3-D is still relatively new, and since different practices have different software needs, there are still a number of 3-D modeling programs fighting for dominance, even within individual technology companies (Autodesk, for example, currently owns Revit, 3ds Max, and Maya). Moreover, no single program satisfies everyone's needs. Considering the economic investment of the transition from a 2-D to a 3-D design process (in the millions of dollars for larger firms), program allegiance is not a decision to be made lightly.

This is not a photo; it's a rendering, showcasing the realistic qualities of 3-D rendering as well as program interoperability. Autodesk's Revit Architecture was used for the building information modeling, and 3ds Max was used for visualization and more dimension.
This is not a photo; it's a rendering, showcasing the realistic qualities of 3-D rendering as well as program interoperability. Autodesk's Revit Architecture was used for the building information modeling, and 3ds Max was used for visualization and more dimension.

Conversion entails a greater investment than the program purchase; training is also a big expense. Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas and Co., a firm headquartered in Norfolk, Va., is in the midst of transferring its designers from AutoCAD to Revit. The company is introducing the program team by team as new projects come on board, and nearly 20 percent of the designers have made the switch. To facilitate the process, the company has set up training sessions every month, bringing in a paid consultant from Autodesk. The designers are happy to have made the effort. “BIM allows you to be an architect,” says principal Stephen Wright. “The programs are intuitive enough to take a back seat and let the architecture shine through.”

Architects seem to be climbing on board. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the A/E/C community responds, from product manufacturers to contractors. But with so many factors to consider, that response will be calculated and years in the making. In the meantime, take a moment to ponder four of the latest 3-D modeling software upgrades.

Revit Takes Command

ArchiCAD 11



Graphisoft's ArchiCAD continues to evolve into a fully BIM-enabled software package. It's designed to support every stage in the building process, with early design iterations and fast-sketch modes as well as detail-level design tools for offsite fabrication and coordinated digital construction sequences. ArchiCAD is focused on the practicalities of building and helping the A/E/C industry achieve a digitally integrated construction process. As such, it comes with a learning curve, but the payoff comes in the form of solid operations, automatic and associative dimensioning, reliable seam tolerances, and file-sharing options for managing complex virtual models that rely on precision data and multiple import/export functions. ArchiCAD functions as a hybrid 2-D/3-D environment, where a design can be developed and executed in 3-D, with the ability to generate sections and plan views as needed for the production of traditional document sets. ArchiCAD also offers a repository for sharing already modeled objects and textures, and it is compatible with a handful of plug-ins for glazing, object creation, freehand drawing, terrain modeling, free-form structures, Navisworks design review tools, and finite element analysis for structural engineers.

Software interoperability: ArchiCAD supports DXF/DWG transfers and ICFs; exchanges with structural analysis programs including TEKLA; structures and energy analysis programs such as Green Building Studio, Energy Plus, Riuska, ArchiPhysik, and Ecotect; export to Google Earth; as well as import from Google SketchUp 6 and Google 3D Warehouse.

Improvements: Virtual-trace technology allows better coordination between and simultaneous development of the 2-D documents at the same time as the 3-D model

  • The worksheet tool allows user to integrate consultant information easily into the model data
  • Interior elevations are continuously updated
  • Complex elements geometry allows more freedom with curving and slanted surfaces
  • Faster navigation through the model
  • Multistory buildings can be hotlinked and separated into smaller pieces for concentrated design work