Inspiring Adolescent Architects
March 22, 2005 5:32 PM   Subscribe

Which is the best PC-based software approach to allow a 12-year-old boy (who is bright, but not necessarily ardently studious) to explore the basics of CAD and/or architectural design principles?

I'd like for him to be able to use the mouse or a digitizer pad to sketch in a rough plan view, then be able to have software guide the process to produce at least cheesily rendered wireframe models. I am somewhat familiar with engineering-grade CAD like MicroStation and AutoCAD, and the probably archaic CADKey student package from back in the day, but I am looking for something more suitable to expand on an as yet very under-developed interest. This will be the first foray beyond notebook drawings of home floor plans that include such features as indoor pools, boxing rings, hockey rinks, and fireman's poles that get you from the game room to the kitchen, so the fewer the background hurdles at this stage, the better.
posted by dontrockwobble to Education (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
viz=ability is a really cool book and software program which can teach one to see the world the way some designers do. I wish it had been around when I was younger.
posted by alball at 5:55 PM on March 22, 2005

If it were me, I'd get him designing levels for Doom3 (or, easier, Quake 3 or the like) using the community tools, if he were into games, for which there is ample support for beginners on up, and tons of people in his age group and with similar skills and interests. The principles are very much the same.

Added bonus is that if he frag his buddies to relax when he loads up the products of his hard work.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:30 PM on March 22, 2005

Google for TurboCAD Learning Edition. It's free to download (being an teaser and probably without the full-blown features) yet I had absolutely no problems being able to design a cottage house we're now building. It might be one option to look at.
posted by rolypolyman at 6:30 PM on March 22, 2005

A lot of people in the architectural profession have started using a handy little program called Sketchup. It's very easy to use, and the results can be spectacular. AutoCAD and Microstation are just plain tedious.
posted by tfmm at 7:59 PM on March 22, 2005

Perhaps something like Autodesk Architectural Desktop. Its more than just lines and dimensions nowadays, its easy to point and click and move walls, windows, etc. Its far from cheap though.

Hmmm.... The Sims2? Isnt there a way to build custom dwellings?
posted by SirOmega at 9:54 PM on March 22, 2005

Add a vote for Sketchup. It's the only modelling program I've used whose interface doesn't make me want to throw up.

It's a pity there isn't a 'home use' license; $475 is a bit much for a non-architect fiddler.
posted by BobInce at 10:11 PM on March 22, 2005

If the kid is behind this drive and really wanting CAD software, then you should be able to give them engineering grade software, and they'll learn their way around the basics (well, I did at a similar age, so based on a sample of one.... odds are 100% :-).

If the kid is only passingly interested and it is you that is wanting to encourage the interest, then I'd second the idea of getting him tools to edit 3d games.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:27 PM on March 22, 2005

Note that 3D map editors rarely use functions anything remotely like actual CAD. 3D map editors for games are generally creating/carving out convex hulls for the binary space partition tree. Similarly, 3D modelling suites like Milkshape, Blender, GMAX, and Maya Personal Edition use polygon/vertex/surface normals editing beginning from simple primitives and/or NURBS surfaces. CAD-style functions I only know about from watching my old college roommate work with ProEngineer, but the entire process of object creation and the whole way of thinking is completely and totally different - it seemed to be more focused on operations easily reproduced by assembly-line machines than anything else.
posted by Ryvar at 2:44 AM on March 23, 2005

3D Cad programs are amazing. Rather than the tedious process of trying to make a 2D drawing represent your vision, you build a virtual version of your project and let the computer come up with the 2D views. Modern programs will even let you play with movable joints, physical properties and manufacturing processes (I giggled like a four year old the first time I 'printed' a design using a rapid prototyper)

The popular programs are Autodesk Inventor, Solidworks, Solid Edge, and Pro/Engineer. Each of these programs offer limited-time trials, but a license can cost $4500. I don't know if any offer a cheaper student license.

The lesser known packages are cheaper, ie think3, Alibre Design, and Rhino.

These are all very powerful general-purpose design packages. If your son is only interested in architectural design, I third the sketch-up recommendation.
posted by Popular Ethics at 6:19 AM on March 23, 2005

Pro/Engineer has a simplified version called Pro/Desktop. It works, but there are a number of things that are non-intuitive and in a training session I took, it became clear that it was ridiculously easy to create things that it couldn't render with no coherent explanation as to why. I taught 4 students to use the program and most of my work was to steer them away from things that would put the program into that mode. Using Pro/Desktop requires the user to rethink how models are constructed--and not in a good way. Just for that reason alone, I can't recommend it.
posted by plinth at 7:44 AM on March 23, 2005

Sketchup is awesome. You can download it for free from their website and use it for 10 hours (10 hours of in-program use). They have lots of good tutorials on their website. I use it almost exclusively for furniture and cabinet design.

It also has a built in programming language (Ruby) that is nice if you want to extend from CAD concepts to programming concepts.
posted by RustyBrooks at 8:31 AM on March 23, 2005

I'll also mention Sketchup. The learning curve is barely not there, and the kid will design in 3D and see results in realtime. I wish I had it at that age!
posted by lorbus at 10:35 AM on March 23, 2005

If you want a serious CAD program with an excellent interface, I'd recommend Vectorworks
posted by wezelboy at 3:36 PM on March 23, 2005

« Older Which bluetooth headset to use with Mac OS X?   |   How would you break into the video game industry? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.