Integration in Vectorworks 2020

John Hill
22. April 2020
Image courtesy of Enscape
Image courtesy of Vectorworks

Generally, software updates bring an annual flow of new capabilities or improved performance, with developers typically focusing on one area or the other. But for Vectorworks and its suite of software for architecture, landscape, entertainment and interior design industries, updates have a different focus: the user. Recent Vectorworks 2019 and Vectorworks 2018 launches have been aimed at improving the productivity of users by responding to their workflow patterns and boosting the technologies "under the hood." 

Now, with Vectorworks 2020 and SP3 that launched on March 18, Vectorworks is making strides in both realms, focusing on quality and performance improvements while incorporating new features through industry partnerships. The two latter are particularly relevant and beneficial to architects: Enscape for Vectorworks, a real-time rendering engine, and NBS Chorus, an online specifications database. Below is a closer look at each.

Enscape for Vectorworks

Image courtesy of Vectorworks

For many years MAXON's Cinema 4D has been built into Vectorworks, giving users the ability to output photo-realistic renderings and high-quality animations. But those images take time, meaning that design iterations dependent upon high-quality visualizations needed a back-and-forth between modeling and rendering, resulting in a drop in productivity. Vectorworks partnered with Enscape on a free, integrated beta plug-in for Windows users to meet the demand for real-time rendering capabilities. The plug-in allows users to see changes to their BIM and CAD models in Vectorworks as high-quality images in Enscape — instantly. Dave Donley, director of product technology at Vectorworks, described the plug-in to me as "a game-changer in speeding up design decisions and presentations." 

The plug-in is also versatile in terms of output. "We like Enscape because it has high-quality rendering," Donley said, "but also very useful output options for users: panoramas, movies, standalone executables, and VR." The rendering quality is visible in the image at the top and the one above, both highly realistic in terms of lighting, materials, and backgrounds. The animated and immersive options, which can be seen in the short film below, enable clients and consultants to experience architectural models in different ways. Most interesting is the standalone executable that enables a client, for instance, to virtually walk through the house being designed for them using a simplified copy of Enscape that gets installed on their machine. 

The demand and expectation for high-quality, real-time images is influenced by video games and what they’ve come to expect. "This is related," as Martyn Horne, director of digital practice strategy at Vectorworks, told me, "to the 'gamification' of some technologies. We’ve seen mass improvements in the quality of video games — and it’s happening in real time." So Enscape is a way of combining the qualities of one industry with another: "Essentially collaborating to get the best of both worlds," he continued. 

Fully functioning in the March release, the Enscape beta plug-in will eventually incorporate an asset tool and material library — features that will use simplified, proxy objects in Vectorworks to improve performance in the model but retain the high-quality images in Enscape. That's well and good, but what about Mac users, which comprise half of Vectorworks' users? Enscape is Windows-only because, Donley said, "the underlying technology and hardware come from the game industry and the reason people have high-quality GPUs is because of games." Unfortunately, Apple's support for gaming-level GPUs (graphic processing units) is not aligned with what real-time rendering software uses. Fear not, though, as Vectorworks is exploring many options — including working with Epic on Twinmotion — to allow all users of its software to benefit from its advances and partnerships. 

NBS Chorus

Image courtesy of Vectorworks

While Enscape targets the visualization of architects' designs, NBS Chorus is all about their realization. It deals with the specifications of the products and assemblies that are used to take an architect's design from idea to reality. Chorus is the latest software by National Building Specification (NBS), a UK-based company specializing in, as the name indicates, specification systems. Up to present, NBS's software was only run on Windows machines, but Chorus has migrated online, meaning that it is basically cross-platform and is therefore integrated into the web-based browser windows in Vectorworks software. 

So how does it work? Essentially, Chorus is a link between objects in the BIM model in Vectorworks and their detailed language in the specification document. "NBS has supplied an API," Martyn Horne explained, referring to application programming interfaces, "that allows us to associate our BIM objects with the specification clauses that are produced in Chorus. It’s a whole bunch of code-based objects (windows, doors, walls) of various types that enable you to generate a specification." Horne shows how it works in the short film below. 

Like Enscape, Chorus works in real-time, making live updates between the model and the spec. But Chorus works in both directions: While objects in the BIM model are outputted to the specification and the spec writer is alerted to any changes made in the BIM model, any additions or revisions to the spec are also flagged in the BIM model. Therefore coordination work that was done manually is now mapped in real-time to apprise the architects working on a project of any omissions. Horne put it well when he said, "It’s simple but it’s sophisticated in the way it creates this extremely simple workflow, all done behind the scenes." 

This simplicity extends to the BIM model itself, which to date had to carry every piece of information for every object. That information is shifted to NBS Chorus, linked to the model and spec via the codes. In turn, the BIM model is more streamlined, allowing for better performance in what is becoming with every Vectorworks update a truly holistic BIM environment. Everything from concept modeling, rendering and animation, construction documents, and specifications can be done within the BIM environment — within Vectorworks. 

Increasingly, as the Enscape and NBS Chorus pieces of the SP3 demonstrate, holistic BIM is being enabled by integrating features from leading technology companies. Vectorworks assures those partnerships will continue — part of its ongoing efforts to align Vectorworks software with the needs of its users.

World-Architects is an Exclusive Media Partner for the fifth Vectorworks Design Summit, which was scheduled to take place April 22-24, 2020, in San Diego, California, but was canceled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

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