Building Design

3D Architectural Features of VectorWorks

31 May, 2003 By: John E. Wilson

This month we will take a look at VectorWorks's features for creating architecture models and drawings. Many are hybrid 2D/3D objects that appear as conventional, symbolized 2D objects in plan views, and as realistic 3D objects in all other views. A hybrid door, for example, is shown symbolically in plan views as a narrow rectangle drawn at an angle from a doorjamb that has an arc to represent the swing of the door. In all other views, though, such as an isometric view, that same door is a fully formed 3D object with knobs, panels, jambs, and so forth, as shown in Figure 1.

VectorWorks's Walls
In VectorWorks, you create straight walls with the Wall tool of the Walls palette, and arc-shaped walls with the Round Wall tool. Figure 1 also shows examples of VectorWorks's walls. In plan views walls appear as two or more lines, separating what VectorWorks refers to as cavities. For example, an exterior wall might have two lines spaced 0.5 inches apart that represent the interior sheet-rock, a third line 3.5 inches from the second one for the studs, a fourth line 2.0 inches from the third one for the insulation, and a fifth line 1 inch from the fourth one for the exterior siding. The total thickness of this wall is 7 inches. You can also add hatches and patterns to any cavity. Generally, you establish the overall wall thickness and the width and depiction of the cavities before you begin drawing a wall by selecting the Wall Preferences button in the Mode bar. You can also use the Model>Architecture>Select Wall Type command to set the wall thickness and cavities from a list of pre-defined wall parameters. You can use this command to establish the parameters of a wall you intend to create, as well as to modify an existing wall.

Figure 1. Many VectorWorks objects, including walls, windows, and doors, are hybrid 2D/3D objects that appear as conventional, symbolized 2D objects in plan views (as shown in the upper half of this figure) and as realistic 3D objects in all other views (as shown in the lower half).

Once you have established the wall's parameters, you draw the wall--always in the plan view--just as you would draw a polyline. Click to start drawing, click to end each wall segment, and double-click or click on the wall's starting point to finish. The line between the click points, which is called the control line, can represent the left side of the wall--in the as-drawn direction--the right side of the wall, or a specified distance between the wall's sides, depending on your selection in the Mode bar. Walls are automatically capped at their ends, mitered at their corners, and joined as a T (when you start or end a wall in the middle of an existing wall and you have selected Auto Join Walls in the VectorWorks Preferences dialog box).

Walls are not automatically given a height, unless you have assigned an elevation value to the layer you have used to draw the wall. (To do this, select Organize>Layers from the Menu bar to display the Layers Setup dialog box, and enter a value in the plus/minus Z edit box.) You can also designate a wall height or change an existing height by selecting one or more walls and then entering a new value in the plus/minus Z edit box of the Object Info pallet. In 3D views, walls are displayed as vertical planes spaced apart and capped, according to the wall thickness. The wall cavities are not displayed. Figure 1 shows examples of VectorWorks's walls in both plan and isometric views.

2D/3D Hybrid Symbols
Adding doors and windows to walls is easily done by inserting 2D/3D hybrid symbols. You can create and insert your own hybrid symbols, or use one of the many that are supplied with VectorWorks. For example, to insert an Andersen C25 casement window, you would find W And C25 in the Resource browser and double-click it. VectorWorks will switch to the plan view, if it is not already current, and display a ghosted image of the window at the cursor. When you move the image to a wall, it will snap to a point halfway between the sides of the wall and automatically align itself with the wall. You can then slide the symbol along the wall and click to set its position. The window is inserted at an elevation appropriate for its size. You can, though, change its elevation in the Object Info palette.

In the plan view, the window is shown as a 2D symbol, while it is shown in its 3D form, complete with its sills and panes, in all other views. A hole is automatically created in the wall to accommodate the window. If you move the window, even to another wall, a new hole is created in the wall and the old one is filled.

VectorWorks comes with a good selection of 2D/3D hybrid symbol doors that are inserted in a similar manner and also automatically create an opening in the wall that will accommodate them. Doors are shown to be open 90 degrees in plan views and closed in all other views. You can, though, change this by editing the contents of the door's Object Info palette. See Figure 1 for examples of VectorWorks's windows and doors. VectorWorks also supplies numerous other 2D/3D hybrid symbols for both residential and commercial buildings, such as appliances, plumbing fixtures, stairs, HVAC and ducts, furniture, and so forth.

VectorWorks's Roofs
The Model>Architectural>Roof Face command creates a flat roof from a selected enclosed 2D object, such as a circle or a polyline. (A convenient way to create a 2D object that coincides with existing walls is to select the walls, and then invoke the Model>Architectural>Create Polys from Walls command.) The Roof Face command displays the Create Roof dialog box for you to specify the elevation of the roof, its thickness, and its angle. To complete the roof you must then draw a line as an axis for rotating the roof, even if you have specified that its angle is zero and which side of the line represents the roof's upward tilt.

The Model>Architectural>Create Roof from Walls command creates hip roofs and gable roofs from existing, preselected walls. This command displays the Create Roof dialog box for you to set the parameters of the roof, such as the height of the roof bearings (the wall height), the roof's pitch, its thickness, the eave overhang distance, and so forth. Initially, all roofs are created as hip roofs. To change a hip roof into a gable roof click on the roof, and then click on the selection handle for the face you wish to change to display the Edit Roof Settings dialog box. Select Gable End in this dialog box, and click OK to create the gable end. You can only change one end at a time. A triangular wall section is created as the gable end is created. Figure 2 shows a house with both hip and gable roof segments. You can add dormers and skylights to roofs by inserting 2D/3D hybrid symbol windows in the roof. VectorWorks displays the Edit Roof Element dialog box for you to set the size and shape of the dormer or skylight.

Figure 2. You can easily create roofs in VectorWorks with the Create Roof from Walls command. Initally all roofs are created as hip roofs, but in editing them you can change selected faces into gable roof ends. In this figure, which shows the plan and isometric views of a house, the roof ends on the right are gable and the others are hip.

VectorWorks is a combined 2D drafting and 3D modeling program, priced at $895, from Nemetschek North America, that runs on computers using either Macintosh or Windows operating systems.

If you work primarily in an architectural field, you'll want to take a look at some VectorWorks-based programs that add to VectorWorks's already impressive array of 2D and 3D features. VectorWorks ARCHITECT is an architectural design and production management program for both residential and commercial structures. VectorWorks LANDMARK is a landscape design and site modeling program. And, RenderWorks adds photorealistic rendering to VectorWorks as well as to these add-ons. Visit for more information.

About the Author: John E. Wilson

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