Architectural design is the process an architect goes through in his or her work in doing the preparatory work for the construction of a building. CAD (Computer-Assisted Design) software is software used to create 2D and 3D objects in a way that will appropriately translate into the real world. Architectural design software is CAD software that is specially crafted and specialized for the work that an architect has to do. Sometimes one company has different versions of a basic CAD program. In this case, the architectural design version will be the one whose features, assumptions, and tools reflect what is most useful to architects.
There are some free architectural design software programs, as well as some inexpensive ones for home owners who wish to try their hand at designing their own home. Professional architectural design software is separated in price by at least $1000 US Dollars (USD) in most cases, and by a vast amount of complexity and functionality. Some examples of professional architectural design software include Vectorworks® Architectural by Nemetschek®, AutoDesk® AutoCAD®, Bentley® MicroStation®, the self-named Chief Architect® Full, IMSI® Design TurboCAD® Pro Platinum, the self-named DataCAD®, and Graphisoft® ArchiCAD®.
Some of the key aspects of professional architectural design software include elements that are very specific to the task of designing a building, and some are more general. The capabilities in 2D drafting and 3D modeling are a given, but different programs have different approaches to Building Information Modeling (BIM) functionality. Shading, photorealistic rendering, and printing capabilities are also key, as is CAD standards management. A well-thought-out library is also very useful.
Productivity and non-core features that are also important include digital security as a means to confirm file approvals and controlling digital rights. Workgroup collaboration, including how files are shared and how versioning is handled, is extremely important for team projects. MicroStation®, for example, uses Microsoft® SharePoint®, while ArchiCAD® uses a BIM Server® to coordinate teamwork and sharing with clients.
Interoperability is crucial in architectural design software, on many different levels. First, the ability to import files from a wide variety of origins is helpful, and some professional programs keep the range as broad as possible, including Google® SketchUp® along with more traditional file types. The choice of ‘Export,’ ‘Save As,’ and ‘Publish’ file formats are also important, as is the ability to assemble multiple file formats. A variety of file format options are important for ‘Copy’ and ‘Paste,’ too. A program that runs on multiple operating systems can also be desirable.