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This is Computer Aided Design CAD software used for building design, engineering, garden layout, landscaping, town planning and many other uses including civil engineering.
The most popular draughting CAD software for Architects is AutoCAD, which has been popular for many years. It is a draughting system although recent versions do a type of 3D. It is used for accurate drawings. It comes with a library of bit and pieces such as doors, patterns, colour layouts for routing etc. Areas can be calculated, dimensions measured, notes added etc.
This type of software is basically a sophisticated draughting or drawing system. Measurements are taken of the building or site, then the CAD drawing is created. This detailed and highly critical CAD work is either done by the Architect or by a CAD operator depending on the size and type of job.
Then the CAD software drawings are printed out, usually by a print bureau, large size, and used on site. The size of the print depends on the job but A1 - 84.1 cm by 59.4 cm - is common. Sometimes details of a job - parts of doors etc - are printed 1 to 1 scale although this is rare. Architects, surveyors and builders use scale rulers with these accurate drawings to quickly get sizes.
Other mainstream CAD software include Diehlgraghsoft MiniCAD, Bentley MicroStation, AutoCAD 3D Drawing and AutoDESK 3D Studio MAX.
Photoshop or similar image editing software, or a DTP package such as Adobe InDesign or Quark XPress, are used for final presentation.
Most builders or architects will not need 3D CAD software - three dimensions - as they are more interested in the sizes of things, and routing.
Developers and the public like 3D CAD software as they can not visualise 2D plans, unlike Architects and (sometimes) builders. So they need to see it as if it was already built.
3D software is of two types - surface modellers and solid modellers.
Surface modellers are used for visualisation only - so if you want to see an image or animation of a building or plan, this is what is used. They are quite complicated depending on the end market for the software. Hollywood has higher standards than a desktop system to make web animations for Flash.
Solid modellers are not actually solid, but they can add attributes such as density, inertia, strength etc to shapes, so engineering properties can be examined. This is more in the domain of computer modelling than drawing or draughting. So they are much more complicated and take a long time to learn.
Both of these are sometimes called structural modellers, one with engineering characteristics.
Google give away a basic version of the CAD software SketchUp, which is a fun easy to use package, and great for most uses. The Pro version is cheap too compared to the top end packages. You get what you pay for in this, and so the top end software can be pricey.
There is also Energy Measurement Software & Energy Measurement Tools for calculating building energy design, with analysis and simulation. This software does all sorts in the energy field, such as working out energy consumption and energy costs, CO2 emmissions and occupant comfort.
There is a lot of Project Management software, such as Microsoft Project, for Gannt charts and similar. Groupware is software that allows many people to work on the same project. These will be covered in future pages. Spreadsheets can be used to keep track of everything. Microbloggers such as Twitter can be used for group communication and updating.
Google SketchUp main site
Google SketchUp product versions site
Bentley Systems MicroStation