AEC

Chief Architect 9.5 Fills Niche

1 Apr, 2004 By: Michael Dakan

Tools for basic architectural design


ART (Advanced Relational TechnoloGY) continues to develop and improve its CAD application-Chief Architect 9.5-aimed at residential designers and builders. Chief Architect has been around for more than 10 years and has earned a solid reputation among its target group.

Figure 1. With Chief Architect 9.5, it's easy to create a predefined 3D view of a model and set up a perspective camera view.
Figure 1. With Chief Architect 9.5, it's easy to create a predefined 3D view of a model and set up a perspective camera view.

It's refreshing to review a product that has no pretense of being something "entirely new and revolutionary" and doesn't seek to do more than it's designed to do, which is serve an architectural drawing niche. Chief Architect does what it's designed to do very well. It continues to build on a solid and mature foundation that doesn't require those who upgrade to learn a lot of new techniques or working methods to get the most out of it.

Chief Architect is aimed at the individual residential designer-it makes no provisions for larger projects that may require multiple users to work on the same project at the same time. The design is maintained in a single file that contains everything- all floors, foundations, and roofs, for example. Chief Architect does allow multiple floor levels in the design file, with a maximum of ten floors. It includes some provisions for light commercial projects in addition to residential, such as blocks and symbols for office equipment.

Figure 2. The House Wizard quickly blocks out a basic house design using bubble diagram elements.
Figure 2. The House Wizard quickly blocks out a basic house design using bubble diagram elements.

The user interface is simple and intuitive, yet offers a number of sophisticated tools and functions that greatly automate and assist with the layout of the spaces and relatively simple building forms required by the residential designer. Toggling from one floor to another is quick and simple, and you can set any floor to be visible along with the current floor for easy reference. Walls and objects such as windows and doors can automatically align from one floor to another. You can place objects such as doors and windows into walls in an approximate location and then use temporary dimensions to position them more precisely.

Tiled view windows let you establish a working environment that includes plans, elevations, and 3D views of the model. It's easy to create a predefined 3D view (figure 1) and set up a perspective camera view.



House Wizard

Chief Architect contains an interesting, highly automated House Wizard routine. This routine contains space planning and layout tools you can use to quickly block out a basic house design with a bubble diagram. Then convert the bubble diagram to walls and spaces to start a house design.

A series of dialog boxes requests basic program information such as number of bedrooms and baths and whether you want a formal dining room. The program generates rectangular bubbles that represent the spaces. You arrange the spaces and fine-tune the room sizes and arrangement by dragging the rectangles. Once you're satisfied, you can convert the diagram into walls and the beginning of a 2D/3D house model (figures 2–4).

Figure 3. First, block out a bubble diagram of a basic house layout.
Figure 3. First, block out a bubble diagram of a basic house layout.

The conversion process places appropriate doors where needed to provide access to rooms of various types. The automated parts of the routine make intelligent choices about door type and placement. Though it can't anticipate everything you might have in mind, it very quickly generates a plan and 3D model that serves as a good starting point for refinement.

Other Automated Routines

Automated routines for generating stairs and roofs are easy to use. New to Chief Architect 9.5 is the automation of floor openings at stairs. It's simple and fast to edit and replace previously placed objects. You can place a basic set of objects and then refine the design with specific materials and configurations throughout the design process. 3D views of the complete wood framing for a house are generated quickly and easily, along with schedules and material takeoffs and lists.
Figure 4. The program then generates a floor plan from your bubble diagram.
Figure 4. The program then generates a floor plan from your bubble diagram.

The Library Browser provides a tree-based interface through which you browse for objects such as furniture and appliances and drag them into the model (figure 5). The library comes with a large selection of 2D/3D residential furnishings and equipment, wood moldings, entry doors, custom wood shapes such as mantels and cupolas, and kitchen cabinets door styles. Objects new to v9.5 are 3D plants and trees. New terrain modeling tools let you modify a basic terrain model to include hills, valleys, and raised, lowered, and flat areas.

Working Modes and Layers

Most work is done in Chief Architect's 3D architectural mode, where you work with architectural objects such as walls, doors, and windows. A separate CAD mode performs 2D drafting tasks such as architectural details and adding information to the architectural model. CAD mode works much like other CAD programs to draw lines, arcs, circles, text, and other CAD entities.

In 3D architectural mode, layers are automatic and layer names are not customizable. Chief Architect uses numbered layers, although you don't work with layers by specifying the number. The layer definition contains color, linetype, and plotted linewidth properties, and also a description field that describes the contents that are placed on the layer through the architectural program operations. You specify the on and off visibility of different object types by adjusting the layer description.

Figure 5. Use the Library Browser to find objects such as these 3D trees and click and drag them into your model.
Figure 5. Use the Library Browser to find objects such as these 3D trees and click and drag them into your model.

Import/Export and Printing

New to Chief Architect 9.5 is complete file compatibility with the Better Homes and Gardens Home Designer product, which ART developed for the consumer market. A Chief Architect user can easily work with a CAD file provided by a prospective homeowner to refine and further develop the client's design layout.

The program imports from and exports to 2D and 3D DWG and other CAD file formats through the DXF file exchange format. You can map Chief Architect numeric layer names to user-defined layer names during export. The Windows System printer setup handles printing and plotting. It supports any installed Windows printer or plotter.

Rendering is fully integrated with Chief Architect 9.5. You specify colors and textures as part of the definition of an object such as a wall style or furnishing object, and with a mouse click you see a basic rendered view. Chief Architect supports bit-map backgrounds to provide a contextual background for the rendering. Final rendered output adds anti-aliasing for smoothness (figure 6).

Figure 6. Chief Architect offers rendering with colors and textures that are defined as part of an object.
Figure 6. Chief Architect offers rendering with colors and textures that are defined as part of an object.

The program comes on a set of four CD-ROMs that contains the complete program files, object libraries, and a collection of video demonstrations. These narrated video clips are not set up in tutorial format with specific training exercises, although an additional set of tutorials on six CD-ROMs is available.

In the Niche

The latest release of this venerable software is a highly developed and mature application for residential design. The limited scope of what the product aims to accomplish (residential design) allows its developers to focus on refining the interface and functionality to address the requirements of the residential designer. The list of new features and improved functions since we last reviewed Chief Architect (April 2002) is extensive.

This latest version adds complete file compatibility with the ART-developed Better Homes and Gardens Home Designer consumer CAD applications, along with new CAD routines, 3D objects, deck railings, documentation, and other upgrades. Those who specialize in designing and building homes should give Chief Architect serious consideration.

Michael Dakan is an author and independent CAD and information technology consultant in Pacifica, California, and a contributing editor of Cadalyst. E-mail him at michael.dakan@cadalyst.com.


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