Cadalyst AEC Tech News #127 (Sept. 2, 2004)

1 Sep, 2004 By: Michael Dakan

Several architectural CAD programs have received upgrades over the past few months. The following is a brief look at some of the new features and improvements in Chief Architect 9.5 from Advanced Relational Technologies, DataCAD 11 from DataCAD, and Vectorworks 11 from Nemetschek North America. I reviewed the first two in greater depth in recent print editions of Cadalyst magazine (Chief Architect 9.5 in April and DATACAD 11 in July). The last is a preview of a full review of Vectorworks 11, which will appear in Cadalyst in the near future.

Chief Architect 9.5
Chief Architect, an application aimed at builders and residential designers, continues to develop and improve in this latest release, v9.5. It’s refreshing to review a product that doesn’t come with any pretense of being entirely new and revolutionary and doesn’t seek to do more than it was initially designed to do, which is to serve a niche in the architectural-drawing CAD software market. Chief Architect 9.5 does its job very well and continues to build on a solid and mature foundation that won’t require the upgrade user to learn a lot of new techniques.

The user interface is simple and intuitive, yet offers several sophisticated tools and functions that automate and assist with space layout and the 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 active floor for easy reference. You can automatically align walls and objects such as windows and doors from one floor to another and place objects into walls in an approximate location, and then use temporary dimensions to place them more precisely.

The Library Browser provides a tree-based interface for browsing objects such as furniture and appliances and dragging them into the model. The product includes a large selection of 2D/3D residential furnishings and equipment, wood moldings, entry doors, custom wood shapes such as mantels and cupolas, and kitchen cabinet door styles.

The House Wizard routine is an interesting application for space planning and layout that lets you quickly block out a basic house design. You begin with a series of dialog boxes that allows you to input basic information such as number of bedrooms and baths, whether you want a formal dining room, and so forth. The program generates rectangular bubbles that represent the spaces and converts the bubble diagrams into walls.

DataCAD 11
The most significant change in DataCAD 11 from previous versions isn’t apparent to the user on program startup. DataCAD now operates at double-numeric, floating-point precision and is accurate to 14 significant digits, making it equivalent in precision to AutoCAD and most other competing CAD programs.

Of course, the new double-precision database necessitates a new format for files and program operating components, and almost all program and data file extensions have changed. The new drawing database file is AEC in place of the old DC5 file format. New drawing files are larger to allow for the additional data, but the system compresses them so they end up about one-fifth the size of their DC5 counterparts, the company reports.
This behind-the-scenes modernization is accompanied by several more obvious interface enhancements. DataCAD 11 is more Windows-compliant in terms of user interface as well as program operation.

DataCAD 11 can display multiple work windows on screen at once—these can include drawing views, menus, object viewer, toolbars, and so forth. System documentation refers to these as Multi-view Tear-Off Toolbars because they can remain open, free-floating, or docked.

The system offers good flexibility for customizing the screen layout. You can customize and rearrange toolbars and create new ones to suit your needs. Information toolbars such as drawing Status and Coordinates readouts toggle on and off. You can dock menus and toolbars at the left or right side of the drawing window.

You can attach a lot of information to symbols as attributes and data fields in this version. You can add user-defined data fields to the default fields provided to track an unlimited amount of information associated with symbols, and you can add (and edit) those data fields when you define the symbol and add it to a symbol template.

Vectorworks 11
The big addition to Vectorworks is improved sheet layout tools, including viewports, which you can use to enlarge plan views and model details. Viewports can be irregular in shape and contain separate annotation from other views of the same portion of the design.

A new compression algorithm reduces the file size of drawings that contain bit-map images and improves speed when working with hidden-line rendered views. New context-sensitive Help assists beginners and experienced users.

Editing text blocks is easier in this version using the new text-editing tools. You can edit text directly within the Object Info properties palette. Trim and Extend have been enhanced so you can modify multiple lines at one.

Product Links
Chief Architect