Building Materials

Architectural firms embrace technology solutions

When Ronald Lipford started Arel Architects Inc. in 1991, he had accrued a solid body of architectural experience at Washington, D.C. area firms, but with the economy in a free fall, he needed a competitive edge to make his endeavor a success. He found it by becoming an early adopter of AutoCAD, a computer-aided design software application that helps streamline architectural design and production process.

“CAD was new then. Many firms did not embrace it,” says Lipford, who purchased the program for about $1,900. He launched Arel Architects in Camp Springs, Maryland, with one employee. Though its first six months were kind of rough, Arel (www.arelarchitects.com) made $77,000 in its first year. While CAD software has evolved considerably over the years and is now an industry standard, Lipford is still ahead of the technology curve. In 2000, he spent $2,500 to adopt “a more architectural-friendly” program called ArchiCAD, which gives his clients more involvement in the design process. The program also features smart object technology, which offers significant time-saving benefits because the enhanced 3-D modeling can be performed on-the-fly, thereby reducing the time it takes to reformat the presentation. Instead of sifting through floor plans and 2-D renderings, clients can view on a monitor the 3-D model of their building “as if they are physically walking through it.”

Lipford is convinced his early and continued use of innovative technology tools has played a key role in his success. He now employs 11 people and generated $4.1 million in revenues in 2005.

Lipford is one of many architects and home designers who continue to adopt intelligent 3-D modeling applications that are reshaping the way construction is accomplished. In 2002, software design company Autodesk introduced building information modeling (BIM), an innovative new approach to building design, construction, and management. BIM continues to offer industry professionals worldwide a different perspective on how technology can be applied to building design, construction, and management.

“It is the technology that is going to change my profession dramatically,” says Markku Allison, AIA, resource architect for the American Institute of Architects. “For instance, I can place a window object in my model, or a door object, or a steel beam, and so on.” These objects contain a whole array of data, such as the object’s composition, cost, and materials. This data “can be used, or viewed, or manipulated for any variety of reasons or purposes from the early design throughout the entire building life cycle.”

Do You Want to Design Your Own Home?
Here are three home design software packages to help ensure that you get the house, rooms, and landscaping you want:

Punch! Home Design Architectural Series 4000 features built-in video tutorials that the manufacturer touts as “having an architectural designer by your side.” It has simple drag and drop functions for windows, doors, furniture, texture, color, and landscaping. ($249.99; www.punchsoftware.com)

3D Home Architect Design Suite Deluxe 6 allows you to fine-tune every element of your home design or landscaping. Convenient wizards and tutorials assist you in the process. The program helps you customize

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