Software solutions

Making the life of the interior designer that little bit easier. CID looks at the latest design software packages.

The recently completed Massaro House in New York was designed using ArchiCAD.
The recently completed Massaro House in New York was designed using ArchiCAD.

Software for architects and interior designers has come a long way from the limited 2D CAD systems of the 1970s to today's industry changing building information modelling systems. As leading software manufacturers compete with each other for the title of best design package we take a look at some of the latest creations.

SketchUp Pro 6

SketchUp Pro 6 is the new software package in the SketchUp range and the first since Google purchased the company last year. The basic version, SketchUp 6, which includes most functions, can be downloaded free from the internet and is a quick and easy-to-use 3D modelling tool for any aspiring designer, architecture student or practicing interior designer.

"Unlike many CAD applications commonly used by interior designers, SketchUp is focused on the early conceptual phase of a design process, where there's rapid iteration through different schemes and possible solutions," explains John Bacus, SketchUp product manager, Google.

The software package has a minimalist easy-to-learn interface, with most of the screen space devoted to the drawing window. There are only eight toolbars with a limited number of tools in each. The emphasis is definitely on less is more, making it possible to get up and running in SketchUp very quickly compared to other CAD and 3D modelling applications. It also includes an easy-to-use built-in library of predefined components that can be inserted into the model, such as doors, windows, furniture, lighting and so on.

"In SketchUp Pro 6 interior designers can find all of SketchUp's easy-to-use general design and modelling tools as well as a rich set of tools for building design presentations," explains Bacus. "Additionally, all SketchUp users have free access to Google 3D Warehouse's enormous collection of pre-built 3D components." Other capabilities include being able to pick a site location and then interactively watch the shadows change as you change the time settings.

So what new additions have been incorporated into SketchUp Pro 6? The package includes several features, including Photo Match, which allows users to adjust a 3D perspective grid over site photographs and then model 3D elements with respect to the grid or match an existing model with a background photo. Styles is another addition, which allows easy access to a collection of display settings that can be saved and shared. New display types include Sketchy Edges, Watermarks and Fog. However the most dramatic new feature is LayOut, which is not available on the free version, allowing users to quickly create professional-looking design presentations and documentation sets from SketchUp models.

ArchiCAD 11

Recognised as the first CAD product on a personal computer to be able to create 2D and 3D drawings, ArchiCAD enables users to work with data-enhanced parametric objects and create a virtual building with virtual structural elements like walls, roofs, doors and furniture. The software package also stores all information on a central database so that changes made in one view are updated in all others, including floor plans, sections, 3D models and bills of material. A large variety of pre-designed customised objects also come with the programme.

Simon Gilbert, product manager, ArchiCAD explains the addititions to the new software package: "The key differences in ArchiCAD 11 is that we concentrated on new users, giving them the ability to move from a 2D environment to Building Information Modelling without putting them out of their comfort zone. This is done by the use of the Virtual Trace function." This Virtual Trace function allows live coordination among model views, drawing views and layouts. This reduces coordination errors and enables better integration and coordination with external consultants.

Other new features of ArchiCAD 11 include its ability to model slanted curved walls and to generate a set of interior elevations in one step. A new Multi-Storey Hotlinks module enables externally linked module files to be created, linked, managed and coordinated into a master project file. This aids large teams on projects. The software package also now supports Google 3D Warehouse, enabling downloading of models.

Revit Architecture

Autodesk Revit Architecture is BIM (building information modelling) software for Microsoft Windows, formally called Autodesk Revit Building. The software mirrors the real world of buildings, so you work holistically, rather than with isolated elements such as floor plans, sections, and elevations. The application enables the user to design with parametric modelling and drafting elements and includes parametric change technology, so any information that is changed is effectively changed throughout the model.

"At the heart of the Revit platform is the Revit parametric change engine, which automatically coordinates changes made anywhere. This includes model views, drawing sheets, schedules and sections among others," explains Manish Bhardwaj. "If a designer changes the plan layout, the related ceiling plan and other documentation adjusts automatically. If a wall is deleted for example the lighting sconce is deleted too and the schedule of fixtures is instantly synchronised."

New additions to the package include revamped colour fill capabilities for creating colour-coded plans and improved export of materials to 3ds Max. The package also features a new sustainable design with analysis of materials, quantities, energy use and lighting.

VectorWorks Architecture 2008

VectorWorks Architect offers a comprehensive range of 2D, 3D and production management capabilities for all phases of the design process, including pre-design, site analysis, schematic design, design development, presentation, visualisation, construction documentation and material take-offs. Plus, with VectorWorks Architect, you can design just about anything from interior space to custom cabinetry and furniture. This means you are not limited to the building objects VectorWorks Architect provides, as you can create your own.

The software package's BIM technology enables you to design in 2D and 3D simultaneously, with changes made in one view being automatically updated in the other. A customised interface is menu and icon driven and is easy to learn.

VectorWorks 2008 offers a host of new additions. A streamlined interface includes a new Heads-up data display, while the new View Bar simplifies the interface and improves usability. New rotatable 2D views and new rotation modes for 2D tools add to the programme's drafting capabilities and a completely redesigned colour palette means unlimited colour choices. Two-way editing between worksheet and objects in a drawing is now possible. Now, when you change an object's data in a worksheet, it will automatically reconfigure the object in the drawing, even for multiple objects.

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