Following the launch of Vectorworks 2024, AEC Magazine caught up with CEO Dr. Biplab Sarkar to talk subscription, concept design, point clouds, sustainability, AI, and lots more
AEC Magazine: Since moving to subscription, how have things changed and what have you developed for subsequent releases of Vectorworks? There seem to be more ‘bread and butter’ features and less brand-new capabilities.
Dr. Biplab Sarkar: Going to subscription has changed a few things for us. First, we have more updates for our customers throughout the year. Second, quality and performance have become the main features of every release and update. Lastly, more and more of the updates consist of new functionality in addition to quality improvements of the existing features.
So, this latest release, Vectorworks 2024, represents a significant move forward in integrating our tools into specific design workflows. We are taking a holistic and high-level approach, working hard to ensure that our software aligns seamlessly with the natural processes of designers. From ideation to final execution, this latest version has been carefully crafted to provide both new tools and existing features, working together harmoniously to diminish disruptions and enhance productivity. Thus, in many cases, the new capabilities are related to the existing workflows.
AEC Magazine: In the BIM market in general, despite applications being mature, there is a lot of concentration around the development of conceptual capabilities. Why do you think conceptual is getting focused on now and what kinds of capabilities are you adding to Vectorworks in that area?
Dr. Biplab Sarkar: We think the reason why conceptual modelling is getting more focus now is because, for a while, all that the BIM applications provided was design coordination and drawing production. In many ways, these applications were documentation tools. With the advent of technologies like AI/ML, drawing production could become automated so that the designers and architects can then focus more on the ideation and therefore, you need conceptual modelling capabilities.
Vectorworks strives to be the design tool for designers by providing maximum freedom to model anything they want. Many of the firms use Vectorworks in the competition phase of the design process just because of its modelling, rendering, and presentation capabilities. In addition to parametric modelling (which is where the focus of other BIM software has been), we have Parasolid-based NURBS and a solid modelling engine; we also support Sub-Division and mesh modelling — and they all add up to a highly flexible approach to modelling.
AEC Magazine: Your support for photogrammetry and handheld point clouds from iPhones is really impressive. As point clouds can be huge, what kinds of changes have you had to make to display them. And do iPhone scans offer high enough accuracy for real world use?
Dr. Biplab Sarkar: Given that we are one of the few BIM software solutions that supports Windows and Mac, we take advantage of the unique performance benefits of each platform. Mac offers superior performance relating to its adoption of photogrammetry and point clouds. It’s a technology that we are committed to because it offers a lowcost entry point and is fast developing. In terms of tolerance, it’s all about the user’s level of information need. iPhone and iPad-based scanning provides a quick, easily accessible method for capturing site data with devices that many people already have. The accuracy of these lidars is about 2-3cm (about 1.2 in), which is fine for scanning a site or a room for interior renovations.
The display of the point clouds is handled by the graphics engine developed over the last several years called the Vectorworks Graphics Module (VGM). VGM provides a very fast and fluid experience if used on capable hardware.
With the advent of technologies like AI/ML, drawing production could become automated so that the designers and architects can then focus more on the ideation and therefore, you need conceptual modelling capabilities -Dr. Biplab Sarkar, CEO Vectorworks
AEC Magazine: Sustainability and retrofit are two areas we hear are becoming increasingly important to users. What capabilities have you recently added to assist this and what do you think you need to add to Vectorworks to help your customers?
Dr. Biplab Sarkar: The Vectorworks Embodied Carbon Calculator (VECC) is our most recent addition that can aid the sustainable architecture design workflow. This is in addition to our existing Energos tool, which helps assess a building’s operational emissions through primary energy consumption (kWh/m2/ year). The VECC is a custom worksheet that’s pre-formatted to help calculate the embodied carbon levels of a project and combines accurate material volumes from our BIM models with industrystandard methodology and calculations to provide a comprehensive set of values. Plus, it’s applicable during the early as well as later stages of BIM development.
We can help our customers in several different ways: (a) by adding more data to our Material resources that would help in calculating operational carbon calculations, (b) by creating connections to other carbon calculators that provide a real-time dashboard, etc.
AEC Magazine: Collaboration is also a hot topic. Vectorworks is file-based, but this latest release, with cloud-services and file linking/synchronising seems to point in a direction which could lead to database-driven sessions. How do you envision a database-centric workflow would be enabled? It seems Vectorworks can now be everywhere.
Dr. Biplab Sarkar: It can be argued that Vectorworks has always been databasecentric. It is built on capturing data from the model and drawings, reporting said data, and making it accessible for collaboration. The data difference we bring to our architecture customers is vast in how data can be accessed and managed. Our next steps will be to look at ways to leverage this part of our DNA and the strides we are making with what we can offer with Vectorworks Cloud Services. While we are conscious of an end goal of a holistic, cloud-based, common data-sharing environment, we also have short-term goals that customers can use immediately. For example, we are working on leveraging Cloud Services to process Revit file export. This offloads a memory-intensive task from a local machine to the cloud, allowing us to support multiple .rvt file formats for more open collaboration. Additionally, we are working towards a viewer that will not only show the 3D geometry of the model but also allow for access and viewing of the data associated with the model. This will lay the foundation needed for more cloud-based sharing among project stakeholders.
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AEC Magazine: Digital Twins has become increasingly name-checked by BIM software developers and Nemetschek has recently launched its own standalone brand. How does Vectorworks fit into this picture, and will you integrate/leverage Nemetschek’s new product?
Dr. Biplab Sarkar: Nemetschek’s dTwin product was developed in collaboration with a number of the brands within the Group, including Vectorworks.
We can send data/information to dTwin both with the IFC file format and any reality capture that Vectorworks supports, such as point cloud data. There is continued development planned to begin supporting native file formats of the three main BIM authoring tools in the Group — Vectorworks, Archicad, and Allplan — this will create a direct integration with dTwin. It’s also important to note that as a digital asset management tool, dTwin supports GIS information, which is also important for landscape architecture and urban planning customers working with technology partners such as Esri, which Vectorworks also supports. This makes integration with a tool like dTwin even more valuable for those working on large-scale projects that will benefit from access to this type of Building Lifecycle Intelligence.
We are working towards a viewer that will not only show the 3D geometry of the model but also allow for access and viewing of the data associated with the model. This will lay the foundation needed for more cloud-based sharing among project stakeholders
AEC Magazine: With the port to Mac Silicon how have customers reacted? Has it made any Wintel users switch? What are your thoughts on browser-based applications vs desktop – they seem to be merging now with desktops expanding to the cloud!
Dr. Biplab Sarkar: The reaction to Apple Silicon has been overwhelmingly positive. We saw the superior performance it offered from the very beginning. Vectorworks is the first major BIM application to run natively on Apple Silicon processors, and we were able to optimise our software performance by creating proper support for Metal in our graphics pipeline (VGM).
Regarding browser-based applications, we think these will be suitable for certain operations like collaboration using coviewing and co-markup or moderate editing of models and drawings. But in the short term, most of our users would still use desktop-based products for most of their design processes and use the cloud services to supplement their design process with rendering or presentation operations.
AEC Magazine: Rendering in Vectorworks has really stepped up in the last few releases. The section viewport speed is impressive. Has this been made possible with advances in GPU or general CPU speeds? In the future do you think BIM tools will always run in rendered views, like games?
Dr. Biplab Sarkar: It’s a mixture of things, both improved hardware and more intelligent handling of the sectioning code. We’ve shifted some of it to the background thread for calculations and reduced the amount of memory required, which puts less pressure on the hardware.
We do think that with the advent of real-time rendering engines making their marks in the AEC market, the days when BIM tools will run a rendered view are not too far off. CAD users are already working in the rendered environment, and we think AEC users will experience this soon.
AEC Magazine: With a bespoke application for landscapes and with some GISlike capabilities for sites, how do you see BIM and GIS playing out? How far into GIS will Vectorworks go? How has your partnership with Esri gone?
Dr. Biplab Sarkar: Creating an outdoor environment requires many stages. First, a thorough analysis of the site and its surroundings from many angles, such as biodiversity, light, water management, infrastructure, and protection of valuable natural resources, to mention a few, must be completed. At this stage, GIS is invaluable, and our Landmark users are already taking full advantage of our capabilities by adding Esri base maps and linking feature layers with this type of information to their Vectorworks documents. It is an integral part of an analysis-driven workflow.
It’s a natural step to connect this to BIM — placing your project in its correct environment to analyse the impact is excellent for the architect but even more beneficial for the broader group of stakeholders. It is an exceptional, interactive tool for communicating ideas and intent, and we’re working closely with some of our users to develop even more intimate workflows between the GIS expert and the landscape architect. This runs through the whole project, from the analysis and stakeholder buy-in to the audit of the finished project and through the asset’s lifespan. We aim to directly integrate as many GIS capabilities as possible into the Vectorworks environment.
The work we’ve done with Esri is valuable, and seeing the improvements in integrating GIS with CAD-based models is exciting. As BIM is based on collaboration, it’s essential to have a GIS environment where every project participant can interact. Esri’s ArcGIS Online platform has been a game changer for this. As IFC is the preferred format (schema) for BIM, a lot of effort is made from Esri’s side to ensure the exchange runs smoothly for files from various sources.
AEC Magazine: We can’t leave without mentioning AI. How do you see AI being developed within Vectorworks? Having good data to train on is key. Would you train on customers’ data or make that an opt in? Are customers more nervous thinking firms will steal design IP when it’s more about process and defining industry recipes?
Dr. Biplab Sarkar: We still see AI being full of potential, creating new opportunities to explore design and construction that we’ve never imagined. The most prominent place of impact we’ll see is in design discovery and exploration. At Vectorworks, we’re doing active research to deliver AI visualisation and image generation features at point of use. This would allow users to visualise their early Vectorworks designs using text-based prompts quickly and simply on their early 3D massing and concept models.
This will also allow the user to produce a compelling image of their design very early in the design process and without additional work or time spent on traditional rendering overheads of lighting, textures, backgrounds, finely detailed modelling, or render settings.
The customer data collected from the Vectorworks application is on an opt-in basis. The granularity of the data, as well as the quality of the data, determines whether it can be used for training predictive models. Also, the composition of the data is such that it is impossible to reconstitute and determine the design processes or recipes.