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AIA23: Architosh 9th ‘BEST of SHOW’ honors for software technologies at AIA National San Francisco

Architosh announces its 2023 AIA National BEST of SHOW honors for the most interesting and compelling software and digital technologies at AIA23


[Editor’s note. This article was written in consultation with Pete Evans, AIA, senior associate editor.]

Architosh announces its 2023 AIA National BEST of SHOW honors for the national convention and expo in San Francisco, California. The awards highlight and draw attention to software and hardware technologies of note exhibited on the show floor.

Winners of these small honors receive digital BEST of SHOW placards for display in marketing and promotions, placement onto Architosh’s BEST of SHOW winners roster page, and a complimentary Architosh advertising package.

AIA23—Thematic Issues

This year AIA attendance seemed up, and those exhibiting at the conference seemed very delighted with the number of architects visiting their booths (see our show floor photos in our reports). While there was better attendance, there were some notable missing software companies this year (more on that later). Still, the big names were all in attendance, with the exception of Bentley.

AI (artificial intelligence) was a big topic in some of our discussions with vendors, and some of the noted digital solutions below bring forth new capabilities made possible by AI and machine learning. In the past, we have written a companion feature that aimed to step back and gain that 64,000 feet view of what is happening with digital technologies. This year such a feature will focus on a definition of what constitutes BIM 2.0.

Over the past year or so, both Pete and I have focused our discussions on economic issues in architectural practice and how digital technologies can solve financial performance issues. In Xpresso No 44 (our free newsletter), I wrote a special feature titled BIM Manager: The Economic Value of Workstation Performance. This article discussed a method of calculating the economic value of workstation computers. It works through several calculations to arrive at annual revenues tied to “intensive compute” (IC), defined to mean that segment of our computer utilization where we are doing things on the computer where the computer forces us to wait for output beyond the Doherty Threshold (400 milliseconds). The implicit question was how long do we wait on our computers, and what is that costing us? And then, what cost can we recover with faster hardware?

Total Transaction Time equals System Response Time plus User Response Time. A Transaction is the work process that gets completed by a human user working in software on a computer. (Image: IBM Corporation, 1982)

In Xpresso No 43, I wrote a primer piece titled BIM Manager: The Economic Value of Rapid Response Time. That feature laid the groundwork for the discussion in the feature in Xpresso No 44. In particular, it discussed the origin of the Doherty Threshold and IBM’s 1980s-era “response time” studies. Those studies showed that humans take longer to do their next input when the computer takes longer to generate its output. So a slower computer doesn’t just take longer to get its work done, it makes the human user slower also. Fascinating idea, right?

New Economic Prize

In light of our research and writing about digital technologies and their impact on the economics of architectural practice, this year, we have introduced a new honor, the Economic Prize. The judging criteria are explained below.

I summarized in Xpresso No 44 that if a new workstation—or a properly-specified workstation—can cut down System Response Time totals by just 25 percent (or 11.25 minutes per day), the total economic value of wait time recaptured could be equal to 6,480 USD per year per user. That is a very conservative value because it only looks at “wait time” recaptured and does not factor in non-wait system performance time gains (i.e., sped-up time not easily sensed or felt by a human because it is faster than the Doherty Threshold (sub-400 milliseconds).

One criterion of the Economics Prize is license cost comparison value. Many firms are inappropriately limiting the cost of hardware and therefore making their architectural end-users wait longer than necessary when using intensive compute apps (e.g., BIM/CAD/3D).  Lower-costing software can reallocate scarce resources to hardware and thereby speed up total Transaction Time (see image above).

This should not be misconstrued that we wish architects spent less on software. On the contrary, the architectural industry generally spends less than 4.5 percent of annual revenues on IT, with some firms spending lower than 2 percent. But there is an interesting correlation between industries that have benefitted the most from digitalization and higher IT expenditure as a percentage of their revenues and those that have not. One valid hypothesis is that the architectural and AEC sector, in general, are underperforming with productivity gains because there is under-investment in IT (digitization).

And now the honors for the hottest tech we saw this year at AIA23.

Award Categories and Criteria

Our award categories are designed to be broad and flexible, enabling us to honorably note a product across a range of categories if so warranted.

  • Emergent Technology (emTech) Category Award — acknowledges industry potential for bleeding edge technology implementations that will offer “thematic” change for practice or create convergent technology paths and drive at synergistic directions for the industry.
  • Innovation Category Award — acknowledges the most “promising” companies and products that are heralding innovative new directions in AEC software or hardware technologies, as measured by: (a) implementation quality, (b) acceleration of quality of solution, (c) quality of attack on addressing “pain points” in practice, and (d) fitting convergent technology paths and driving at synergistic directions for the industry.
  • BIM Category Award — acknowledges both new or mature companies and products serving the BIM workflow industry transformation, touching down at any segment of the MacLeamy Curve where value gets added, as measured by: (a) implementation quality, (b) acceleration of quality of solution, (c) quality of attack on addressing “pain points” in BIM workflows, (d) adoption, extension and commitment to Open BIM philosophies so that data and toolchains are social and democratized to their fullest extent, and (e) fitting convergent technology paths and driving at synergistic directions for the industry.
  • Cloud Category Award  — acknowledges technology solutions (software or hardware) driving at full utilization of synergistic and maturing “cloud-to-mobile” and “cloud-to-web” technology stacks, exhibited or seen at the AIA convention, as measured by: (a) implementation quality and novelty, (b) acceleration of quality of solution, (c) quality of attack on addressing pain-points in AEC, and (d) fitting convergent technology paths and driving at synergistic directions for the industry.
  • Visualization Category Award  — acknowledges the most compelling visualization solutions and technologies that are transforming the architect’s workflow, heralding new ways of seeing architecture for all stakeholders and not just clients, accelerating design optioneering, material, and light discovery, design problem solving, and design collaboration, as measured by:  (a) implementation quality, (b) acceleration of quality of solution, including rendering speeds and image qualities, (c) quality of attack at addressing “pain points” in practice, and (d) fitting convergent technology paths and addressing synergist directions in the industry.
  • The Economics Prize — reflecting an important shift within the architectural industry to acknowledge the extent of poor economics for architects and a newfound demand for better working conditions and pay, the Economics Prize is awarded to digital technology that shines in the direction of better economics for architects, as measured by:  (a) sizeable process improvements to common industry deliverables via creative disruption (ie, Uber-ize a known process), (b) notable value disruption by a vendor via license cost comparison without “bundling,” (c) notable outsized release update delivering exceptional value increase for users, and finally (d) performance capture due to innovative, leading-edge hardware solutions.  


Congratulations to the 2023 AIA BEST of SHOW honorees listed below.



Winners in this category represent emergent technologies (emTech) that are far from “center-market” and much closer to “edge-of-market.” This means they have the potential for bending the trajectory of technologies near them—including creating a convergence of disparate tech—or offering completely alternative thematic change within the industry. An example of such a thematic change would be node-based visual programming tools like Generative Components or Grasshopper when they first emerged. They both bent the trajectory of existing technologies and offered a wholesale thematic change in terms of how architects can work.


Winner: SketchUp for iPad (beta)

Trimble’s SketchUp for iPad Beta was shown to select folks at AIA23 this year and will be available later on in the year in at least beta form. Its new Scan-to-Design feature leverages emerging technology in LiDAR-based devices like Apple’s latest iPad. “Running on Apple’s latest M2 chip-based iPad Pro, the new Scan-to-Design features tap LiDAR technology and Apple’s RoomPlan API to take accurate three-dimensional photo scans and turn them into SketchUp models,” says Anthony Frausto-Robledo, AIA, LEED AP, Editor-in-Chief, Architosh. “This means you can scan and design in a single app.”  The new Sketchup for iPad has built-in AI intelligence to convert what it sees into organized SketchUp model geometry so you can work swiftly with it. “Because it captures depth information from Apple’s LiDAR system and RoomPlan API technology,” says Frausto-Robledo, “it saves hours, if not days, converting scans to 3D models of spaces so you can immediately begin modeling design work.”


BIM, AI, rendering, AIA23




Innovation category winners deliver novel formulations around existing technologies or synthesize established technologies with emergent technologies. In particular, we look for application makers to leverage core innovations from operating systems, new types of devices, support for new hardware technologies like GPU and CPU processors (chips), or leverage new API technologies to deliver added value in workflow speed-ups. This year AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning (ML) are key “emTech” to synthesize with existing technologies, like in our first winner below. 


Winner: SketchUp 3D Warehouse

AI (artificial intelligence) is a thematic change agent in digital tools and workflows for architects, and 2023 is the year of AI (and things like ChatGPT) in the tech industry. So we were not surprised to find new AI technology in new and existing solutions at AIA23. “One of the most challenging things about having a very large library of objects to search from in 3D Warehouse is finding exactly what options you have and doing that quickly,” says Anthony Frausto-Robledo, AIA, LEED AP, Editor-in-Chief, Architosh. “Trimble has beautifully attacked this pain point using new AI technology with its new image search option currently running in beta. If you have ever used Pinterest and noticed how it finds other images like the one you are currently looking at (or a segment of the image you are looking at that you define in a box), then you will recognize what this new image search technology is doing.”


BIM, AI, rendering, AIA23


Winner: Autodesk Forma

The first official release of Autodesk Forma is out and ramps up the democratization of a pivotal architectural industry tool by Autodesk. Forma signifies a new direction in the industry, and Forma also represents the era of BIM 2.0, though Forma looms larger than BIM in the final analysis. Like Snaptrude awarded below, Autodesk Forma—based on acquired technologies—addresses some front-end design shortcomings in Autodesk Revit while simultaneously connecting to Revit via an API. “Autodesk showcased Forma’s API for extensions at AIA23 with connections to TestFit and ShapeDriver for Grasshopper scripts, along with its key new features like direct modeling,” said Anthony Frausto-Robledo, AIA, LEED AP. “Forma is a computationally hybrid modern application where application processing happens both in the cloud and on local devices.” Importantly, being a cloud application, Forma democratizes access to this BIM 2.0-era design tool, which is a big step for Autodesk because, for decades, some of its biggest, most dominant applications have only been available for Windows. To read our report on Forma’s first release, go here.


BIM, AI, rendering, AIA23



BEST of SHOW — BIM Category

As is typical, we have multiple winners in the BIM category. Our criteria for democratization via Open BIM (d) requires that closed platform BIM tools must accomplish much more on other criteria—as Revit did in 2018 with its new design-to-fabrication features in a year when industrialized construction was taking off—to win this nod. 

As noted before, BIM solutions today are quite mature and, in some cases, based on extremely mature underlying technologies. We are mindful of the frustrations expressed in the industry at the pace of innovation in this area and are ever more concerned about looking for areas of progress speed-up. As noted last year, this can come about by chip transformations or GPU accelerations. This year and going forward, it may increasingly also come about via tapping the power of the cloud (even for desktop solutions), tapping data center hardware, use of new “engines” and APIs to replace the old way of doing things. And speaking of the cloud, BIM 2.0 era tools are “cloud+mobile era” tools that offer new paradigms for solving existing pain points. 


Winner:  Snaptrude

Snaptrude, as a BIM 2.0-era tool, sits among a new class of young or emerging software applications that are addressing existing “pain points” in BIM workflows by leveraging cloud+mobile-era technical foundations. In other words, they exist from the ground up using technologies that were not born from the desktop era of computing. “Snaptrude warrants attention for how it enables the acceleration of early design workflows from conceptual modeling to Revit-based BIM workflows,” says Anthony Frausto-Robledo, AIA, LEED AP, editor-in-chief, Architosh. “Revit has been criticized in the industry for its shortcomings in the early design phase, and Snaptrude offers an answer to these pain points.” The new crew of BIM 2.0 era tools do not initially aim to replace the four main BIM authoring applications in the global industry. Rather, these tools solve specific parts of BIM workflows, complementing existing BIM platforms. “Snaptrude’s development is also impressive, both in speed and technical innovation. I am impressed with the company developing its own modeling engine after rejecting Parasolid’s engine for the web,” said Anthony Frausto-Robledo, AIA, LEED AP, “and for the way it brings exciting ‘no-scripting necessary’ parametric conceptual design.”


BIM, AI, rendering, AIA23



Winner: Vectorworks Architect 2023

Our judging criteria for BIM category award nods emphasize commitment to Open BIM philosophies so that data and toolchains are democratized to their fullest practical extent. From this vantage point, the Nemetschek branded BIM solutions are predisposed to be highlighted. However, this has not prevented Autodesk Revit and its vision of “closed BIM” from also garnering praise. (see: Autodesk Revit 2019 wins at AIA18). Vectorworks Architect 2023 deserves praise for its implementation quality and development acceleration as a robust BIM solution. The first BIM solution to support Apple Silicon, the latest version, initially shipped with several innovations, including its direct modeling for doors and windows, huge wall improvements to handle numerous subtle real design issues, and its new explicit modeling capabilities. “One of the more recent updates to Vectorworks 2023 has enabled Vectorworks Cloud Services to uniquely deliver Apple-only innovations to its Windows users and deliver Windows GPU ecosystem advantages to its Mac users,” says Anthony Frausto-Robledo, AIA, LEED AP. “By leveraging macOS servers and Windows servers at Amazon AWS, the company can deliver virtues of both platforms to all customers.” Apple’s best-in-class photogrammetry code is accessed via the cloud for Windows Vectorworks users, while Mac users can tap powerful GPUs at AWS for GPU-based Redshift rendering via Vectorworks Cloud Services. “This kind of creative innovation to solve platform parity is rare in the industry and deserves praise,” says Frausto-Robledo.




Winner: Archicad 26

Archicad 26 arrived with full native support for Apple Silicon. As we will explain in an upcoming article, the BIM 2.0 era largely reflects bigger macro trends in computing, whereas the primary drivers of semiconductor innovation center on computational performance per watt (unit of energy). This was first driven by mobile phones like the iPhone, and then tablets, but battery life is only one aspect of this criterion. Equally important is the performance per watt of semiconductors in data centers.

What has been happening with semiconductors in mobile devices and the data center are what we have labeled several years ago “convergent technology paths,” and Graphisoft, like its sister company above, is driving at synergistic directions in the industry with its development initiatives. But semiconductor optionality isn’t enough to warrant BEST of SHOW praise. Archicad 26 brings a new Library Part Maker functioning so users can create custom parametric objects without needing to know GDL programming. “The new Library Part Maker is a really key addition that will benefit BIM users at multiple levels,” says Anthony Frausto-Robledo, AIA, LEED AP, “and so will numerous other features added to what has traditionally been the ‘technological leader’ in the BIM market.” Archicad 26 also advances its analytics structural model integration, and BIMcloud now supports up to 100,000 files, among its top-flight feature benefits.





BEST of SHOW —  CLOUD Category

Perhaps no other category reflects the underlying digital revolution that is mobile+cloud in the Cloud Computing Era. Cloud computing and smart mobile devices have revolutionized all of computing. In AEC, they have sped up and created novel new workflows increasing client expectations and shortening project delivery schedules. Architectural practice has been liberated from CAD/BIM workstations and desks to anywhere, anytime, on any device access to your data or SSoT (single source of truth). Of particular note, this category evaluates CDE (common data environment) applications that are central to democratized access to a single source of truth (SSoT), though this year, we chose to focus on practice management applications. 


Winner:  BQE Core

Like last year at AIA22, this year we have focused on firm and project management software at AIA23, visiting the booths of several of these vendors. This year BQE stood out for several reasons, including its new interactive Gantt chart features, dark mode user-interface option, and several other reasons, including excellent pricing. In fact, we are sensitive to pricing and value in a macro environment where architects, like everybody else, are facing inflationary pressures. “I was very impressed with evolving features of BQE Core and loved the new Gantt chart features and new dark interface mode option,” says Anthony Frausto-Robledo, AIA, LEED AP, publisher and editor-in-chief, Archtosh. “BQE faces new and interesting competition along with veterans like Deltek in serving the AE market, but BQE Core delivers comprehensive features that allow architects to get at critical KPIs (key performance indicators) in a streamlined and easy-to-understand user interface,” says Frausto-Robledo. “It is important that these types of tools allow quick access to the data that assures managers and principals that projects are financially healthy. BQE Core delivers this with flexible modules and per-user pricing.” BQE Core is fully cloud-based and includes free apps for your mobile devices so you can stay on top of project and office financials when you are on the go.





Architectural visualization continues to benefit from stronger real-time technologies and deep integrations throughout the larger ecosystem of design tools. The real winners in the industry are the users who have a plethora of choices. However, in terms of real-time interactive renderers, there are only a few games in town, and Enscape has emerged as one of—if not the—top contender. This is also the category where we evaluate AR/VR/MR devices and software, but this year there was nothing significant on display as Autodesk’s The Wild is deep in a development cycle. 


Winner:  Enscape

Enscape 3.5 is the latest recent release of the interactive renderer, and the Enscape + Chaos booth was a very active place at AIA23. Enscape functions as a plugin for host applications, from SketchUp to BIM applications. The latest release adds a new global illumination algorithm and support for Revit 2024. “Enscape’s merger with Chaos has bolstered an already top competitor in the real-time interactive rendering market, competing with Twinmotion and Lumion in particular,” says Anthony Frausto-Robledo, AIA, LEED AP. “As we noted in last year’s honors, Enscape’s integrated workflow is its unique selling point (USP), allowing the user to embed best-in-class real-time rendering inside the BIM or design modeling tool of their choice. This year’s current version offers better visuals and new multi-asset editing along with adjustable assets, all speeding up this integrated visualization workflow even further.” Shown in the booth at AIA23 are upcoming technologies that feature integrations with IES for energy analysis into the archviz workflow, plus BIM pre-flighting technologies through another partnership. Plus, company representatives are strongly talking about the importance of getting the Mac version to feature parity.


Architosh BEST in Show Award AIA23.




BEST of SHOW —  The Economics Prize

This new award category will go to only one winner each year, delivering to market a product that can prove its economic value across one or more of the metrics defined for this honor. 


Winner: Vectorworks Architect 2023

This year Vectorworks Architect 2023 wins the new Economics Prize category for BEST of SHOW AIA23. In the past, Vectorworks was sometimes overshadowed by its highly focused Nemetschek sister BIM application, Archicad, partly because that app is more like Revit in nature and because Vectorworks is actually focused on other industries like the M&E industry. However, despite its multi-sector focus, the US-based BIM/CAD leader was the first BIM solution in the world on Apple Silicon and is a generation ahead in terms of its ARM development chops. “What has been really notable this year was the size and quality of its 2023 release (c), delivering a high number of exceptional value updates,” says Anthony Frausto-Robledo, AIA, LEED AP, publisher and editor-in-chief, Architosh. “Additionally, Vectorworks has always been a value disruptor at the licensing cost level (b) and doesn’t resort to bundling to do so. Finally, the creative use of Vectorworks Cloud Services to bring Mac-only features to Windows users and Windows ecosystem GPU advantages to Mac users for rendering demonstrates technical virtuosity. For all of these reasons, Vectorworks Architect 2023 delivers compelling economic value to the global architecture profession.”

[Editor’s note: We wish to make clear that there are multiple winners in some categories, and we eliminated the honorable mentions this year. See our show reports for more apps seen at AIA23.]


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