ADT 2004 hits its stride

30 Jun, 2003 By: AIA ,H. Edward Goldberg

Autodesk polishes its AutoCAD-based architectural application.

Architectural CAD software has matured greatly from its beginnings in the 1980s, and users have become more discriminating purchasers. Today, software upgrades are viable for the architect or designer only when they provide a reasonable payback in productivity. The much-talked-about 3D building model must prove itself to be more valuable than just a visualization tool. And despite developer claims about ease of use, any program that’s truly capable of creating sophisticated construction documents from the 3D building model has a steep learning curve.

After four iterations of Architectural Desktop, its AutoCAD-based architectural program, Autodesk seems to have hit the nail squarely on the head. Programmers have incorporated most of the user-group wishlist items into a very sophisticated package. Not that Architectural Desktop 2004 looks very different at first glance, but the ease of use, completeness, and capability to perform those functions that architects need is greatly enhanced.

Besides this, Autodesk Architectural Desktop 2004 uses the familiar AutoCAD interface and operating style that most AEC technicians

Figure 1. Autodesk Architectural Desktop 2004 now includes Autodesk VIZ Render, derived from Autodesk VIZ 4, to provide basic, easy-to-use rendering and animation capabilities.
already understand. If you know AutoCAD, the learning curve for Architectural Desktop is greatly reduced. Attention to ease of use also appears in the new Viz Render visualization module (figure 1).

Architectural Desktop 2004 is still based on its original premise of Style-based content. Style-based content lets you set parameters that affect the computer programming rather than the use of 3D meshes. This provides more flexibility and a smaller, more efficient database. Styles also allow third-party developers to customize content.

Tool palettes, the Content Browser, and tool catalogs are new to Architectural Desktop 2004. From one consistent user interface, tool

Figure 2. Tool palettes provide instant access to a complete inventory of Architectural Desktop 2004 tools such as walls, doors, windows, curtain walls, content, and documentation tools.
palettes provide instant access to a complete inventory of Autodesk Architectural Desktop tools such as walls, doors, windows, curtain walls, content, documentation tools (routines), and so forth (figure 2). You can create your own set of custom tool palettes to address specific design needs. For example, one palette might store a list of commonly used curtain walls, stairs, and windows. Tools and tool palettes can also link to source versions in tool catalogs, which you can store on the Internet or an intranet. Members of your design team can then refresh their versions to get the latest updates.

One great feature of the tool palettes is the ability to drag customized content from the Drawing Editor back to a palette to be used at a later date. Because Architectural Desktop 2004 depends greatly on customized content, this feature makes the CAD manager's job much easier.

As mentioned previously, this new version of Architectural Desktop is filled with enhancements-many are subtle but useful.

Wall enhancements. In previous versions, you modified the roofline or floorline of a wall by projecting to a polyline or editing vertices in the Wall Edit dialog box. Now you can adjust the shape of a wall's top and bottom edges merely by pulling on grips. You can

Figure 3. Section view of Architectural Desktop model now shows hatches and materials.
add materials such as brick and concrete and view them in both the Drawing Editor and in rendered form. Materials added to content also automatically show up as appropriate hatches in section view (figure 3). Another interesting feature is the ability of a curved wall to display material (brick, for example) foreshortened in elevation views.

Curtain wall enhancements. Probably the most difficult feature to understand in previous releases of Autodesk Architectural Desktop was the Curtain Wall routine. Although it was powerful, the methods for modifying it were counterintuitive. In Autodesk Architectural Desktop 2004, all this changes. You can now modify curtain wall objects visually through a series of plus and minus grips that let you move, add, and remove mullions in real time. Combine this with the visual Cell Merge commands, and editing curtain wall objects is a breeze.

Massing enhancements. Massing modeling has been a unique feature of Architectural Desktop since its inception. This feature is interesting, but many designers find it limiting. In Architectural Desktop 2004, the massing routines are completely updated, and I found them capable and easy to use. Through the use of face and edge grips, you can quickly model practically any form desired. Besides this, Architectural Desktop 2004 also includes a new Drape routine that converts polylines with different elevations into a freeform mass element that represents a terrain model. As with previous versions of this program, you can slice massing models into interactive plates that change as you revise the massing model. The slices eventually can be converted into walls automatically.

Edit-in-place object editing enhancement. Architectural Desktop has always depended on object customization. This new version takes customization a step further. The new edit-in-place functionality reduces the number of steps required to edit or create object styles.

Figure 4. The new edit-in place functionality cuts the number of steps required to edit or create object styles.
Edit-in-place lets you create custom profiles on the fly, customize existing object styles or create new ones as you work, and quickly explore different design alternatives (figure 4).

In previous versions, for example, if you wanted to change the shape of a door or create a wall sweep, you had to first create a polylines profile and then assign it to the door or wall. This required several steps. With the edit-in-place functionality, you right-click on the object, select an edit condition, place a circle, rectangle, or polyline, and save it to the object.

Object placement enhancements. Autodesk Architectural Desktop 2004 also includes the new direct dimension input feature. When you place or modify any object or entity, the size and location of the object appears in a dimension string. By pressing the button on the keyboard, you can select the dimension to change. Changing the dimension moves or modifies the object or entity.

Architectural Desktop 2004 now includes VIZ render. VIZ render is derived from Autodesk's VIZ 4 stand-alone rendering program, but is streamlined and optimized for use in conjunction with Architectural Desktop 2004. Though VIZ render is a separate module, it links to

Figure 5. Architectural Desktop 2004 also includes ArchVision's popular RPC content for photorealistic people, trees, and cars.
the main Architectural Desktop program. When you invoke it, changes and materials made in Architectural Desktop reflect in the VIZ module. The RPC plug-in from ArchVision (figure 5) and the EASYnat plug-in are available by following Web links in the Content Browser. ArchVision is the industry-standard people and car content company, and EASYnat quickly adds 3D parametric vegetation to drawings. The VIZ module includes VIZ 4's photometric lighting and limited animation capability.

The Drawing Management feature easily creates and manages projects and levels. It also automates sheet and schedule creation. By enhancing coordination, drawing management tools ensure consistency throughout all aspects of the project. You can be assured that everyone on your design team is accessing the most current documents-such as project templates-from a centralized location. The Drawing Manager controls external references and even lets you take automatic sections through multiple externally referenced floors.

Like Autodesk AutoCAD 2004, Architectural Desktop 2004 uses a revised DWG format. The OpenDWG Alliance has been trying to figure what's inside this new format. Their summarized findings report that the new format uses compression to make file sizes smaller. Besides compression, the alliance believes the format is also encrypted-each object type appears to have its own individual algorithm. For technical details, see the OpenDWG Alliance's Web log.

Autodesk says that "it has not and never has encrypted the DWG file format." In Autodesk's view, the only encryption in the AutoCAD 2004 DWG is file password protection.

In late May, the OpenDWG Alliance announced that it had deciphered the encryption and will make updated DWGdirect libraries available to its members. The alliance also expanded its scope to include the MicroStation V8 DGN format, which Bentley published earlier this year.

Regular readers of the Dialog Box letters column know that Architectural Desktop 2004's minimum system requirements are surprisingly steep. Thanks primarily to the VIZ Render and materials features, Autodesk recommends a Pentium 4 or AMD 7 processor with 1.4GHz processor and 512MB RAM. You'll also need 650MB free disk space and 75MB swap space. Supported operating systems are Windows NT 4.0/2000 Professional/XP.

The manual is rather small and concentrates on the new Project Manager and Tool Palette system. The program comes with a very large Help file. The problem most people have with this program, as with all the other architectural CAD programs, is understanding the minutiae, those tips and tricks that really make the program sing. I know from experience that Autodesk Architectural Desktop is an excellent, professional-level program that not only adds productivity to the construction document phase of Architectural CAD, but makes design and design changes more productive.

It would be great if more Autodesk Architectural Desktop Styles-based content were available from manufacturers of construction products. This program thrives on preset styles, and if the manufacturers of curtain walls, doors, and other building products would embrace this program (which they should), productivity would increase many times more throughout the design-build chain. As an example, the Marinsoft Web site provides content from Carrier and Marvin Windows' Integrity line.

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