The Great Recession has not been kind to most of us in the architectural profession and I was not spared. After being laid off in 2009, I realize that it had been almost eight years since I had done any serious CAD work. My first couple of small projects I hand drafted, but realized that this was not the future for me or my company. Ironically, it was the release of AutoCAD for Mac that got me back into CAD and for the first time in my professional career doing it natively on the Mac.
I have always had to use a DOS or Windows based PC for CAD in the offices I have worked. (This obviously shows my questionable choices in employers.) As I have been a Mac user since 1986, not being able to use my Mac for CAD has always been a disappointment. Granted, there have been options for CAD on a Mac, but as I outlined in Part 1, the CAD programs I have experienced were PC based. During this time, AutoCAD has become the dominant CAD program in the industry and since Autodesk left the Mac platform back in the early 90’s, using AutoCAD on a Mac has never been an option.
Side note: Before I get a ton of emails, (not that feedback is a bad thing) I do not consider using the PC version of AutoCAD in Apple's Boot Camp or running it in a virtual environment such as Parallels as having AutoCAD on a Mac.
In the summer of 2010, I luckily became involved in the beta program for Autodesk’s first native Mac CAD program in 18 years. To Autodesk’s credit, AutoCAD for Mac was not a cheap port of the PC version. They complete rethought the lousy ribbon based interface of the PC version and came up with a new, simple and effective interface that would appeal to the ascetically critical Mac audience. Even though I had little experience with AutoCAD, the elegant interface Autodesk designed for AutoCAD for Mac made it easy for a novice like me to use the app. (That and my wife and friends helping me out.)
Having access to AutoCAD for Mac has allowed me to keep up with my CAD skills, which has been important over the past several years. Since being on my own, I have not always had my own projects, but have consulted with other firms when they needed some drafting help. It is not always glamorous work, but it has allowed me to have some income and keep a flexible schedule. While this has worked, I have continued to look for that perfect CAD program.
As anyone who is in architecture and reading this post knows, AutoCAD is far from the perfect CAD program. The industry is changing and even though AutoCAD is the “standard” used by millions around the world, it is not evolving with the industry. Revit, with Autodesk’s marketing muscle and mindshare is vying for the crown of the perfect CAD program. Although, I have never used it, the comments I have read from those whom I follow on Twitter, tell me it is far from the perfect CAD program.
The rise of SketchUp has had a profound effect on the architectural industry. After a slow start, the purchase by Google propelled the program into the forefront of inexpensive and easy 3D modeling for architects. My issue with SketchUp is that basically once a model is completed, another program is used to draft the construction drawings (CD’s.) Changes made during the construction document phase have to be duplicated in the SketchUp model otherwise they are out of sync. While it is possible to use SketchUp for CD’s, producing them in something like AutoCAD is easier and faster. What I am really looking for is a program similar to my experience back in college using ArchiCAD, where what I modeled became my CD’s and any changes in either the model or the CD’s would be reflected in both. So, you maybe asking yourself, why not just use ArchiCAD? Good question! It is one that basically came down to cost.
Another program that has a long history in the architectural community is Vectorworks. Now you might be thinking that Vectorworks has not been around that long. Well, you would be right, as it was formerly known as MiniCAD, which began first on the Mac back in 1985. Over the years Vectorworks has become a cost-effective solution that combines solid 2D drafting with 3D and BIM capabilities.
I came to own Vectorworks through the generosity of a colleague. As he was forced to cut back on staff, he had extra licenses, which he donated one to me to help me get started. I was then able to purchase, at a significant discount, an upgrade to the current version. I have taken some classes and been exposed to an excellent network of Vectorworks professionals offering training, tips and tricks. Although my intermittent consulting work (using AutoCAD) has kept me from putting in time to learn Vectorworks, it is the program that I would like to build my practice around. Starting with a new CAD program, in addition to learning the basic principals of the program itself, also requires developing drafting standards and defaults. Contemplating this generated a paralyzing fear in me, which I have found difficult to overcome.
This story may yet have a happy ending as the same firm that donated that Vectorworks license contacted me about doing some consulting work for them. I'll soon be immersed in a Mac-based Vectorworks environment getting a chance to see if Vectorworks will become my perfect CAD program.
Ultimately, what is the perfect CAD program? I really do not know, but it might be an inexpensive intern modeling what I sketch.