Cadalyst AEC Tech News #119 (May 6, 2004)

5 May, 2004 By: Michael Dakan

The Detailing module, which has been around for many years in various guises, has been completely rewritten and fully integrated into the newly released Autodesk Architectural Desktop 2005. This tool has been included with Architectural Desktop in each release since the beginning, and until now it has been the last remaining vestige of the Softdesk part of the Architectural Desktop legacy.

Those familiar with the history of the development of Architectural Desktop and its predecessors will remember this application from the Softdesk S8 suite of application software and earlier, which was absorbed by Autodesk in the purchase/merger of the two companies. Going back even further, it was a part of the ASG line of applications, which was absorbed by Softdesk, and before that it was the Vertex Detailer from Vertex Design Systems, a Release 10/11 AutoCAD AutoLISP third-party application that was purchased by ASG.

Because of this clear lineage of the idea of the Details module, some people think that it’s still the old Vertex Detailer in a new disguise. In fact, from a programming point of view, there hasn’t been any original Vertex code in the application since before Softdesk Details. Softdesk was well on the way toward developing its own detailing product when it inherited the ASG-Vertex product, and all of the original Vertex Detailer functionality never did make it into any of the subsequent product releases, although Softdesk undoubtedly used it as inspiration and tried to incorporate as much of the same functionality as it could over time. Likewise, Autodesk has directly used virtually no code from the Softdesk applications in their products.

The Detailing application also hasn’t had a significant upgrade since the Softdesk days. Autodesk would have preferred to jettison this old legacy software years ago because it didn’t fit into its newer programming tools and methods. But Autodesk was pretty much forced to continue to make it available due to demand from a relatively small but dedicated and vocal group of users who had been using it for years and were sold on how valuable and productive it was once you actually used it. I was constantly surprised to learn how many Architectural Desktop had never bothered to even look at it or figure out what you could do with it. Autodesk didn’t make the situation any better by hiding it and ignoring it as much as possible, even to the point of making it a separate installation from the rest of Architectural Desktop and requiring a separate startup and ADT Profile to run it.

But now that the Detailing module is finally fully integrated into Architectural Desktop and shares the user interface, programming methods, and operating techniques of the rest of the application, things are definitely looking up for the future. Perhaps it will finally get the upgrades and improvements it badly needs and deserves. In this first release, it still has only parts of the content and functionality that some predecessor applications had, but Autodesk seems committed to adding more content quickly and to achieving full functionality for this crucial aspect of architectural drawing production.

The new Detailing application in Architectural Desktop 2005 is an acknowledgement that a 3D model database is not adequate to convey everything it is necessary to communicate during the design through construction of a project. It’s not appropriate to think in terms of adding enough information to the model to be able to generate all the drawings required during the construction phase directly from the 3D model. Even if you could add a sufficient level of detail to the model to show all the materials in a building and how they fit together in any and all circumstances, you wouldn’t want to deal with all this database overhead and performance penalties when working with other uses of the model database outside of how the building is intended to be constructed. There is a level of detail related to flashings, waterproofing, fit, and fastening products and methods that can’t be adequately communicated verbally with attachments to the model or through the amount of detail it is practical to add to the model.

I have been an advocate of these essentially 2D drafting tools from the beginning, going back to when I worked for Vertex for a time in the early 1990s helping to develop the Vertex Detailer and as a consultant for Softdesk. I have often been disappointed in the relatively limited amount of development time and money that architectural software developers have devoted to this vital aspect of architectural practice compared with the more interesting and fun design aspects. If you look at the amount of fees generated by a typical full-services architectural practice, it’s apparent that strictly design effort represents only a fraction of the total. Most of the fee comes from the design development and construction documentation necessary to turn a design into the reality of a building.

The Detailing module in Architectural Desktop 2005 is a very nicely designed and implemented set of tools for parametrically constructing 2D construction details that fully integrate with the 3D model and the working methodologies of Architectural Desktop. Look for more information about how it works and the tools it provides in future editions of this newsletter, and in the print version of Cadalyst magazine.