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3d visualization software in architectural design

(Click to expand images below)

Over the last decade or so, computer-aided design (CAD) software has improved tremendously in quality and ease of use, even as its cost has fallen dramatically. It is now probably safe to say that all design firms can afford to invest in CAD systems and all young architects have been trained in CAD. Consequently, almost all professional design firms now use CAD in all steps of production, especially for generating the two-dimensional plans, elevations, and sections that form the basis of standard construction documentation.

However, "CAD" can also refer to three-dimensional (3D) design software, and this is perhaps more important and interesting to the architectural client and relevant to the future of design. Photo-realistic renderings and animated sequences produced with 3D CAD will allow you to see exactly what your project will look like. You can explore the building's proportions and materials, its roofline and massing, its interior and exterior spaces, and its relation to neighbouring buildings. Even rudimentary 3D CAD models can be a valuable design tool throughout the design process, allowing you to quickly test out alternatives and modify the design until it looks just right.

With the ability to accurately pre-visualize your project with 3D CAD, you can avoid a lot of costly mistakes and unpleasant surprises. Don't start the expensive construction process until you are completely satisfied with the design and know exactly what your project will look like!

An extraordinary south-facing hillside site with vertiginous views of Jay Peak was recently acquired by a client who favours a Modernist architectural vocabulary. The result is an open plan, oriented to the south and capped by a tilted roof plane. Three floor levels are connected by a continuous spiral staircase. Service functions are packed into the north side of the house; on the south side two double-height spaces and a mezzanine 'bridge' reach out to the light and the view. Preliminary design studies: exterior view and cut-away perspective

Atelier Muir is developing a series of model houses for a new subdivision project. 3D CAD is being used in the early stages of the design, in order to shape the rooflines, porches and overall massing. The image on the left shows how a library of custom architectural components can be developed (columns, windows, doors, etc.) and at the same time, scale devices (people, pets, chairs, cars, vegetation, etc.) can be downloaded from the web in order to make the rendering more understandable. The second image shows how the software can be used to create 2D elevations as well as more complicated 3D images that display 2D floor plans in perspective. Sun shadows are instantly calculated for the selected date and time of date. Materials such as shingles or clapboard can be easily applied and modified.

Atelier Muir is developing plans for a youth center in a Townships village. 3D CAD is being used to study strategies for the overall volumetric massing and circulation patterns within the four main zones: entry, administration offices, meeting rooms, and gym. Exterior materials and colours can be adjusted instantly, during design meetings with the clients. A series of views can easily create an animation sequence that simulates the experience of driving up to the building. Transparent views make it easier to visualize interior spaces and aid in fine-tuning the position and size of windows. The image on the left shows how a preliminary rendering of the building can be dropped onto a photograph of the site to approximate the final result.

In this cottage renovation and addition project, a quick 3d computer model (left image) was enough to confirm that the roofline concept was on the right track. The idea was to integrate the new wing (right side) with the small original structure (left side) by matching the roof angle and having the roof planes merge on the far side. The 3d model also made it possible to precisely preview the porch depth and window placement.

This simple computer model was generated in order to study the angle of the pyramidal roof in this 41' square "Haiku" house which has a continuous 7' wrap-around covered porch with no supporting columns. The height of the peak of the roof was adjusted in the 3d model, with the viewpoint set at the center of the street, until the roof slope created the desired visual proportion of roof mass to building mass.

This 3d computer model made it possible to do minute adjustments of the proposed house and the garage relative to each other in plan and in scale (left image). The software calculates shadows cast by the house porches and the garage pergola. The resulting rendering is superimposed over a photograph of the actual site to give a sense of the scale and context.

This three-story residence on Lake Champlain was inspired by a late 19th-century Shingle Style design by McKim, Mead and White. The 3d computer model (left image) was used to calculate the shape and dimension of the roof structure which is constructed with 32' pre-fab wood trusses hung from attic girders. In fact, most of the house's framing components (beams, girders, trusses, floor joists, etc.) were pre-fabricated and trucked to the site. A photo of a shingled wall was used as a texture map to generate the appearance of traditional shingle at the correct scale: 5 inches "to the weather." Cut-outs in the porch roof show how skylights would bring extra light down to the kitchen windows. Construction photo (right image) of framing.

For added realism, and a sense of drama, this rendering of the new Bedford Pizzeria incorporates photos of customers coming and going (left image). Spotlights are added to simulate facade lighting at dusk. The brick texture is scaled accurately to show the actual effect of standard 8" x 2 1/2" clay brick. The computer model includes neighbouring buildings, making it a useful tool for studying the urbanistic aspects of the project. Actual site shown at right.

A preliminary computer model permits this winery project to be studied from all angles, including aerial and interior views. Metal roofing is simulated with parallel seams applied to the roof planes. Standing and seated human figures help in the scaling of the dramatic porch overhangs. Trees are rendered as transparent spheres in order to give a sense of the orchard grid without obscuring the view. Data from a topographical survey is used to create an accurate model of the slope to aid in the precise siting of the building in the landscape, and the calculation of the optimal route for the access road. Actual site shown at right.

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