Architectural software for the non-architect
October 16, 2020 9:33 AM   Subscribe

What is the current landscape for architectural software (plans, visualizations, VR(?), open-source, paid)?

My partner and I are in the process of buying a 1930s cottage and I'd like to draw up a 3D version of the property once we're in and able to measure (the town doesn't have the original plans). I'm a graphic designer and cartographer and am pretty good at picking up software quickly and work in 3D a good bit (blender mostly).

I'd like to learn some architectural software, but don't know where to start. I'd like to draw up a decent set of plans and would like to build a 3D model so we can visualize potential changes to the property.

Where to start? This is just for personal use, so I don't think I'm interested in full pro packages. Are there good open-source programs, are there scaled-back pro versions? Open to any and all.

We're big fans of Your Home Made Perfect and ideally would love to be able to make a model of the house that we can look at in VR, although that's not a dealbreaker if not possible.
posted by Sreiny to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My architectural office, and just about every office I've worked for that does preliminary 3D designs, uses Sketchup. I think there are a lot of tools we use that come with the pro version, but I think you can do quite a bit with the free version.
posted by LionIndex at 9:42 AM on October 16 [3 favorites]

Hey! I did something similar, but with commercial spaces. This random Google link I found one day describes the prices and the overview of the landscape pretty well.

What are you trying to achieve that a 2D representation or a 3D rendering from the 2D that CAD software generates doesn't give you? We needed lighting and shadows to be correct to measure things in a commercial space so textures weren't important to us but things needed to be real in the sense hardwood reflects light in a different way than carpet. These are the kind of things you'll run into when CGI firms ask you what level of detail do you need.

To your point there's Sketchup and if you're wanting more realistic CGI you get into Unity and traditional 3D modeling software. It depends on what you want and how out of the box you're willing to go. We needed exact dimensions from furniture and installations which meant custom building 3D models for all those things. That wasn't hard or expensive because we didn't need it to look photorealistic.
posted by geoff. at 9:46 AM on October 16

Actually, the desktop download version used to be free, but apparently no longer. That might ruin it for you.
posted by LionIndex at 9:48 AM on October 16

I'm incredibly frustrated that Sketchup killed the free desktop version, but I will say that the web version isn't as bad as I'd feared. I think it's at least good enough for some exploration to see if it meets your needs. Sketchup is definitely what I would use for this kind of project.
posted by primethyme at 11:49 AM on October 16 [1 favorite]

More on the consumer side, I enjoy the Home Design 3D app on my iPad (looks like it's also on PC/Mac). You can create an exact floor plan and then view it in 3D to walk through. It has been consistently updated for years.
posted by past unusual at 11:52 AM on October 16

I asked a similar question not long ago. Still have not made a move based on the info. I used to use the free desktop sketchup for this sort of stuff.
posted by maxwelton at 11:57 AM on October 16

I have tried Home Design 3D, and probably still have it on my iPad, but I prefer Sketchup, and so do my engineering students (who work with buildings in professional programs but are amateur designers).
posted by mumimor at 2:02 PM on October 16

I've been using Sweet Home 3D for three or four years now designing (and redesigning, and...) industrial/ laboratory/ office spaces as part of my work. Free. There's a paid one but it's just extra models and textures that you can get yourself.

Don't let the name put you off, it's a substantial piece of software. There is a learning curve but it's not very steep (but there are some crazy stuff you can learn to do). It lets you map out floorplans with very good precision, down to mm or 1/8ths of an inch.

You can skin walls, floors, objects, doors, windows, etc. with textures (you can make your own from photographs), and it uses standard 3D model formats and there are oceans of free-as-in-beer 3D models out there. If you want to create a specific kind of feature like a log-framed bay window, you could make your own.

The relatively newest version has upgraded lighting for the 3D rendering; there are things you can do like cutaways at various transparencies or show only certain objects.

I like it for doing virtual walkthroughs to assess usability.

What it doesn't do is be able to be exported into a proper CAD program.
posted by porpoise at 5:40 PM on October 16

The free version of Sketchup is now web-based only, but despite that, it is remarkably powerful and capable. It is definitely worth a look.
posted by misterbrandt at 9:06 PM on October 17

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