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What's the Best Architecture Software?

Updated: Apr 15, 2021

Let's talk architecture software! What are most architects using? What are the schools teaching? What should you be using?

We’re now at a point in the architecture world where there is no denying the BIM (Building Information Modeling) is the best way to produce construction documents. For a long time, there has been a fight from older architects who say hand drawings are still the way to go. Now in 2021, we’re getting to a point where some of the younger generations getting out of college have never even lived in a world without the internet and technology at their fingertips! Not only do architects want to work with something efficient, advanced, and user-friendly, but client’s now expect 3D models, perspectives, and renderings. Using BIM software allows architects to produce these with minimal to no headache. So, the argument is no longer hand vs computer, it’s which software is the best?

You may hear different responses from architect to architect, but the majority of professionals will tell you that Revit is the way to go. When I first started design school, AutoCAD and Sketchup were the two main softwares being taught (not including Adobe Suite for presentations, just talking modeling and drafting). Our first introduction to drafting was by hand. I’m not that ancient, this was in 2008, but it was still the first method of learning to draft. Then we moved from hand to computer. First in Sketchup and then AutoCAD - or maybe these were simultaneous, it’s been a while. During my thesis year, I decided I wanted to learn Revit. There weren’t any classes being offered yet at my school for Revit, but I had been hearing so much about the software. I was using V-Ray to create renders from SketchUp models and then using AutoCAD to make construction documents. When I heard there was a way to do it all of this in one program rather than working back and forth among three different programs, I knew I needed to learn it. The best thing I ever did was force myself to design my thesis in Revit and teach myself the program along the way. This may have been risky - learning new software for something as important as my thesis, but I’m so thankful I did!

Once I started Grad school, I realized this school also wasn’t teaching Revit as the primary software. I knew at this time a lot of the architecture firms, including the one I wanted to work for, wanted employees with Revit knowledge. Even still, I was told not to use Revit, only Rhino. I know they encouraged Rhino because of the flexibility of the software in the early design process. It is fluid and makes parametric design more achievable. However, it is clunky, hard to work with, and not designed to actually create construction documents. Most architecture graduates are either looking for a job at a local architecture firm or interested in one day owning our own studio. I don’t know the statistic, but it’s safe to say the majority of these firms graduates are going to work for are going to want you to be able to put together a set of drawings. Unless you’re going to work for Zaha Hadid Architects, chances are you’re not going to be designing parametric designs. With that said, it’s still great knowledge to have as an architect to keep you creative and expand your skills, but Rhino should be offered as an elective, not the primary software.

When I took a poll of 500+ practicing architects, 37% reported they use Revit, 27% use AutoCAD (with a handful saying they use it “reluctantly”), 14% use ArchiCAD, 6% use SketchUp, and a staggering 1% use Rhino (1%!). The rest of the 15% were scattered through various programs. These various programs include Adobe suite, Chief Architect, Bluebeam, Soft Plan, and a few other misc programs. Thanks, EntreArchitect Community for your participation!

When I asked Instagram what design software Architecture schools were teaching, the responses I received were: 73% Rhino, 20% AutoCAD, 7% SketchUp. One of the only Revit responses I received was from someone who is in school for interior design and it was among many other programs. There is a huge discrepancy between what the firms are using and what the schools are teaching! Why is this?

If you’re in school right now, my number one advice is to learn Revit. Even if you aren’t taking a class or actively being taught Revit in school, employers are going to value your resume more if you show you have some experience.

I had a student reach out to me and ask if I thought it was more important to be proficient in Revit rather than CAD. She said, “I know they're both important, but would you say Revit is taking over enough that it should be the focus rather than Cad in schools?” Here is my response: AutoCad is good to learn the basics and figure out how to draft digitally. Since it’s a lot like drafting from hand. But, it’s definitely not a presentation tool. In this day and age, clients expect some sort of 3D perspectives, whether they’re full renders or not. If you’ve watched any HGTV show, they often show a Sketchup walk through or fly over. Client’s want this! They want to be able to visualize the space, which can be difficult through a 2D drawing. So, while Sketchup can provide this, it can’t put together a clean set of drawings. Revit can do it all.

When you have been working in a program for a long time, it’s hard to make a switch. This is why it is important to start in school or early in your career. If you have knowledge of other programs, you can certainly teach yourself Revit. It has some learning curves, but again you can find almost anything on YouTube. Most jobs want Revit skills, even the older folks who are still working in AutoCAD want to bring in talent who know the program. Bringing someone new in who has proficient Revit skills can bring their company to the next level, making you a very valuable employee.

There are so many amazing tutorials online, either directly through Autodesk or through YouTube. LinkedIn learning courses and Timon Phillips Balkan Architect videos on YouTube are extremely helpful. So, do yourself a favor and download a free trial, watch some Youtube videos, and challenge yourself to work in Revit for your next project! Once you start using Revit, you'll never look back.

What architecture software do you use? What are the pros and cons?

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