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My Weekend with Vectorworks 2014

Almost instantly usable, BIM software works well on a Mac and plays well with AutoCAD

By Bill Debevc, December 12, 2013

As someone who for many years used Autodesk’s AutoCAD and Revit in production and consulting, I’ve always wanted to try a BIM (building information modeling) solution on the Mac.

Of the BIM software packages built for Macs, Vectorworks Architect 2014 looked to me as the most interesting of all. Having heard many good things lately from architects using Macs, I decided to spend a weekend exploring the newest release of the program from Nemetschek Vectorworks.

Vectorworks 2014 is available as a bundle that includes all the software packages, or else each program can be licensed individually:

First Impressions

I installed the software (see below), and started up the program. The first impression I had is of a clean user interface, and one that can be tailored for either a single or multi-monitor setup (see figure 1).

The screen is divided into a large drawing area and tool pallets such as Basic Tools, Tool Sets, Object Information, and Navigation. I could move the tools to any part of my screen or to a different screen to suit my needs and working style.

Figure 1: The clean-looking interface of Vectorworks Architect 2014 running on a Mac

I decided to dig right in. After all, who needs instructions when one has years of experience? Using the included template and libraries, I was able to start creating a basic building.

Zooming and panning was intuitive, and so in no time I was laying out a little structure. Vectorworks supports Apple’s Magic Mouse for scroll zooming (and holding down the space bar for panning), but I found I really needed a conventional mouse with its scroll wheel to get convenient panning. I did miss the temporary dimensions that Revit has, but I was surprised to find that Vectorworks’s SmartCursor was very handy alternative.

Thus, my first impression of operating the software was positive enough to invest more time in learning it.

Learning

So it was time to dig in and try their online learning at www.vectorworks.net/training/getting-started-guides (see figure 2). The company did a good job of helping me though the steps of using their software. I recommend that you take the time to watch the introductory videos especially, as they saved me a lot of time in getting up and running.

I was happy to discover that the first instructional video was File and Document Setup; it is always great to learn how to setup a drawing and the environment before getting frustrated. The videos are, however, a little fast to follow along without first reviewing the video, so I recommend you first watch the video once, and then follow along. I find it helpful to play videos on a second monitor, or else on a spare laptop, iPad, Android tablet, or through AirPlay to a TV.

Figure 2: Watching the Vectorworks training videos on a tablet

A nice detail to Vectorworks training guides is that throughout the videos they build on the same model. They provide downloads of the models in their pre- and post-tutorial states; if you get lost, confused, or just want to skip ahead in the topics, you can download the exercise’s starting model and begin.

(If your computer is not online, or if you do not like video training, then you can download a PDF version of the training from www.vectorworks.net/training/getting-started-guides/architect/Gsg-2014-a01-File-and-Document-Setup.php).

Modeling

Modeling in Vectorworks is like any other BIM software, and so I found it very straightforward. Just remember that you are drawing objects, not lines. What struck me was I found myself thinking more about the building than the commands I was using. This says a lot about Vectorworks; even as I was just starting out, the commands were where they needed to be and worked the way I would think they should.

Here are some of the highlights that stood out for me as the "Wow" commands:

Figure 3: Zooming temporarily into a drawing detail with Snap Loop

Figure 4: Specifying options during the Wall Replacement command

Figure 5: Accessing sketch modes in Vectorworks, with a sample underneath

Rendering

Vectorworks implements real-time OpenGL rendering, which means it has the best-in-breed performance and appearance. The computer I use is a late 2012 Mac Mini with a 2.3GHz i7 processor, 16GB RAM, SSD drive, and Intel HD 4000 graphics.

I was at first concerned that it might not have sufficient graphics processing power to use OpenGL. But after tweaking the 3D settings in preferences, to my surprise I was able to spin models and work with 3D smoothly.

What is more impressive is the way that Vectorworks renders tile and brick. In this release, they added ability to add multiple textures to brick so we do not see a repeating pattern: bricks simply look like bricks (see figure 6). In addition, we can add displacement maps to alter the existing geometry; these maps cast shadows on our materials - all very cool.

Figure 6: Bricks that don’t repeat as obviously

Using the Helidon tool, I created a realistic sky, placed the sun by geographic location and time of day, and then added atmosphere elements like fog easily. Adding atmosphere gives a completely new level of realistic rendering to my models, so make sure you give it a try.

Interoperability

We all know it is an Autodesk world out there, which is why Vectorworks not only imports but also it exports DWG and DXF files. In addition, it exports to PDF, QuickTime, Rhino, 3DS, and older versions of its own software - all the way down to Vectorworks 12. Heck, I could even import a SketchUp file into my model.

Figure 7: Export formats supported by Vectorworks 2014

For exchanging models with Revit, IFC is the tool of choice here for 3D objects. For 2D objects, however, you will want to export using DWG.

I recommend that you share data with anyone outside of the Vectorworks world, that you include a PDF version of the drawing set. In this way, the recipient can confirm whether anything went missing from the conversion.

The Publish command makes it easy to save my export settings, and run the export process at anytime.

Installation

Starting this adventure began just like any other by downloading the Vectorworks 2014 program from www.vectorworks.net/trial/2014. Make sure to set aside some time for the download and install, as Vectorworks 2014 is one of the largest at about 7GB (when downloading the full library).

Installation went ahead without any issues, it is a typical "next, next, next" installation. I needed to register with Nemetschek Vectorworks to receive via email the trial serial number. The installer sent me to their Web site to download and then guide me through installing the libraries - which on a Mac is as simple as dragging and dropping the library into Vectorworks.

Conclusion

I begin this little adventure thinking that Vectorworks was just for architecture. Instead, I found that Vectorworks is as comfortable in creating a complete building as it is modeling a remote control for the TV.

Bottom line is if you are a Mac user and need a BIM solution, you should invest a weekend to learn what Vectorworks offers. You may just love it enough to adopt it as the building information modeling software for your company.

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About the Author

Bill Debevc is an expert in Autodesk software, IT and BIM, currently specializing in private BIM cloud technologies. He has over 20 years of experience using, supporting, and customizing Autodesk AutoCAD and Revit software. More...

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