Portfolio: CAD

I have found that my course hasn’t put much of an emphasis on CAD skills during the first couple of years, which is a pity, since its such a commonplace tool in modern Architecture and Engineering.  I believe it should be taught from the beginning and I’m glad that The University of Leeds is now doing this.  However, I’m pleased that I had the opportunity to go to Penn State where I did a course on CAD which really brought me up to speed.  They have the most up-to-date software and people with the skills to teach it.  So, what did this course include?  Well, first of all, the software covered was AutoCAD, Revit Architecture and 3ds Max Design.  All are good programs for their respective purposes.

AutoCAD: This is the most basic level of CAD design that you can get.  I’m not saying that you can’t do a lot with it, because you can, in fact, in many ways, you have more versatility within AutoCAD than you do in Revit.  You can make all shapes, 3D and 2D, diagrams, solid shapes, surfaces.  It offers all the relations of space that you want it to.  But where it falls down is that all of these surfaces and shapes are just that, they only represent the geometry.  The only way you know that a window is not a wall is because of the shape of it!  That’s where BIM comes in – Building Information Modelling.  These programs store not only the geometry, but other information about those objects or surfaces too.  That’s where Revit comes in.

Revit Architecture is by no means a comprehensive BIM application.  It’s a first generation that needs work, both from Autodesk and from suppliers and users who want to make it work for them.  Having said that, you can certainly create simple structures in a lot less time than it would take in AutoCAD and with more information attached.  For example, in this exterior image, you can see that the surfaces look like stone, the windows like wood and the grass like grass, but this isn’t just a texture with no meaning attached – if you go into the make up of the wall, it will tell you its complete makeup – Gypsum Wallboard (or plasterboard for us English people), inner blockwork, cavity (including insulation) and outer block, faced with the stone that gives is appearance in the rendered image.


Such renderings can become so realistic that you can’t tell them apart from a photograph.  The program allows for positioning of the sun using a date, time and location and for internal lighting, the photometric IES files which manufacturers of lighting fixtures publish. As you can see from the picture below, the software is powerful enough that it can calculate lighting effects, although a fully realistic rendering could take days longer than I let this one run for.


These projects were rather rushed on the whole, and we were trying to do bits of everything because it was a university project.  Normally it wouldn’t be the same person designing the lighting as placing the foundations and deciding on the structure of the walls, but it helps to be considering everyone’s point of view.  It can sometimes be distracting when a computer is powerful enough to calculate things and assume details which are normally present, but one has to be aware of what it’s doing.  It isn’t enough for an engineer to assume the computer does it right, or that what is the default setting is necessarily the right one for the situation you are in, but it can certainly save time in the whole scheme of things.