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What programs do architects use?

By Ryan Solomon on March 8th, 2023

Architects use a variety of software programs to design, visualize, and document their projects. The various day-to-day tasks for your average architectural professional can be broken down into some key categories, namely design, drawing, visualization, presentation and documentation.

Some common software types that cater to these categories include:

  1. Computer-aided design (CAD) software: CAD programs are used to create 2D and 3D designs, and are commonly used by architects to create detailed plans and drawings. Examples of CAD software include AutoCAD, Revit, and SketchUp.

  2. Building information modeling (BIM) software: BIM software is used to create digital models of buildings that include both geometric and non-geometric data. This data can be used to design, visualize, and document building projects, and is often used to create detailed construction documents. Examples of BIM software include Revit, ArchiCAD, and Allplan.

  3. 3D modeling software: 3D modeling software is used to create 3D models of objects, scenes, or characters. Architects may use 3D modeling software to visualize their designs and create presentations for clients. Examples of 3D modeling software include 3ds Max, Maya, and Blender.

  4. Rendering software: Rendering software is used to create realistic, photo-quality images and videos of 3D models. Examples of rendering software include V-Ray, Corona, and Lumion.

It's important to remember that the categories listed above often overlap. In fact, effective architectural methodology is generally considered to involve a back-and-forth between, for instance, design, drawing and presentation. As such, software programs can and certainly do fulfill more than a single role themselves.

Historically single-purpose software has been considered optimal as the industry-leading technology. This has lead to offices using a particular software for a predetermined role such as Autocad for drawing, or Sketchup for 3D modelling. Industries are also traditionally separated with engineers, architects and quantity surveyors being implemented via separate contracts, usually from different companies.

In recent years however, turnkey software like Revit and Allplan have gained popularity in managing large projects from start to finish. We also quite commonly see industry professionals working together on a project within the same software - even on the same model. Thanks BIM!

What programs should architects avoid?

It's not necessarily the case that architects should avoid any specific software programs...

However, there are some important things to consider when choosing software for an architectural project:

  • Suitability for purpose: Architects should choose software that is suitable for the specific needs and goals of their projects. For example, if an architect is working on a building design project, they should choose software that is specifically designed for building information modeling (BIM), such as Revit or ArchiCAD.

  • Compatibility: Consider whether the software chosen is compatible with the other programs and systems being used. For example, if an architect uses a specific project management tool or collaborates with other professionals who use different software, they should choose software that is compatible with those tools and systems.

  • Cost: Scrutinize cost of the software, as well as any ongoing fees or subscription costs. It may be helpful to compare the costs of different programs and weigh the benefits against the budget.

  • Learning curve: Forecast the time and effort required to learn and become proficient with a new software. If the software has a steep learning curve, it may be more time-consuming to use and may not be the most efficient choice for their projects or staff.

Overall, architects should choose software that is suitable for their specific needs and goals, and that fits into their workflow and budget. Of course this is easier said than done. Finding out if a software is right for you, or your business is something that may need to be tested firsthand. Luckily this is usually possible via the download of a free trial that is offered by most software providers.

It may be that you need further expert advice on what programs will suit your needs and budget. This is where software partners and distributors have gained traction in recent years, particularly with more complex software that requires implementation. Have a look for nearby distributors within your respective industry.

Finding the right software can be a daunting task, especially with the cost of software today. Fortunately most software at this point has moved onto a subscription model, which means you're usually only purchasing the product for a year anyway. Hopefully our tips above will help you to make a more informed decision.


What did you end up going with? Let us know in the comments below.

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1 Comment

Oct 27, 2023


My name is Thomas Sotomayor 2nd, and I would have to disagree. I have been BIM modeling with smart objects in AutoCAD ADT, AutoCAD MEP, AutoCAD Structural, AutoCAD Civil 3D since 2001. I have several projects in my portfolio that were full BIM coordination models since 2002. sure, not all the programs were the same back then; for example, Civil 3D was Land Development Desktop, & AutoCAD MEP was Autodesk Building Systems. in 2007 I took on several projects that were specifically for BIM Coordination Plans and accuracy was key. I had Revit in my Building Design Suites package from Autodesk. but at those time the quality was embracing and very cartoon like. I provided my customers extremely accurate…

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