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A Journey to BIM—Dialing in Softness with Sun Path Precision

A Florida architecture firm, strongly oriented towards energy-performant design, has journeyed to BIM with Vectorworks Architect and isn’t looking back.

PHILIP LENZEN, AIA, NCARB, IS EXPLAINING to me how important “softness” is in matters related to 3D visualization on his projects. “It is very important and one of the things I like about Vectorworks,” he adds. “But it is also about the clients.”

The Journey to BIM

Lenzen is making the journey to BIM, and he is now fairly far along in the process. His Florida-based firm’s name, studioCOLAB, doesn’t hint at Lenzen’s own multi-discipline background, but the “studio” part does reflect his artistic interests and background.

With a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Saint Louis University, he began professional life in the medical field before pursuing more artistic directions, eventually leading him to a graduate program in architecture at the  Washington University in St. Louis. A native of Chicago suburbs, after receiving his master’s degree in architecture, he moved to Florida, where the environmental conditions were nearly the inverse of his hometown. This prompted his interest in environmentally responsive design, which led him down the BIM path in small steps.



The key is in doing good 3D modeling where you can accurately study the light and do sun studies.



“Florida is rather easy to know what to design for,” he comments, noting that down in the sunny state, you only have essentially two months where you need mechanical heating. “It’s all about the heat and humidity and keeping the sun from entering through your windows and doors in the summer.” So, designing for cooling and humidity is a big challenge for architects in Florida.

BIM vectorworks

studioCOLAB has recently made the jump to BIM, traveling from 2D AutoCAD to Vectorworks Architect with a temporary stop at Revit. Critical to this Florida firms’ work using 3D BIM is to communicate ideas about indoor-outdoor living while successfully managing environmental challenges unique to the hot Florida weather. (Image: studioCOLAB / Architosh. All rights reserved.)

“The key is in doing good 3D modeling where you can accurately study the light and do sun studies,” he says, describing his pathway to BIM. With a BIM model, you can easily locate that virtual building on the actual site, geolocated in the software where dynamic and real-time sun-studies can be easily generated for any time-segment of the year. Such studies help Lenzen confirm his design intuition about sunlight but offer heuristic feedback and affordances that Lenzen then uses to advance the design in directions he might not have thought about if his work was all done in 2D CAD drawings alone.

Breaking free of a pure 2D workflow was a key goal in Lenzen’s design to launch his own practice. “We do a lot of commercial and residential projects,” he says, “and affordable living is important to me. I want to be able to make spaces that use light, textures, and colors that make people really stop and pause about the space they find themselves in.” Lenzen doesn’t believe that luxury living spaces necessarily must cost a lot; he feels that good architecture accomplishes luxurious spatial conditions like drawing the landscape into the building, make connections visually to the particulars of the site, and establishing proper flows between spaces, both inside and out.

BIM vectorworks

studioCOLAB says the softness of Vectorworks rendering options is an appealing feature of the program. These “white model” rendering modes are a default feature in Vectorworks and useful for schematic design stages where color and material decisions are not yet fixed. In this view, the architect is using images of materials in a “digital material board” format. (Image: studioCOLAB / Architosh. All rights reserved.)

While he started professionally in the world of 2D CAD with Autodesk AutoCAD, he slowly moved towards more 3D workflows, passing through to Autodesk Architectural Desktop on route to Autodesk Revit, where he has spent a good deal of time. He has also used Trimble’s SketchUp along the way.

The Visual Qualities of Vectorworks

Now, Lenzen is using Vectorworks Architect where he prefers having a single comprehensive software package. “Vectorworks Architect has these default orthogonal views of the BIM model that have this really nice look to them—like no other software I have seen,” he says. “In Revit, the model views are black and white, look a bit harsh, and don’t have that softness; Vectorworks’ 3D BIM models are softer, more human, and less technical looking. That really matters to my clients.”

Lenzen also prefers the diversified and default rendering modes in Vectorworks Architect. “Just out of the box, the rendering quality in these default views are really nice,” he adds. He continues to explain how he makes good use of the white model render mode as well.



AutoCAD users can move over to Vectorworks and maintain their existing 2D workflows while they stage their transitions to BIM.



It was Vectorworks’ graphics qualities that first grabbed Lenzen’s attention while he was working with other platforms and researching every solution in the industry. “The big factor in deciding to switch was every time I looked at a drawing done in Vectorworks, they were just beautiful,” he says. “Looking at the landscape drawings that users create and seeing how beautiful they are…it’s like having a page-layout software like InDesign inside your CAD program.” He added, “you can set up your drawings just as beautifully as you hope your designed buildings will be.”

“I’m a designer,” he emphasizes, “and I like to design everything! This means designing the way the page layout works, designing how the text looks—and Vectorworks makes this easy.”

BIM Notes

Lenzen is still on his BIM journey, which began with Revit. I asked him if he felt he was doing Little BIM or Big BIM, and he said he was doing three-quarter BIM. He models his buildings to a high degree of detail but stops shy of that point of diminishing returns. He says that when switching over to 2D for detailing, Revit and Vectorworks’ comparisons get harder, as they both offer strong detailing tools.

“If folks are coming from AutoCAD, they may find it easier to go to Vectorworks for BIM versus Revit for BIM,” he says, “because AutoCAD users will relate to the Vectorworks file structure.” He mentioned that AutoCAD layers are simply Vectorworks classes, for example, and a typical AutoCAD user will understand that. He also noted that going to BIM must happen in steps and that doing so enables firms to prevent that drastic loss in productivity time, while also scaling up BIM competency across a firm.

BIM vectorworks

studioCOLAB says they love how Vectorworks is like a page-layout application like Adobe InDesign, giving them the flexibility to create project sheets and design boards combining traditional CAD views, 3D BIM views in both rendered and wireframe models, plus images with all with liberal text formatting capabilities. (Image: studioCOLAB / Architosh. All rights reserved.)

“AutoCAD users can move over to Vectorworks and maintain their existing 2D workflows while they stage their transitions to BIM,” he added.

Back to his three-quarter BIM designation, he admits that he has yet to integrate IFC models from consultants as his consultants are still using AutoCAD for 2D design and documentation. However, he is utilizing schedules, sections, and elevations all from the 3D BIM model.

Looking Ahead

Lenzen has an interest in augmented reality (AR) and owns a 360-degree camera. “I am really trying to get into AR and point clouds,” he says, “and bring them into Vectorworks.” He flies a drone on his projects and looks forward to when computing processing power gets good enough that he will be able to merge AR technology with 360-degree photography so he can blend his architectural designs seamlessly with his projects’ tropical Florida sites.

In the meantime, he’s continuing to communicate his designs in BIM with Vectorworks, rendering out his visions for his clients in that softness he has grown so fond of in the program.


Sketch to BIM

To learn more about Vectorworks and why studioCOLAB feels it is the ultimate sketch to BIM software visit this link here.

Image Credits

Format equates to “party with copyright” / “party with reserved rights of use.” (eg: image: Itten+Brechbühl / Architosh. All rights reserved.)  Non-credited images are copyrighted to Architosh.
Title Credit:  ( Image: studioCOLAB / Architosh. All rights reserved.)


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