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Product Review: Vectorworks Architect 2021

Our Vectorworks Architect 2021 review looks into the many new features in this popular 2/3D CAD and BIM software application.

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3D Modeling Improvements

Version 2021 makes some significant improvements in Push/Pull modeling. While Vectorworks has long had core Push/Pull modeling functionality on enclosed 2D objects (which are simply extruded via push and pull techniques), it has lacked the ability to simply subdivide surfaces with the Line tool, for example. Not being able to split faces quickly with a line has held back the BIM software’s Push/Pull modeling. (see image 11)

Image 11 – In Vectorworks 2021, you can now simply draw unenclosed 2D objects on the “3D workplane” and extrude them as “planes” in 3D space. Once the plane in space is created, it automatically highlights, and you can extrude it into a solid 3D shape.

Well, version 2021 answers this big need with the new ability to draw unenclosed 2D objects like a line to split faces quickly and easily and now push/pull a particular face on either side of that line (see Image 12 – 13 below). Anyone who knows push/pull modeling from other software knows how quickly one can conceptualize 3D forms. Now Vectorworks 2021 adds this capability to its existent modeling features.

Image 12 – With the plane defined in space, a user can draw another line across it from corner to corner and automatically push/pull a split face.

Now in version 2021, the user can use the Push/Pull tool to extrude lines, 3D polygons, and NURBS curves. Working from basic shapes like rectangles, it is quite easy to develop various kinds of models like this little tower study shown below (Image 14).  There is also a new combine mode that allows the user to directly add or subtract solids without the use of modifier keys. The video here explains this capability much more effectively than I can do in so many words.

Image 13 – The completed pulled face from the last step.

Image 14 – Modeling basic shapes upon the surfaces of other shapes.

Most architects and designers will utilize the line tool the most to split surfaces in innumerable ways and then push and pull those surfaces. A new user should be mindful that the “automatic” working plane highlighting only appears when the user is in a 3D view with the appropriate 2D tool selected. The Working plane drop-down menu (sitting right of the Layer drop-down menu) will indicate when the Working plane is set to “Automatic.” A keyboard shortcut (reverse backslash) can toggle the automatic working plane state on and off when the user desires to model from the Layer plane for a specific moment and then switch back to automatic “working plane” mode for specific surfaces of 3D objects.

Image 15 – In Vectorworks 2021, the user can tap into the history features by right-click selecting Edit Feature. The basic rectangle of this tower can now be edited at individual levels (e.g., extrude parameter or basic rectangular dimensional parameters).

Back to core basic architectural modeling. Another key aspect that users should be aware of is the ability to tap into the history functionality. While looking at your model in 3D, you can easily select individual elements and right-click menu select Edit Feature. This allows you to edit earlier steps in the overall modeling process on a per-element or step basis, even if that element of the model was done several steps ago. I can, for example, alter the height parameter of the basic rectangle extrude in the tower form shown in the image above. (see image 15)

Other modeling improvements in Vectorworks Architect 2021 include Grade Objects features, where changes in one area of the network can reflect updates automatically in the rest of the grade network.

Other Items

Any modern BIM tool these days will be measured and evaluated by its ability to integrate with other applications—particularly photographic realistic rendering tools. It was only a few versions back that we repeatedly noted that Vectorworks should stop going it alone with its own internal renderer (a very good one in Cinema 4D’s technology) and give users optionality with a growing constellation of interactive, real-time rendering applications. The good news is they have embraced that philosophy since our last review in 2019. Vectorworks now has a “LiveSync” plugin technology connection to the excellent renderer Lumion. Enscape of Germany has become a supporter for Vectorworks as well, adding another superb interactive, real-time renderer. Both of those tools are Windows-only now, but as we were completing this feature review, the Vectorworks folks announced Twinmotion support as part of Service Pack 3.

Image 16 – Vectorworks 2021 with SP3 (service pack 3) features new Twinmotion and Unreal Engine support so users can utilize these two popular real-time visualization applications.

Bear in mind, we have not tested these new Twinmotion integration features, which I will describe below, nor have we tested the other interactive renderers integrations in Lumion and Enscape. We simply want to point out that Vectorworks now “integration” with the top three real-time interactive renderers in the market.

MORE: Twinmotion 2020.2 is available from Epic Games

The new Service Pack 3 (SP3) release this week prominently features brand new partnership functionality between Vectorworks and the Epic Games folks. To enable the Unreal Engine-based connectivity, Vectorworks 2021 SP3 has integrated the Unreal Engine’s Datasmith file format, thus enabling the export of models to both Twinmotion and Unreal Engine. (see image 16 – 17).

Image 17 – The same Vectorworks model seen in the previous image is now inside Twinmotion.

Also added to SP3 is brand new BIM model exchange features with Solibri, another Nemetschek Group sister company. A new two-way connection creates a “live sync” of a Vectorworks BIM model to its corresponding IFC model in Solibri Office, where BIM users can tap the power of Solibri for model verification, checking, and coordination. Changes made in Vectorworks immediately synchronize with Solibri, and verification and checking processes in Solibri appear in Vectorworks. This loop between these two BIM solutions will add significant value to Vectorworks BIM users.

Apple Silicon Notes

One final note about this review. About 80 percent of this review was conducted on a new Mac mini with the M1 (Apple Silicon) chip. Running under Rosetta 2, the performance was quite similar to the 2017 iMac Pro, on which about 20 percent of the review was conducted. We had no crashes on the M1 Mac mini during our review phase.

Closing Thoughts

The new Vectorworks Architect 2021 has many excellent new capabilities. Version 2021 was one of the company’s stronger BIM-focused updates, with more features aimed at BIM than on the graphics and 2D features that this platform is well-regarded for.

Vectorworks Architect (and Landmark) have become in this release much more powerful BIM tools able to compete with competitors, which are for the most part “dedicated BIM” tools. In truth, Vectorworks Landmark, as a BIM platform for landscape professionals, really has no competition in the field. For better or worse, Vectorworks will remain a Swiss army knife, a hybrid 2/3D CAD system that happens to be a BIM platform. Because it spreads its new features across a wider set of design markets, the CAD/BIM platform essentially competes with itself; its current mixture of traditional CAD tools mixed with BIM tools mixed with Adobe-like graphics tools is quite unique in the market. Simultaneously, because each development cycle has the company focused on multiple fronts in several different verticals, Vectorworks is the BIM platform in the architecture world that market leaders (depending on the country) have sometimes dismissed, often to their own imperil.

Vectorworks Architect will remain the BIM program lurking beneath the leaders in the market—that’s how the competition must see it. Its core strength is a unique blend of a strong cross-platform codebase built on the industry’s leading geometry modeling engine (Parasolid) combined with powerful graphics-oriented 2D capabilities. For the upgrader, Vectorworks Architect and the series, in general, is another strong upgrade. There are excellent new BIM technology additions, so for existing users doing BIM—this is a must upgrade. For prospective users, those on the Mac platform may stand to benefit tremendously in the next release; however, if you have an M1 Mac today, this version ran exceptionally well under Rosetta 2, meaning there is no reason to wait.

Pros: Powerful set of BIM improvement features and real Materials transform this BIM platform to another level; existing BIM users will love the new Structural Grid and Smart Markers technologies and the improved tools for railings and fences. The new Push/Pull modeling features are also quite a boost. The new Excel capabilities are also very welcome for all users. On the UI/UX front, the new Smart Options Display technologies are a bold revision of how to work; existing users may take some time getting used to these features, but their customizability is one of the appealing aspects of this change. Vectorworks 2021 runs exceptionally well under Rosetta 2 on M1-based Macs. Vectorworks has several new rendering options via third-party app integrations with Lumion and Enscape, in addition to Cinema 4D’s core engine. 

Cons: In our last two reviews, our main points under the “Cons” category were the lack of third-party rendering tools, particularly interactive renderers. This point has mostly been addressed, as as we went to press, Twinmotion came in the latest service pack. Twinmotion is critical because roughly half of the Vectorworks user base is on the Mac, and both Lumion and Enscape are not. Therefore, most Mac firms are modeling buildings in SketchUp to move them to these excellent rendering tools in Lumion, Enscape, and let’s not forget Chaos’s well-regarded V-Ray. On a final note, the Smart Display should let you save more than one group of display options. That way, you can have a dominant 2D set of options and a dominant 3D set of options. That makes sense for the BIM platform that is well-known for its 2D graphics capabilities. 

Advice: We mostly recommend this upgrade for all BIM-based users. Prospective users coming from legacy 2D CAD systems continue to gain a path to BIM that enables them to segue at the pace that makes sense for them, scaling from 2.5D BIM to full BIM to full Open BIM with consultants integrations over time. At the same time, they gain a platform that runs on both Windows and Mac equally well and at the industry’s best price point for such a software system. That’s a combination that is very attractive in the market. 

Price: Perpetual licenses are USD 3,045 without maintenance and with a maintenance cost USD 3,715. Subscription licenses are USD 1,530 billed annually or USD 153 billed monthly. These are US prices and non-US prices vary. To learn more click here

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