CAD: The Wave Flows On

After years of resistance and scepticism, architects are slowly accepting computer design systems as competitive assets. We scan different positions within the current industry shift.

This is an article from the Architecture Australia archives and may use outdated formatting

Architects are at last taking to CAD in considerable numbers, though they still lag behind engineers and surveyors in their use of computer technology-perhaps because they have been more reluctant to abandon the traditional art connotations of pencil drawing.

According to Jacqui Giuliano, professional development manager of the NSW RAIA, there is greatly increased interest in CAD technologies and demand for training among architects with diverse backgrounds and levels of experience.

“Beginners are researching the best CAD packages to buy; those who have it want to find out how they can use it more effectively to generate more work, and those practices already employing specialists who are highly skilled in presentation work are continually retraining them,” she says.

To respond to these needs, the RAIA offers its own schedule of courses and joint training ventures with universities-and these days, the CAD courses are always booked out.

Jacqui says those architects who are still resisting the technology often find they cannot compete with those who are using it successfully, so their first toe in the water is usually to purchase the smaller packages such as Minicad and ArchiCAD, to use them as drafting tools.

Larger offices are using the technology more as a design tool and, to avoid double-handling between architects and draftsmen, architects are acquiring the skills to change their own files. “They have also recognised the huge benefits of networking,” says Giuliano.

Certainly the increasing compatibility and ease of use has made it easier for architects to take the jump into technology, and their decisions are based less on if or when and more on how much they can afford and what training is available. More than before, the technology is seen as a doorway to greater competitiveness and profitability, vital when profit margins are being squeezed as tightly as they are at the moment.

Maurizio Nannetti, managing director of ArchiGraph Australia, whose ArchiCAD software is designed exclusively for architects, has noticed markedly increased sales in the last two years and believes that the reasons for the profession’s long-felt resistance to technology, at every phase of the design process, are beginning to crumble away.

“Architects have resisted CAD in the past because they thought it was an impediment to creativity,” he says. “It’s not a dragon spitting fire, it’s actually a very useful tool, particularly for interactive visualisation. And architects are waking up to it now, mainly, I reckon, to keep up with the competition. Their peers are using the technology to win the jobs and to cut costs.”

There is certainly a process of convergence going on, in that software is becoming increasingly intelligent, intuitive and specifically architect-friendly at the same time as practitioners are finding the technology a sine qua non.

David Nimmo, the IT Manager of Crone Associates, one of the largest MicroStation (Bentley Systems) sites in Australia, said that although the older generation of architects were still hesitant about their hands-on relationships with CAD, they acknowledged it was here to stay as a professional tool.

“For those who qualified five or 10 years ago, there is total acceptance of CAD in any practice, while those close to completing their architectural degrees are totally CAD-literate and value the opportunity to hone their skills and knowledge at the coal face,” he says.

As CAD becomes more comfortably bedded down through the profession, there is a gradual to steady change in the degree of sophistication with which it is being applied.

Ron Tuck, Director of CADVISION Australia, supplier of MicroStation software, says that while the majority of CAD users are still using the technology as an electronic drawing board instead of a design tool, his company has seen many moves towards using integrated 3D models, which incorporate design functions. Peter Ambrose, marketing manager of Autodesk Australia, suggests that while architects generally use CAD for their project documentation, a few are applying it to 3D design and development.

“Many have found that if they are using CAD as an electronic substitute for manual drafting, their work practices do not change that much. For CAD to streamline work practices and really make them more effective and competitive, they have to experiment with the full range of industry-specific, architecturally-focused CAD applications,” he says.

An example is increased use of three-dimensional design, modelling and photo-realistic rendering tools and applications, which is bridging the gap between the 3D thought process and the 2D capture of information. By working with 3D CAD early in the design process, the 2D documentation becomes an automatic part of the 3D design process and obviates a time-consuming step in the process.

The IT industry has worked hard to get close to the hearts and minds of architects. During the last two years, the computer industry generally has seen the Wintel (Windows/Intel) platform become almost universally standard at the same time as soaring computer power, acceptable pricing and greatly increased availability has brought the technology within reach of nearly all professionals.

Within the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) professions, hardware and software is rapidly becoming more client-driven, leading to greater peer-to-peer competitiveness. In the wake of more user-friendly software, training is more easily accessible, and contractors are generally more experienced and effective.

There has been an explosion of SOHO (small office, home office) set-ups because they are easy and reasonably-priced, and an increasing use of LANs (local area networks), WANs (wide area networks), the Internet and intranets particularly for collaborative working and easy access to commercial information.

One of the most important software developments for architects, however, is the introduction of object-based modelling and design software, a development that can bring about dramatic changes in work practice. Object-oriented software is far more intelligent and intuitive than its predecessors. It is actually beginning to ‘think’ like architects think. Where the architect might previously have represented a wall by pencilling two lines, he or she can now click on the Wall icon, key in dimensions and qualities and instantly have a 3D wall. Change its dimensions, move its position, insert a window or door-and it adjusts automatically, including calculations of the number of bricks or amount of concrete required; its costs and all its records for future building management. And if it’s a fire-retaining wall, the software is intelligent enough to reject the window.

Another major initiative has been the establishment (initially in the UK in 1995 and since then spreading to North America, Europe, Japan, Singapore and last November also in Australia) of the IAI, the International Alliance for Interoperability. Its members range across the design, building and construction sector, including software developers, architects, air-conditioning manufacturers, engineers, electrical systems suppliers, developers, facility managers and building financiers. Its major aim is to boost construction industry productivity around the globe by up to 30 per cent through information-sharing across all the disciplines and all the computing applications involved in a construction project life-cycle. A first step is developing Industry Foundation Classes to promote effective communication between project teams.

The Australasian Chapter is chaired by John Mitchell, national IT manager of Woods Bagot. The secretary is Adrian Schep of Autodesk Australia and other board members include Dr Ron Sharpe of the CSIRO’s Construction Systems Research and Les Herbert, Lend Lease’s IT Global Services Manager.

For all these trends, developments and promises for the future, a 1997 RAIA membership survey showed that while the percentage of members using computers at work had risen from 70 per cent to 80 per cent compared with 1995, the percentage of those using CAD had dropped from 58 per cent to 55 per cent.

Perhaps the 1999 survey will reflect the dramatic reverse in this trend that those ‘on the ground’ say is happening. Because, as architects and software suppliers agree, “it’s a generational thing” and time is marching on.

Hazel Baker is a journalist specialising in technical computing. She is a former manager of the now-defunct Association for Computer-Aided Design Structures.



Approx 100 architects nationally.
Hardware Windows NT networks on Digital servers with Gateway 2000 and DELL desktops. A small UNIX-based network is being phased out.
Software MicroStation and Autocad for design and documentation. Add-on rendering packages, Masterpiece and Accurender, increasingly used. Hewlett Packard Design Jet plotters, Hewlett Packard lasers.
Reasons for choice Both platforms meet the needs of our clients and ensure efficient collaboration with external consultants.
Range of functions Both packages are used for design development and documentation for architecture, landscape architecture, interior design and town planning.
Benefits It has enabled us to become more efficient and respond to our clients’ needs more quickly. Internet email and FTP enable fast and efficient exchange of information between Hassell offices and our consultants. The forthcoming Hassell Virtual Private Network will enable our offices to receive the full benefit of Internet connectivity. Both Autocad and MicroStation can be customised to our requirements while remaining compatible with external consultants for data exchange. This means we can control documentation standards during data exchange.
Challenges Getting traditional architects to accept the new technology. Moving from drawing board to keyboard is in many cases the biggest hurdle. Training at all levels is now a large part of an architectural practice’s IT budget. Technology has also increased client expectations to the degree that they require the highest standard of detail and graphic presentation for even the smallest projects- Andrew McLean.

Crone Associates
Approx 50 architects, Sydney
Hardware Compucon PCs ranging from Pentium 100s to Pentium 233s. Most CAD computers have twin 17” monitors. Printers: OCÉ 9400, Novajet colour inkjet (A0), Hewlett Packard 600 inkjet (A0); three Hewlett Packard 4MV A3 lasers.
Software 35 MicroStation licenses on a Novell 4.11 network. Will be upgrading all to MicroStation SE when available. One licence of Autocad R.14; reviewing Triforma and ArchiCAD.
Reasons for choice Microstation’s impressive 3D and image creation using Masterpiece; easy import and export from and to other software; easy to customise; smoothed the process of getting architects onto CAD, compared to previous system (GDS). In my opinion, MicroStation is the best software for documenting large buildings.
Range of functions Standard CAD usage ranges from early basic feasibility studies, through area measurements at sketch stage, visualising, design and 3D modelling to documentation. It is used for all projects generated by the practice.
Benefits Greatly reduced cost of documentation; speeded up entire design process; faster turn-around time; allows better communication between all consultants. MicroStation gives the client a better visual of the building; allows the architects to fully develop and understand the design; generates accurate shadow diagrams easily from a 3D model.
Challenges Keeping up with advances in CAD software, hardware and plotting/printing; the need for constant training; getting across to senior staff the benefits of IT and computers in architecture- David Nimmo.

Flower & Samios 
Thirteen architects, Sydney
Hardware Apple Power Macs. Printers: ENCAD CADJet 1 (A0), Tektronics ColorQuick (A3), QMS 860 laser (A3), Epson Stylus 600 (A4), Apple Stylewriter Pro (A4).
Software ArchiCAD, cumTerra, Studio Pro, Photoshop, Director.
Reasons for choice This combination allows us to design in 3D from the outset and performs a linear process of work. ArchiCAD in particular has all the functions for architectural design plus communication/ documentation.
Range of functions Land modelling in 3D, project modelling in 3D, site analysis, sketch plans, working drawings, details, schedules, room data sheets and quantities. Also renderings, sun-shadow studies, animations, montages and public presentations.
Benefits Makes the design - document - communication process linear. Almost eliminates reworking/redrawing at different phases of work. Allows us to model at any stage from sketch to detailed drawing, and produce animations, montages and other communication media without having to produce documents specifically for that purpose. It is also all on-line. It allows us to perform tasks that were not possible before.
Challenges The biggest challenge is to change the way we think and work in the design process. All contemporary architects are trained to work with pencils and paper. But for the greatest benefit from this information technology they need to train in the use of what are essentially communication tools- John Flower

 Donaldson & Warn
Ten architects, Perth
Hardware Eight Apple Power Macs, most networked. Hewlett Packard A3 LaserJet printer.
Software Minicad 7.0. Considering ArchiCAD to integrate 2D and 3D with rendering programs. Photoshop and Pagemaker for graphics, submissions and reports. Claris Impact, FileMaker Pro, Word and Excel.
Reasons for choice Minicad gives good results relative to costs; staff find it easy to learn. Its 3D graphics are limited but adequate for the moment, as we have concentrated on getting our 2D standards consistently high and reliable, and improving our 3D imagery.
Range of functions Minicad is used for project planning, documentation and some presentation drawings.
Benefits Clarity of documentation and time savings, especially where information is repeated. Graphic standards for our reports, submissions and marketing information are of a higher standard. Computer-generated visualisations help the design team to communicate better with each other and the client. Photomontages are helpful when addressing larger client groups. Design software allows architects to contemplate more complex building forms.
Challenges Constant cost of upgrades. Keeping control of the volume of information generated by computers, including developing checking and archiving procedures and updating documentation manuals. Finally, because computers tend to encourage architects to make everything visually attractive and completely accurate, it is a challenge to keep everyone focused on the content rather than the presentation- Geoff Warn.

Melocco & Moore
Three architects, Sydney
Hardware Apple Macintosh: much easier to use than PCs and the software we wanted was only available on Macs. Apple Stylewriter II (A4), Canon BJC 4550 (A3)
Software Minicad, for its price, power, ease of use and good 3D component.
Range of functions Not used for initial sketch or detail designs, which is still done on the drawing board, where it’s easier to ‘think’. Is used for measured drawings and as a design development tool, particularly 3D models. Because CAD is not the be-all and end-all for us, we tend to move between the computer and the drawing board, which is often the key to using the system efficiently.
Benefits Principally for documentation. Minicad converts 3D images into 2D to make the bones of the documentation drawing for council and builder, which is a great time saver.
Challenges Finding time to learn the programme, especially the 2D/3D relationship. Many firms seem to use only the 2D component. To us this is a waste of good software and time- David Melocco.

Clinton Murray
One architect, Merimbula, NSW
Hardware 486 PC, Canon BJ330 printer (A2), Hewlett Packard Desk Jet 400 (A4).
Software Autocad R.12. Used Autocad and ArchiCAD in a corporate office before I went solo and prefer Autocad for ease of use.
Range of functions Drafting only. Never design.
Benefits of the technology Ease of use, portability.
Challenges I’m not into computers, and believe you don’t need software to do a successful project. But if you want to work for committees, they do respond well to colour perspectives; no matter what the quality of the design. I recently lost a job because I didn’t have a 3D drawing-which I would have found easier to do on computer than by hand. It might have been a nice job to get, but I am doing other things, with fantastic clients, working one to one- Clinton Murray

Image: Arunas



Published online: 1 May 1998


Architecture Australia, May 1998

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