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In this next segment we touch upon VectorWorks 2008's new design layer viewports and their newfound abilities with external reference files. As Nemetschek North America's CEO, Mr. Flaherty was proud to tout the latest version's new controls dealing with opacity and transparency. Yes, now it is possible to control individual objects and their opacity -- like making cars, people and trees semi-transparent in elevation views, for example.

What was most surprising in this part of our conversation was Mr. Flaherty's strong opinion about the value of art in the process of architecture. He is keenly aware of the way in which architects see themselves and makes a quasi politician's pitch for their sympathies as "creatives", something that gets lost too often in the standard BIM marketing rhetoric.

Readers who fashion themselves as artist-architects will likely agree whole-heartedly with Flaherty's views on BIM. The question then might become, 'does their current tool respect that?' And if not, then Mr. Flaherty want's their attention.


External References, Opacity and the Art of Architecture

AFR: Okay, we are talking about markets, size of firms and the work they do. Let's go back a bit and talk about VectorWorks 2008 strategically. What were the big goals with this release?

(SF): We have a few big goals. I think one of the biggest was to handle larger files and bigger projects.

Two of the features that we are getting a lot of good feedback on are the design layer viewports and the rotated plan. These are both things that you really don't need as much when you work in a smaller work environment. If you are doing single person projects you tend not to have buildings with multiple wings at different angles. Not that you never do but we are getting into bigger firms that we hear that over and over again.

Now with the design layer viewports there is a new way to break the model up across multiple files. That is the primary thing that it offers and it is also for multi-designer teams.

I guess the external reference file capability that seems to be finally really there in this release is definitely part of this as well. And the ability to reference-in image files and PDFs?

(SF): The image file with PDF is interesting for us. It really is a import file format. What we hear a lot of times is that architects are working with an outside consultant and they just need a CAD overlay, or the basement overview or architectural floor plan. We still see that the workload with the structural engineer or MEP engineer is such that they just mark it up by hand, just draw over it. They want to bring it in as a PDF layer instead of DWG so you don't have to get into the translation mess. With PDF you bring it in, you see it underneath, what is different or what has been added, and you work with it as an external mechanism. There's no need for translation.

When you bring in files like this is there any kind of overhead to the VectorWorks file itself? I understand that the file doesn't get bigger.

(SF): Yes in a sense anytime you displace something you need to read part of what your are displacing. There is still a memory overhead since the model is still displayed, but since it is part of another file ("true" referencing) it doesn't add to the file size.

So in VectorWorks 2008 there is clearly new technology for you to work better at managing file size?

(SF): Yes. It was interesting 5 years ago we really didn't care about the file size because hard drives were growing quickly. As more and more people embrace the wave of 3D and BIM their models are getting bigger and we need to be much more concerned about this.

This has become a concern with all BIM providers, especially in the last few years. The files get so large and become so unwieldy and have multiple levels of complexity. It's a real issue.

(SF): Right, you can't even send a job via email now. You literally have hard drive feed issues.

Especially if you are working over a network off a server. Let's talk about the best features in VectorWorks 2008. There is a vast array of new features, what are you most proud of?

(SF): I am proud of everything. Maybe I should turn that around and tell you what I am excited about.

I think that the object opacity is just a fantastic addition. I go to a lot of BIM conferences and it seems that the quality of drawings has dropped off the list of important things in CAD. It is logically explained away that you shouldn't care about this because it doesn't matter now. I think that when you remove the art from architecture you have lost something in the process.

I agree...

(SF): Well, with object opacity we can really achieve effects that no one else in the industry can do. We have had layer opacity for awhile but this is a real addition that brings very high quality artistic capabilities that our designers will enjoy.

Now for awhile you have had layer opacity that was unique to the Mac platform because you were tapping APIs off that platform, now you have that with Windows. Did you rewrite code in order to do this cross-platform?

(SF): Not on the Mac side. Apple has invested very heavily in the Quartz technology. And Microsoft came out with a comparable technology, called GDI Plus, a very Microsoftian kind of name, and they did that as a precursor to Vista, to kind of lay the groundwork for what Vista does, but also to compete with what Quartz was doing on Apple's side. So on Windows what we have done with this release is take advantage of GDI Plus.

So just like on the Mac where you can turn on and off Quartz you can take advantage of graphics cards with this on Windows Vista too?

(SF): When we had originally done our Quartz implementation I didn't think that the Windows implementation had the performance it needed to, to make this an interesting thing. In fact, if you read a lot of the complaints about Vista now, they still land squarely in the area of speed and quality of imaging.

Quartz Extreme and the ability to host the graphics on the GPU was a big advantage of the Mac OS for probably the last couple of years, but Microsoft has made great strides in pushing Windows forward, so we felt were able to offer this. For us it's a nice differentiating technology because I don't think this type of imaging quality is that prevalent in the Windows applications we see, they really see it as an "illustration" feature.


(SF): So even though there are more Mac products that really offer this type of thing, we are able to go over and compete against the Windows apps and show some really nice effects that don't have equals in the Windows world.

Hmm, have you developed any kind of workflows where object opacity can be utilized in a non-presentation way?

(SF): I'm not sure what you are driving at?

What I'm driving at, what you are suggesting, is this is really an advantage for you because at the presentation level, but in the other segments of the workflow could the opacity serve working drawings for instance?

(SF): Oh yeah, yeah. Maybe this is a semantic difference. When I say that I mean to make the communication pop. Just like line weights -- I think of them as presentation quality. But obviously they are crucial to the communication at the construction drawing level.


(SF): What opacity does is give you a level of realism. In the 2D view. We've had this as a real strategic advantage for landscape designers. You know a lot of them still haven't made the shift to CAD at all. They still want the color pencil look or the water color look. And things like that.

We've been talking a lot about SketchUp, which I think has really changed the industry. They have a quality of modeling environment by always being real-time rendered. It really makes it fun to work in. And I think these high-quality graphics will make our product more enjoyable to use. I still hear architects talk wishfully about their own hand-drafting techniques. They enjoyed the mechanics of it. You know, it was a very tactile thing they were doing and I think they miss a little bit of that. And I think that is why you still see a lot of the partners taking out a nice sheet of paper and a really nice pencil and doing drawings. And we are trying to bring some of that fun back, and if you bring that quality of look in the CAD system that you use, then you start to get that fun in the system. We want people to sit down to VectorWorks and say, "this just feels better."

And yet what you said right now is just so true yet so far from the BIM talk that is suppose to be changing the industry.

(SF): Yes, because it's a very hard thing to quantify. Because again, BIM is almost an accountant's look at the architectural process. Now some will tell you that's the wrong way to look at it, but you see architects and they are still wearing the black turtlenecks and the 900 dollar eye glasses, they are very much about appearance, image and feel. And to just pick CAD as a cost-saving tool takes something away from them. We are trying to appeal to that side of them as well but also to their emotional side as creative people.

Right, right. I can definitely relate. That definitely resonates with me, I was at the last COFES and I'd have to characterize most of the BIM discussion very much centered on the financial pros of it, almost to the extent of everything else. Which is unfortunate, because architecture -- architecture's value -- is far more than what it can do in terms of bringing buildings in on time and on budget. Not that that is not important, it is an important part of it, but let's not forget the emotional sides of architecture. The tools should not lose sight of that.

(SF): Right.

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