Design Spotlight: CAD with an Ocean View

31 May, 2001 By: B.J. Novitski Cadalyst

Michael Wike, AIA, has learned to make his CAD software of choice, Chief Architect, adapt to his design style.

Michael Wike

• Tri-Star Pentium II, 400MHz, 128MB RAM
ViewSonic 21" monitor
IBM Thinkpad, 500MHz, 128MB RAM
Sony Mavica MVC-FD83 digital camera
Hewlett-Packard 650C DesignJet plotter
EPSON Stylus Color 1520 printer


• Chief Architect v7
Windows NT 4


ART, Inc.

Michael Wike Architect, AIA

On the rugged Northern California coast stands a unique, decades-old development called Sea Ranch. Houses there have always been designed according to strict guidelines that keep development clustered and rooflines compatible with the wind-swept bluffs. Architects who continue the creative tradition accept these restrictions. One of them, Michael Wike, AIA, has learned to make his CAD software of choice, Chief Architect, adapt to his design style. "Chief," as the software is known to its aficionados, is a low-cost alternative to high-end architectural modelers, intended primarily for the residential and light commercial market.

Despite its ease of use, it supports full 3D modeling. It offers extensive libraries of parametric components such as windows, doors, cabinets, and furnishings that you can customize with a separate Symbol Development Utility. Details and materials for these components are incorporated in the bill of materials, schedule, and rendering capabilities.

Within Chief Architect, Wike sets as defaults some of Sea Ranch's characteristics, such as roof pitch and overhang length. He finds the flexible and intuitive modeling interface and new terrain tools make it easy to mold his houses to the often rocky, sloped terrain. Import and export capabilities enable Wike to work interchangeably with external renderers and drafting systems.

Chief Architect's newly built-in OpenGL rendering engine offers quick visualization and animated walkthroughs.

Wike is most enthusiastic about the way Chief Architect helps him design interactively with his clients. He recently completed a remodel and addition to an older Sea Ranch house whose prime asset was its view along the coastline.

"During a design meeting at the client's house," recalls Wike, "they expressed concerns about the railings of the proposed deck blocking their existing views. I suggested that we check the views on my computer." He photographed the ocean from favorite viewpoints with his digital camera. He inserted the new photos into Chief's background files directory, generated a perspective view from the same viewpoints in the proposed design file, and instantly had a representation of the clients' views looking through the new windows. "It was immediately clear to them that the new decks would work and that their view of the coast would be unimpeded. They were astonished at how quickly Chief Architect could show them what they wanted." Such experiences dramatically improve client confidence, Wike notes.

While remodeling a house at Sea Ranch, California architect Michael Wike used Chief Architect to show the clients views of and, more importantly, views from, the proposed addition. For more on Chief Architect, see May 2001 issue.

Wike also finds it helpful to use Chief to develop preliminary cost estimates. By setting parameters for material types, such as structural and finish materials, insulation thickness, and cabinet styles, he gets tabular material takeoffs automatically as he designs. He then gives that information to a builder who adds labor costs. "Doing these preliminary estimates at an early stage helps guarantee that the job will get built," says Wike.

Wike has yet to use one new feature, the House Wizard space diagram tool. Through a series of dialog boxes, you input square footage for each space in a new design. Chief Architect then creates abstract but correctly scaled 2D shapes to represent the rooms. You then arrange the shapes as desired, and the software creates interior doors between spaces and exterior walls to enclose them. Though short of the "artificial intelligence" some researchers are trying to develop in space-planning algorithms, it presents a balance of human and computer interaction that vastly speeds up the process of initial space configurations.

Educated at the University of California at Berkeley, with professors who were some of the original Sea Ranch designers, Wike began his own custom residential design practice 20 years ago. He started using AutoCAD for drafting in 1989 but didn't use software for design until he discovered Chief Architect four years ago. Since then he has continued to use AutoCAD for drafting construction documents because of his large accumulation of details. However, he says that the latest version of Chief is so much stronger in this area that he will probably cease exporting 2D data and remain within Chief through the construction document phase.

Although Wike concedes that no software automatically creates complete 2D drawings from 3D models, he hopes to see architectural software that allows users to perform all their work within a single software environment. Chief Architect, he believes, has just come one giant step closer.

About the Author: B.J. Novitski

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