Vectorworks Summit 2016 was held in Chicago.
Steven E Gross Vectorworks Summit 2016 was held in Chicago.

It is easy to complain about design software. Though the majority of architecture firms spend more than $3,000 per employee on software and technology each year, according to DesignIntelligence’s 2015 Technology, Trends & Innovation Survey, many architects still feel that software developers are oblivious to their needs.

Vectorworks, however, bills itself as a software company that takes pride in listening to its users. Though the Columbia, Md.–based developer of CAD and BIM tools has a considerably smaller market share than that of Autodesk and Bentley Systems, it leverages its responsiveness as a competitive advantage: Nearly 70 percent of the new 100-plus features in its Vectorworks 2016 release came directly from user requests. As a result, it has a loyal following that includes the 600-plus users and design professionals present at its second annual Vectorworks Design Summit, held April 25–27 in Chicago (which I attended as part of the company’s invited press corps).

The three-day summit centered on the role technology can play in the creative process. But, as many tech-centric architects can attest, the highlight at software conferences is typically the preview of new features in the upcoming release. Vectorworks’ new CEO Biplab Sarkar, formerly the company’s chief technology officer, outlined the seven major features debuting in Vectorworks 2017, due out this fall.

1. New Resource Manager


The revamped Resource Manager interface allows users to organize content by the drag-and-drop method into personalized folder structures and to search for new content in online libraries. For example, furniture symbols from an active project can be added to a user folder and then imported into another project, all through this interface.


2. Structural Member Objects
With the Structural Member Objects feature, architects can create columns, beams, and free-form structural objects out of concrete, steel, and timber. Models can be exported to analysis software using the IFC file format, an open file format for exchanging building data.

3. Expanded Landscape Design Toolset
Vectorworks 2017 will include a range of irrigation tools to allow users to calculate and simulate irrigation designs. It will also offer symbol catalogs for standard irrigation equipment.

4. Improved User Analytics
In order to better understand how architects and designers are using its software, Vectorworks has improved its built-in analytics. This collection of data, which runs in the program’s background, will help developers identify the popular tools on which they can focus their efforts. Software users can opt in or out of the data collection.

5. Cloud Services for All

Cloud Services
Vectorworks Cloud Services

In Vectorworks 2017, the company’s Cloud Services will be available for any user; previously, only users on its Service Select subscription plan had access. Non-subscribers will be able to view building models using Vectorworks’ Nomad app as well as store and share files online. Subscribers can take advantage of additional services such as cloud rendering and file storage.

6. Enhanced Graphics Engine
As part of the software company’s efforts to improve and modernize its code base, the latest version includes major improvements to the Vectorworks Graphics Module (VGM). This update will improve performance in 2D panning and zooming as well as in screen regeneration. Regenerating complex drawings in Vectorworks 2017 will also be faster than in previous versions.

7. Web View / Virtual Reality


Lastly, Vectorworks 2017 includes the capability to generate virtual reality–like experiences on the cloud. Designers who export their building models to Vectorworks’ Web View/Virtual Reality interface will receive a URL in return that allows them—and their clients—to navigate the model through a browser on a computer or mobile device, much like a video game. One note: Web View does not currently support virtual reality headsets like Oculus Rift or HTC Vive.

Eva Franch i Gilabert, executive director and chief curator of Storefront for Art and Architecture, in New York, kicked off the summit’s final day with a design keynote that reviewed Storefront’s recent work—including its OfficeUS project for the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale, which chronicled the work of more than 200 U.S.-based design firms and sought to identify a new practice of architecture based on the themes of expertise, exchange, and export.

She also challenged the audience to think critically about their work and workflow and encouraged their use of Storefront as a resource. Storefront is also exploring new methods for activism and outreach with its Letters to the Mayor and World Wide Storefront projects.

Franch advised designers not to ask, “How old are you?” but rather, “How old do you feel?” Storefront turns 34 this year, and Vectorworks turns 31. When measured against the hyper-accelerated timespan of the Internet age, they seem old indeed. However, the vision of Storefront in redefining architectural practice gives it the vibrancy and relevance of a much younger organization. Likewise, the enthusiasm at the Vectorworks summit, combined with the company's commitment to user feedback, makes the software developer seem much like an upstart on the rise.