Best Software for Architecture
Best Software for Architecture
The best architecture software is invaluable for the digital design of buildings and models. Design software replaced pencil and paper for architectural drawings in the mid-’90s and since then, there’s been an explosion of programs enabling professionals to create and plan projects easier and faster. Not only does software make for faster designs and changes, but it automates measurements and dimensions reducing errors, and there’s a wide range of other benefits.
For each general category, there is always a range of software options which can often be overwhelming when first starting and deciding what works best for your design practice. To help with the decision-making process, below are the general categories of software every architectural firm should consider and some of the pros and cons of each.
We aimed to recommend the best architectural software based on what worked well for us as we balanced the cost of the software with the features and performance for our firm’s needs. Also, many of the software options have tiered pricing for different sized companies so hopefully, they will be affordable for a firm from one or two people just starting to larger offices with larger budgets.
Why should you use software for architecture?
A 3D modeling software is an essential tool if you’re working in the architecture sector. It can be used by architects, interior designers, but also by students or civil engineers, to create their models or structural designs. It’s a really good way to obtain a better visualization of your projects for your clients. For example, you can use a lot of different materials and textures. This allows you to get a photorealistic rendering. CAD software is also a good solution to edit, do and re-do models very quickly and easily to match your expectations. It can turn your ideas into detailed designs!
Moreover, if you’re looking for better collaboration inside your team, some software is using the cloud and will allow you to optimize communication. Your work will be accessible to anybody, and you’ll all be able to work on the same model.
Choosing the right architecture software for designing
You will have to check several things before making your final choice. You will have to ask yourself the right questions. What kind of software do you need? A free architectural rendering software? Or an architectural drawing software? A 3D architecture software for Mac or Windows? Indeed, you will have to pay attention to your operating systems before choosing a 3D program.
You will also have to check what is best for your professional use. Do you want to use architectural software to help your design team collaborate, or get better visualization for your customers?
Indeed, there are some software more focused on architectural visualization for good 3D rendering and visualization. There are also some free software or software with a free trial. Let’s check what are the different options and software for architects.
Best Architectural Drafting/Modeling Software
Autodesk Revit/Revit LT
Revit is by far the most commonly used BIM software in the architectural industry in the United States. This is why we recommend it for firms of all sizes. We adopted it from day one of starting our firm which allowed us to streamline the design process, minimize the learning curve of using various programs, and easily coordinate with consultants. Revit LT is a lighter version of the full software and has almost all of the features you will need if you are a small firm or work on small projects. I would say it is good enough for firms in the 1-8 person range and is perfect for residential or small commercial projects where only one architect will be working on the project at a time.
Pricing Plan of Revit Software:
$6,550/paid every 3 years
The main difference between the two is that you can have multiple people collaborating on one model at the same time in the full version. This is great for larger, more complex projects and larger teams, however, the price is definitely significant especially for smaller firms just starting. There is a large user-base that offers tips, plugins, model elements, and other resources. This is the go-to drafting and BIM modeling software we recommend.
There are two main downsides to going with Revit. First, it doesn’t run on Apple computers. So if you are using Macs you will either need to Bootcamp your computer and install Windows or use Parallels to get the software to run. I really wouldn’t recommend it and if you want to use Revit I would purchase windows based computers for your office. Second, the files can become very large and tough to manage. We have had files quickly grow into hundreds of megabytes even for relatively small projects. Some larger more complex models can be gigabytes in size – taking up a lot of storage and often making the model slow to open, save, and respond.
The only true competitor for Revit, ArchiCAD, is another BIM software specifically designed for architects, giving it a friendlier interface and being a bit more flexible in design. I know a lot of people who swear by it as a vastly better program for the design than Revit. However, it isn’t as commonly used throughout the industry and almost no consultants use it, making it harder to coordinate with engineers, and others. The main benefits are that it runs natively on Mac operating systems, and maybe a bit more intuitive to learn. However, we place a lot of value on adopting industry standards so it is easier to share files and collaborate with others which is why Revit is our recommendation.
Pricing Plan of ArchiCAD Software:
There are two types of subscriptions available for ArchiCAD Software,
- Archicad Solo Version
- Archicad Full Version
The pricing plan for ArchiCAD Solo Version is,
The pricing plan for ArchiCAD Full Version is,
There is a good reason that SketchUp is used by pros as both 3D architecture software and a BIM program. To date, SketchUp has been a favorite to create architectural conceptual drawings. However, the stand-out feature that makes SketchUp a potential 3D architecture software, is its vast marketplace of extensions. A considerable number of these plugins add BIM-like features to SketchUp.
SketchUp is another commonly used modeling software but has some major limitations. It is really good for quick iterations, massing studies, and concept explorations. However, when you are ready to start developing the design in more detail it is a very clunky and unrefined software. It is ideal for small projects that don’t need a lot of details. We would sometimes use SketchUp during schematic design, but as the team became experts in Revit this quickly faded out of our design process. Its shortcomings really come to the fore when trying to draft 2D drawings and details. It just doesn’t offer enough control of line weights and types to get a nicely developed detail drawing.
The pricing plan of Trimble SketchUp Software:
In Trimble SketchUp Software there are various packages available, and its prices start from FREE to $1199 USD/yr
At this point in our profession, we would recommend that everyone use a Building Information Modeling (BIM) 3D program. This is why we didn’t include software like AutoCAD or other 2D drafting programs. If you are starting a firm or considering adopting new drafting software go with a BIM program, otherwise you are starting with antiquated tools.
Best Rendering Software
One of the great things about BIM software is that most of them can export 3D views very quickly and easily and many have built-in rendering options. It is a bit clunky but the renderings that you can create from within Revit can look pretty good, especially after a bit of post-processing in photoshop. However, there is a new approach to rendering that is really changing how they are used throughout the design process, rather than simply for fancy presentation graphics. Rendering plugins with live updates are allowing designers to design and update their model while seeing real-time what these changes look like in a rendered environment.
When I first started playing around with Enscape it quickly became clear how useful it would be as a part of the design process. Getting live views of the rendered environment while working on the model was incredible and changed the way I was designing. It is a plugin for SketchUp, ArchiCAD, or Revit (although Revit LT doesn’t allow plugins so you need the full version) so can seamlessly fit into your typical workflow. It has a low learning curve so you can quickly get the hang of the software and get your team using it on a day-to-day basis. The objects and textures that it comes with help make renderings good enough for client presentations with minimal extra work and without the need for lots of post-processing in photoshop. All-in-all it is a great tool and the recommended option for in-house rendering.
The pricing plan for Enscape Rendering Tool:
14-Days free trial
Floating License: $58.25/ month
Fixed-Seat License: $39.08/ month
Another rendering software option that is getting widespread adoption in architectural offices in Lumion. Like Enscape, it is possible to get live updates of the rendering while working in the model which really changes the way renderings can and should be used. It seems to be a bit more mature as a rendering engine when compared to Enscape and has more features, like animations and objects. However, it is over twice the price so is a more significant investment and could be out of the budget for many small architecture offices.
The Pricing of Lumion Software
There are two different versions available in Lumion 11.
- Lumion (€ 1499)
- Lumion PRO (€ 2999)