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Wednesday23 July 2014

2D or not 2D? Hugh Davies on the architectural modelling packages that offer you more

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Computers have taken hold of the architectural process as the default means of producing design and construction information. An architect’s office without computer workstations is now unthinkable. However, most computer-aided design remains in the form of 2D drafting rather than 3D modelling. AutoCad dominates the 2D cad market, and all other products position themselves alongside the market leader. 3D cad software is a less mature market and is still much more diverse. And architects could be missing out by not using the 3D capabilities of software packages more effectively.

The big players in 2D cad software — AutoCad, MicroStation and VectorWorks — all contain 3D modelling tools. They have the ability to create accurate and sophisticated models to produce line drawings, rendered images or fly-through animations. Skilled 3D modellers may come up against the limitations of these products, which are likely to concern the ability to model complex curved surfaces or a desire to use the facilities of more specialist rendering packages.

For the 3D novice, VectorWorks has a fairly friendly interface, but for ease of use the favoured solution is SketchUp. Low cost and highly intuitive, it is ideal for creating sketch models that might previously have sent architects reaching for sheets of cardboard or polystyrene blocks. Its rendering capabilities allow the creation of images that are illustrative rather than photorealist.

For complex 3D modelling, particularly where curved surfaces are involved, Rhino is popular. It is currently a PC-only application but an Apple OSX version is being beta-tested, with release expected in a few months’ time. Alternatively, using Apple’s Boot Camp software or virtualisation software such as VMware’s Fusion, Windows PC cad software can be used effectively on Apple hardware.

The concept of the building information model (bim) is promoted by AutoDesk’s Revit, Bentley’s Architecture and Graphisoft’s ArchiCad programs. The goal is to create a single intelligent 3D model of the building from which all presentation and construction information is generated, be this 2D drawings or component schedules. A key selling point is that design decisions are executed in 3D, giving users the ability to identify and resolve conflicts between different building and services elements. The 3D model also lets the user generate updated presentation views of the project at any stage of the design development. Reliance on 3D design files additionally offers the potential of direct transfer of data to computer-aided manufacturing (cam) software.

The concept of bim has been around for a long time but has so far failed to shift the centre of gravity of computer-aided architectural design away from 2D-based cad drafting. For many in the industry, computer modelling is the preserve of the few involved in producing seductive presentation images, and thus is far removed from the day-to-day process of designing and producing production information.

If, as software continues to evolve, more users become familiar with 3D modelling in packages such as SketchUp, the acceptance of fully integrated 3D design might be closer than we think.

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Readers' comments (4)

  • Well thanks Hugh. Most architectural users know as much as you have kindly told us. What is your own position on any of them? Do you have a preference? Why? What is offering us the best BIM usage on a medium sized project in an average sized office.

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  • As a long time (27 years) user of AutoCAD, you are basically saying what I have said for most of that time. If I were taking up 3D now I'd most definitely use Sketchup, which as you say is very intuitive. I, however, user 3ds max for creating both models and from them, AutoCAD drawings and although it's expensive software to buy, it has all the bells and whistles I want and need, whereas Sketchup is lacking in quite a few areas. It's not so much the tools you use that's important but knowing how to use them and achieving mastery of them can often take a very long time. In the end and on the job, it's flat 2D drawings that the industry understands and constructs buildings from. 3D models/details are always open to interpretation and therein lies the problem of producing working drawings in 3D. I'd be very happy if everything was produced in 3D but I thinks that's probably still quite a way off.

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  • Don't forget the most sophiticated software out there to handle this 3D is actually Catia, widely used in many automobile industry and manufacturing industry including swiss watches....The ability to handle huge amount of building inforamtion in extremely large project is unsurpassed.

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  • I'd use 2d for floorplans only :-)

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