In the past, architectural design plans and drawings were seen as something so artistic that, on occasion, watercolours were used as part of the finishing touches of the 2D design. Drawings were produced with the help of compasses, T-squares, and irregular curves. Architectural design services and processes gradually evolved into a more systemised engineering drafting technique, which saw collaborations resulting in the first CAD/CAM systems designed for the military, automotive, and aerospace industries in the 1960s. The age of 2D CAD dawned in the 1980s. Close on its heels, software rendered realistic 3D models, and Autodesk’s AutoCAD debuted in 1982, offering 3D architectural modelling, digital representation and system development, opening up a whole new world of accuracy, cost effectiveness and realistic visualisation. Graphisoft’s ArchiCAD, Autodesk’s 3D Studio and Revit Technology Corporation’s Revit joined the trend soon after, before becoming an Autodesk product itself.
Creating 2D drawings is fast and easy, but the result is still a 2D drawing, which may not be sufficient in some cases. Any change in one drawing had to be modified in other drawings to maintain accuracy and consistency. Increasingly, 3D files, with all the necessary data to develop 3D products, were preferred to 2D drawings. Many companies realise a 3D design is useful in the design stage and can save time and money. Software for 3D models in architecture include AutoCAD, Revit Architecture and Revit in conjunction with BIM.
Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a process of construction that has a way of altering structures: their appearance, their way of functioning and the way they are built. BIM is a combination of digital, spatial and measurable collaboration. Elements in BIM are loaded with data detailing geometry, material, fire rating, cost, manufacturer, count and any other metadata imaginable. BIM ensures that all project disciplines share a single database: architecture, engineering and construction. Right at the design stage, energy analysis can be carried out and even construction expenses can be calculated.
Plans, sections, details, elevations and schedules are created as interactive 3D models with multiple views using BIM. One of the advantages of BIM models is that any change in one view will translate into all other views. Any element moved or removed from the plan will follow the action in elevation and section views, for example.
In architectural 3D modelling, Revit is widely recognized as one of the most technologically compatible BIM applications. BIM helps control calculations and element interactions in a faster, more accurate and easier way and provides a high volume of information about the building.
Clients benefit from 3D design, as it provides a variety of design options to the design team and client. They are able to view 3D models and change the colors of walls, the style of doors and other elements and also view the results.
Impact of 3D Software on Architectural Design
In architecture design, 3D software widens possibilities in a way 2D solutions are not able to do, such as:
1. Minimise costly mistakes
Software designed for 3D modelling enables the testing of building stress factors and tolerances before construction. This saves time, money and possibly disastrous consequences. Analysis tools can simulate the flow of fluids to measure vibrations in key structural components. Simulations help identify design flaws. Also, 3D printers can ‘print’ 3D CAD files as prototypes, saving the cost of creating prototypes conventionally. Each specific component of a structure can be isolated, tested, analysed or changed in 3D, and this can be done with the assurance that no other components are compromised.
2. Work faster and more efficiently
It takes time to make sure that the plans, sections and elevations concur in 2D CAD, whereas in 3D, a completed model can provide this information faster.
3. Increase accuracy and control
Design views of 3D models can be panned, zoomed and rotated. Detailed information for each project section helps improve calculations and communication, leading to more comprehensive decision-making processes.
4. Improve customer satisfaction and approvals
Clients and prospective clients can experience a virtual tour of buildings with 3D software. Clients can view a polished and interactive visual of the final construction. Firms with a 3D printer can proffer a physical representation of designs to clients rather than wait for factory moulding. Clients can enjoy customised building designs, as design elements can be altered easily in 3D rather than how costly it would have been with just 2D drawings.
5. Offer realistic design views
Rather than understanding horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines of 2D sketches, 3D software enables a combined image of architectural services. Viability of plans and design alterations can be viewed in one image.
6. Enable easy remodelling and corrections
As design changes are easy to view and material information is provided in detail, costs can be calculated to greater accuracy.
7. Positively affect project execution
3D technologies that significantly impact project execution:
- Reduction of field interferences
- Less rework
- Increased productivity
- Fewer requests for information
- Fewer change orders
- Better monitoring of cost growth
- Decreased time from start of construction to facility turnover
8. View more of the interiors
Furniture, wall paints and designs, designer ceilings, etc. can be placed within interior views.
Other Widely Used 3D Software Tools:
Autocad is popular among students and professionals and produces representational drawings, which are often stepping stones to 3D modelling. The user interface can be adjusted to preferences and some experimentation with layers and line weights will produce a design with standard drawings and measurable construction details. AutoCAD Architecture is specifically created for architects. It allows architects to draft more efficiently and create a variety of designs and documents. AutoCAD has layers, such as stairs layer, windows layer, doors layer.
An architectural CAD software, this open BIM (Building Information Modelling) software is a complete tool for architects, enabling 3D modelling and visualisation, offering high quality and photorealistic rendering. ArchiCAD modelling allows the storage of large amounts of information in 3D models. It is useful for building design, interiors and urban area design.
When architects create the conceptual phase in 3D, SketchUp enables the quick creation of the design. It is popular for being user friendly, cost effective and having a varied component library. Each object, surface and material has a unique texture. Its rendering capabilities though are limited.
Revit helps create 3D models, renders and 2D construction documents. Building components such as actual walls, roofs, beams and columns and real-world elements such as windows and doors can be used instead of lines and circles. Compatible with AutoCAD, all alterations made are updated in all views, plans and elevations. Coordination and drawing time is reduced significantly. Revit 3D modelling produces tables that show the amount of materials required and exactly where they are needed. The material take-offs make for better planning and predictability.
Revit Architecture allows the automatic production of schedules of building components, thus improving cost and quantity calculations. As Revit is a 3D software for BIM (Building Information Modeling), it has a collaborative facet, which is a huge advantage. Any stakeholder can access centrally shared models on cloud-based locations, such as Collaboration for Revit and BIM 360, and can make changes and communicate these changes to others in the same project. This helps avoid rework and helps save time.
3D Studio Max
3D Studio Max tools have modelling capabilities and a flexible plugin architecture and can be used on the Microsoft Windows platform. It is used by architects for previsualisation.
AutoCAD Architecture by Autodesk allows both 3D and 2D design. Apart from being a great tool for rendering, it can create realistic models with a combination of solid, surface and mesh modelling tools. It also enables easy communication with others on the same project.
A CAD software for architects, it is useful for 3D rendering and is easy to use. With an intuitive interface, it offers smart tools. It can automatically generate building systems. Additionally, 360° panorama renderings can be exported.
Rhino 3D is a major player in 3D modelling. Used for industrial design and architecture, Rhino’s geometry creates accurate models. Grasshopper, a graphical algorithm editor designed for 3D geometry in conjunction with Rhino 3D, offers further architectural options.
One of the lasting effects that 3D software advances have had on architectural design is in altering the nature of business processes. As the architectural design services industry evolves and increasing options for 3D modelling software become available, there is greater demand for qualified technical personnel to provide efficient and accurate designs. This sought-after, technically adept human resource is now available overseas in large numbers and at an affordable cost. In an increasingly global business environment, more firms find the use of overseas 3D modelling services beneficial and this trend seems set to continue for some time.