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Product Review: Nemetschek Vectorworks Architect 2015

In this product review we take a detailed stroll through the big main VGM, BIM and 2D features in the latest version of Vectorworks Architect 2015. Introduced this past fall, Vectorworks 2015 advances on the 3D front while still providing refinements and interesting additions to those who enjoy its many 2D features.

Continued from page 2

Third Things—And There Are Many

As a BIM and CAD tool for architectural professionals, it makes sense that the company puts the right amount of wood behind the most important arrows. At this stage of Vectorworks Architect’s development, that means it should be its 3D geometry model, navigation, and visualization capabilities—as well as parametric controls for building elements. Much of this was done in the VGM features covered above—and in the BIM features just mentioned. However, architects still make drawings and they are important.

There are many features in Vectorworks Architect 2015 that jump out at you, with respect to the making of drawings. Some of them even hark back to the VGM, as in the case of the Clip Cube caps which make models look solid in section views. Section views are some of the most exciting ways to experience presentations, so this is important. (see image 13)

14 - Clip Cube caps now close model form at the ends presenting a solid look. The color is editable.

13 – Clip Cube caps seal model forms at the section cut, with a solid colored surface. The color is editable.

Despite the era of BIM and Nemetschek Vectorworks’ strong efforts to push the popular software for architects in the BIM direction, each major release never ceases to provide at least a half dozen of excellent drawings-oriented features. We want to highlight three of them.

New Text Features

It is now possible to assign a class to a text style. This will mean that all text assigned to that class will inherit the text style for that class. For example, say you have a secondary class for dimensions, separate from the default one. You can give it a specific text style setting, which includes things like font, color, size, et cetera. This has many potential uses, like creating text styles for schematic design drawings that are different than working drawings. (see image 14)

15 - You can now assign Classes to use a text style, that will control all aspects of text placed in that class.

14 – You can now assign Classes to use a text style, that will control all aspects of text placed in that class.

Also new with text items is the ability to set tracking with a visual drag bar, greatly expanding one’s ability to manipulate text. Both of these features will no doubt be very popular with existing Vectorworks Architect users. Some offices struggle with text size standardization despite general CAD standards and this makes that problem even easier to tackle.

Gradient Opacity Control

Another interesting feature included in Vectorworks Architect 2015 is the new gradient opacity control capability. You can essentially add various degrees of opacity and transparency to your gradients. This has some compelling uses for many users. For landscape architects it can enable you to have tree and brush forms with gradients but you can see through them partially and to the degree you wish. For site design professionals, it can enable the function of showing areas that are under lights at nighttime. This could be most helpful for parking layouts and sites shown at evening with lights. For architects it can enable soft shadow edges which can improve the visual effects of elevations, both interior and exterior. You can even use a gradient for glass textures that visually are designed to communicate the reflectance of the sky and horizon yet now they can have some degree of transparency.

3D Hatching for Hidden Line Rendering

The new 3D hatching for Hidden Line rendering is a Renderworks 2015 feature. And, as mentioned, we will be doing a thorough independent review of Renderworks 2015 in the weeks ahead. However, this new feature—which Nemetschek Vectorworks has really touted—is something we should briefly touch on in this review. First off, it relates to Vectorworks 2015’s overall emphasis on VGM improvements and visualization options. Secondly, architects working in BIM mode exclusively (or non-exclusively) will enjoy these new features.

Essentially, Vectorworks Architect 2015 provides users with associated 3D hatching in lieu of ‘textures’ when rendered in Hidden Line mode, which, as mentioned above, is now partially OpenGL-based. In other words, rather than rendering a scene in OpenGL mode, complete with ‘textures’ for realistic brick, roofing, siding, et cetera, you can now have a classic black and white Hidden-Line render option that substitutes in a matching set of 3D hatches. (see image 15).

15 - 3D hatches are now mapped to OpenGL textures for a substituted visual look when models are rendered in the new OpenGL-based Hidden-Line mode.

15 – 3D hatches are now mapped to OpenGL textures for a substituted visual look when models are rendered in the new Hidden-Line mode.

This new feature will also make drawings sharper as the ability to substitute 3D hatching for textures in Hidden Line views means numerous viewports (axon, side views, top, etc) can now be rendered out with 3D textures. This will spruce up presentations! We will get deeply into this feature in our upcoming Renderworks 2015 review. Suffice to say, this is a really great new addition to Vectorworks Architect.

Other Important Changes and Updates

As Vectorworks Architect 2015 continues with big BIM feature improvements some minor changes in the back end get supported updates. Previously the default render mode for changing between Top/Plan mode to a 3D view was Wireframe but this is now editable and OpenGL can be chosen. This is a big time-saver for those users working, more or less, exclusively in a BIM mode.

We have not hit on this with any degree of detail but both stairs, spaces, and doors and windows all received worthwhile updates. It is now possible to create more complex stair layouts, including triple L-configurations and stairs with runs set at user-defined angles at their landings. With Spaces you can edit the room finish settings directly in a database worksheet.

In the area of Interoperability, Vectorworks Architect 2015 advances its abilities with PDF. Now you can crop PDFs within your document, as well as enable or disable snapping to PDF page objects. And now PDF/A, the archival format, is supported as an export option under the Publish command.

Also in the area related to working with others, especially external consultants and teams, are the new Class and Layer Management improvements. A new ‘description’ text field has been added to the Classes palette so all users interacting with files gain a description of the classes. This description field has long been missing, but now included it means that when you export out to other programs you can see this text field. In the example below we added remarks about the Sill class in Vectorworks 2015 (image 16) which you can see carried over in the DWG export to Dassault DraftSight (image 17). This furthers interoperability and makes it easier for consultants using AutoCAD, for example, to better work with architects using Vectorworks Architect 2015.

16 - New class management options include new Description field to help others know what a class is about.

16 – New class management options include new Description field to help others know what a class is about.

17 - New class descriptions export out to other CAD systems. Dassault Systems viewing DWG export shown here.

17 – New class descriptions export out to other CAD systems. Dassault Systems viewing DWG export shown here.

There are also new abilities to quickly assign single or multiple objects to classes via the Object Info palette. Lastly, Vectorworks 2015 comes with new content libraries, including Arroway Textures®, and a new Vectorworks Remote App that turns your iPhone or iPad into a handy ‘remote’ for controlling a computer running Vectorworks 2015.

The Vectorworks Remote App is a sensational idea and allows someone in a conference room to control the experience of navigating models, sheets, viewports with full layers and classes controls, ability to turn on and off lighting, et cetera, all from their conference room chair. This is fantastic for group meetings in conference rooms with large computer screens.

Additionally, Vectorworks Nomad now supports 3D viewing of Vectorworks files so users can experience BIM models in walk-through and fly-over modes, as well as zoom in and out. While these two new iOS apps are important additions to the latest version of Vectorworks software, Architosh isn’t thoroughly reviewing them herein. They both deserve a dedicated review which we hope to implement in the months ahead.

These are the major feature improvements in Vectorworks Architect 2015. Many of them are core to Vectorworks Fundamentals 2015 while others are not. We have not distinguished each so please visit the Nemetschek Vectorworks’ website for more information on the breakout of updates across the product lines.

Closing Comments & Recommendations

In closing the Nemetschek Vectorworks team did a super job with this particular release. There is actually a lot more here than meets the eye. We want to back up, however, and summarize this program two ways: one for its existing user base and one for new users. Clearly the company listens to its users—and those writing product reviews for that matter!

We think what is tough for the company is balancing the level that goes into pleasing two different sets of users. On the one hand, Nemetschek Vectorworks is famous for having legions of users around the world who are very happy using what is arguably the best overall, balanced 2D/3D CAD and illustration software package in existence. Many of these users have not made the jump to true BIM. The second set of Vectorworks users are those who have made the jump to BIM. Remarkably, in this release it is clear just how much effort the programing team put into the software on the BIM side. As the industry moves further into the BIM transformation, it seems that the Vectorworks folks understand where the focus should be…and are striking the correct balance.

As for those legions of dedicated users who are not so sure about BIM, the company has its work cut out for them. Expend great effort to educate those users on the virtues of BIM in Vectorworks Architect (and how to make the jump) or simply spend those resources making further refinements to the program they already love as it is?

That is the question I am sure the company’s leadership debates at length.

As Vectorworks Architect continues to advance as a full-fledged BIM tool the company could logically afford to raise its price.

In terms of the software, Vectorworks Architect 2015 packs a big BIM punch. While the new HTML5-based help is a thank God they did that update what is missing now in the ‘help department’ is an easier experience ‘on-boarding’ users to several of the new BIM features. Jumping into the new Level Constraints system is not for the faint-at-heart. And for those BIM cross-over users, getting used to the ‘Vectorworks way,’ they too need additional help. Video tutorials should be the answer.


There is one killer new feature in Vectorworks Architect 2015 that I am dumbfounded by. The new Animated Transitions is a great new addition—especially when using Saved Views. But a new method of packaging those sequences in a controllable palette with a keyboard shortcut would make it possible to enjoy sequenced animations in a more elegant way. It is perfectly understood that the new Vectorworks Remote App helps fill this issue. But not everybody wants to grab their iPhones for this process all day long. A competitor program uses a tabs interface to allow this. And another thing: some animated transitions are too fast. A speed setting would be nice, even if it just slowed down the group of views consistently. Also, it would be nice if the new OpenGL options, such as colors or no colors, could have a shortcut toggle option, like the ones for Clip Cube and Show Line Thickness.

Beyond these little items, though, Vectorworks Architect 2015 is a fantastic new update to the venerable multi-platform CAD leader and we have given it our highest rating. For existing users Vectorworks Architect 2015 is a must update if you are using the tool within a BIM workflow. If architects are using it for extensive modeling of both residential and commercial structures the new BIM features like the Curtain Wall tools add much to your workflows. For those who are largely still 2D bound, whether it is a ‘must upgrade’ depends on what resonates with your particular practice methods. —- ANTHONY FRAUSTO-ROBLEDO, AIA, LEED AP

Pros: Tremendous new set of BIM features including new Curtain Walls tools, Level Constraint system, superb new OpenGL and Hidden Line rendering options and other visualization niceties; fundamentally powerful advancements in its Vectorworks Graphics Module custom OpenGL rendering engine; now 64-bit throughout; excellent new improvements for SketchUp files from 3D Warehouse; excellent interoperability features in PDF/A, latest DWG/DXF, etc.; new Class management improvements and interop improvements in new Description field for Classes; several stunning new 2D and drawings related features such as opacity control with gradient fills.

Cons: Very few faults in the implementations of new major features; system needs method of ‘on-boarding’ users to some of the more advanced BIM features so they can put them to use more quickly; new Animated Transitions is missing needed ingredient—ability to control it better for saved views; still no new workgroup or team capabilities. 

Advice: This very BIM focused update is a must for architects using a true BIM workflow, even the Constraint Level system alone makes it a no-brainer if you are doing big multi-story structures. Yet, no update comes with just one good feature and this update is packed with many excellent ones. Architects will enjoy the new VGM-based features and OpenGL Hidden Line rendering is a standout feature. For larger firms, limitations on teamwork or workgroup features means that these organizations working on larger projects must figure out ways around these “larger scaled” workflow challenges. 

Cost: Vectorworks 2015 comes in several Industry Series versions. In this review I focused on Vectorworks Architect 2015, with limited discussion of the Renderworks 2015 package, as that will get its own review shortly. This review does not review the other Industry Series solutions. Vectorworks Architect 2015 with Renderworks has an estimated retail of 3,145.USD. 




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