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Success Stories

"Fast Track" Is No Sweat with ArchiCAD

Heym Associates, Boston, USA

Converting to an entirely new CAD solution is a daunting prospect when your firm's livelihood is at stake. But when faced with an outdated computer system, one Boston, USA, based architectural firm viewed it as the perfect excuse to end a ten-year relationship that had long-since lost its luster.

"We got in fairly early on the ground floor in 1989 with desktop technical drafting using DataCAD, before many other larger firms were tackling CAD," explained Philip Dowds, a principal architect at Heym Associates. Their drafting department was working on PC, with the rest of the office on Macintosh OS. "By 1998, we had equipment that was starting to become ancient and we were falling behind. We knew we had to do something in the way of a major upgrade, so we stuck our necks way out and went all 'Mac.'"

They had been in touch with their local ArchiCAD reseller for some time, and, after comparing it with several other CAD solutions, decided to outfit their newly upgraded computer system with ArchiCAD. "It's a leap of faith," Dowds admitted. "Until you have worked with a program for several months, you don't really know if you made the right decision. There's no other way to do it, though, except to give it a try."

They made the switch at a time when they were just about to begin several projects, and were coming to a natural close on numerous others. They brought drawings that were still needed into ArchiCAD in DWG format so they could continue working with them. And after about four months with ArchiCAD, they confidently "pulled the plug" on the old system and sent it away forever.

"It was painless!" Dowds related. "The drafting department was somewhat resistant to the switch, because their hard-won skills on DataCAD were being thrown away. But after a while, they conceded that as a drafting tool, ArchiCAD was a wildly better program."
Dowds also noted that no one in the office found the new program difficult to learn. "Most of the operations needed for technical drawings are much simpler to perform in ArchiCAD than they were in DataCAD, including fewer keystrokes, and more logical command sequences."

After more than a year using ArchiCAD, Dowds credits ArchiCAD's TeamWork functionality with dramatically increasing their productivity. "One of the things that always disturbed me about DataCAD and computer drafting in general was that, except when you looked at plots, it was very hard to tell what the state of the drawing was. And even then, it was sometimes hard to tell."

What Dowds missed about manual drafting was the ability to look at the work that was being done on drawing boards, and review it on the spot. "Computer drafting generally doesn't work so well. You can't look at somebody's computer and understand what they are doing because a lot of the pertinent information is not showing on the screen."

But with TeamWork, Dowds is able to see what his colleagues are working on, as he has the ability to be in the same file at the same time. He also finds himself much more involved in the drafting process, because he is able to easily 'get in and get out.' "I feel like I am in control of the drawings again."

In business for almost a quarter of a century, Heym Associates specialize in mostly elder care, nursing homes, retirement housing and health clinics. One of their current projects is a 102-unit assisted living facility in Providence, Rhode Island, where the construction is taking place even as they are working to finish the drawings.

The facility had been in the works for several years as a site plan project, but Heym Associates didn't actually begin the drawings until January 1999. They were able to complete a full set of construction documents - not fully coordinated but good enough for pricing and to start the foundation - by early July. "We were able to finish under the construction design phase budget, so we were very pleased."

Because they had to "fast track" the structure in order to get the steel ordered early, they relied on ArchiCAD's DWG conversion capabilities to exchange files with the structural engineer. "They were careful geometricians, as were we, in a building that includes angles, so we used their column grid and their column representations as a way of double-checking and controlling our own floor plans. Trading drawings was very simple, even though they were AutoCad-based.

"It's also been very easy to make on-the-fly construction sketches that isolate just the elements that the contractor is interested in, and issue them as field condition sketches. This is especially useful in a context when a full set of coordinated drawings isn't available yet."

Dowds said they've exploited ArchiCAD's 3D modeling capabilities to better communicate with clients - "I'm convinced that many of our clients, no matter how much they nod and smile and say 'yes,' have a very poor idea of what they are looking at in architectural floor plans" - but they also use it to ensure accurate construction documentation and dimensioning.

"If you understand plane and solid geometry, and truly know how to work in three dimensions, you can also use it to control very complicated things like hipped-roof intersections on angles," Dowds explained. "If you set your geometry right, the 3D modeler is also a very accurate dimensioning tool and a precise way of mapping out what the roof plan looks like."

In addition to being more accurate, flexible and productive, Heym Associates also experienced one of their most profitable years after making their bold conversion. "The costs were more than recovered within a few months."



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