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  • Writer's pictureMaksim Markevich

Problems architects solve during early project phases and software they use

Every time I write about the AEC industry, I want to start my blog post with one very straightforward message:

Hey, my lovely reader, as you know, the industry is contextual as hell, contains multiple roles and phases; the final product (e.g. building) creation can take years. BUT. In this particular blog we will talk only about tiny part of this messy world.

Thus this time, the 'tiny part' can be filtered in the following way: architects, the software they use, early project phases, multi-family or mixed-use buildings.

As you see, the topic is pretty narrowed. If you want to understand better protocols architects work with, look at the RIBA Plan of work framework built specifically for architects to use on projects with their clients.

End of the foreword of foreword. I felt I needed to explain my internal torment.


The architecture design process is a problem-solving process. Before the problem is being solved, it should be defined.

To define the problem, architects usually work with the developers on briefing documents for the project.

Let's have a look at a few projects' briefs

As you see, the problems architects solve during the early project stages are very different, although they are all solved with the same tools. So let's figure out which software do they use. The software we are looking for should be capable of:

  • 3d modelling, editing, rendering

  • 2d drafting

  • Presentation

  • Annotations

  • Schedules

The best way to find the right software is to use G2 or Capterra.

After surfing the sources above, we can conclude that they have a bit different software classification for the same feature set (3d modelling, 2d drafting, annotations, etc.).

G2 categories and subcategories:

Capterra doesn't have a tree-like hierarchy, it contains tags, and every software can have a few categories (tags) simultaneously:

SketchUp - 3D Architecture Software 3D CAD Software Architectural CAD Software Architecture Software Product Configurator Software

Revit - Architecture Software BIM Software

AutoCAD - 3D CAD Software

ARCHICAD - 3D Architecture Software Architectural CAD Software Architecture Software BIM Software

Rhino - 3D CAD Software Fashion Design Software

It is a bit messy, isn't it?

No worries, it is okay. It just means that there is no standard software classification. Thus we will reinvent our classification system from a solution standpoint of view (because the problem is a constant).

In my opinion, we can separate three different software categories architects use to solve problems working at the early project phases:

  • Building Design Software

  • Building Design Automation Software

  • Building Design Configuration Software

Now let's dive deeper.

Building Design Software

Examples: Revit, ARCHICAD, AutoCAD, SketchUp, Rhinoceros, etc.

'Building Design Software' doesn't mean that you can create only building models. The software above is perfect for designing various things, including buildings.

Also, it doesn't matter whether the software works with 2D or 3D; 2D and 3D are just different representations of the same model. So, for example, if an architect can address the client's brief using only 2D, then 3D is not necessary at all.

Another not important thing is whether marketers write 'BIM' on their websites or not. I hope everybody understands that if we download the .obj geometry of the cube and create a specific description of this object, we will get the BIM object. Here is my transformer (my BIM software: windows 3D viewer and excel spreadsheet):

And the last 'doesn't matter' thing is whether architects create building models using manual or parametric modelling. Usually, the same software allows architects to work in both ways. For example, in AutoCAD, you can create floor plans within primitives like lines and polylines or create parametric 'dynamic blocks' (rooms, corridors, lifts, etc.) and use them. Same in Revit, you can create simple static generic objects and make as many building masses as you want, or you can create sophisticated parametric families for working with massing. Of course, the most advanced users always try to optimise their job. Hence, they usually have the whole library of parametric elements or specific families, but, as I said before, it is not the point of this classification.

Building Design Automation Software

Examples: Dynamo, Grasshopper, etc.

They are so-called no-code solutions, which actually require some coding knowledge. So what do such solutions have in common?

  1. Visualisation environment they are connected: Dynamo - Revit, Grasshopper - Rhino

  2. Similar UI concept: components represent a set of operations, and wires connect components into a kind of flow

  3. Programming capabilities

Such solutions were created (by design) for relatively advanced users who are willing to spend time learning some coding.

Building Design Configuration Software

Examples: Spacemaker, Testfit, Archistar, Kreo Modular, Delve, DriveWorks.

At a glance, it is pretty tough to nail down what all of the solutions above have in common.

Let's figure it out.

As you know, the AEC industry is one of the most contextual industries, which means that while producing a building, we should consider many different variables.

Building Design Configuration Software allows users to manage pre-configured building designs taking into account contexts mentioned in the scheme above: market context, site context, planning context, building context, etc.

You can still build a design configurator using Building Design Automation Software. And both software categories can apply generative design principles or use different algorithms (genetic algorithms, greedy algorithms, dynamic programming, constraint programming, etc.), but there are still some critical differences.

You can think of Building Design Automation Software as a relatively low-level software where users can set up various things. At the same time, Building Design Configuration Software is a relatively high-level software, where many things are explicitly preset for users' needs.

Thus within Building Design Configuration Software, when solving the problem of fitting units into a particular site, you don't need to think about algorithms, how they are connected, and how to optimise the time of calculations; you just need to set up parameters moving sliders and evaluate final options.

Building Design Configuration Software usually has its own related to the configurator itself user interface. At the same time, the output of Building Design Automation Software is a kind of script or services pipeline.


As you see above, the main differentiator of the software categories above is WHAT KIND OF ARCHITECT YOU ARE.

Working with different companies across the world, I saw very different types of architects' roles:

  • Architects who work only with Building Design Software. And separate automation team who tries to create some scripts architects will love

  • Architects who work with Building Design Software but started using Building Design Automation Software for specific cases like generating sophisticated building envelopes, complex facades, etc.

  • BIM Innovation teams who try Design Automation Software and want to develop their own configurator, while architects are using Building Design Software

  • Architects who define building concepts and then third party team automates them

We can argue a lot about what the future architectural role should be.

Half-architect / half-coder who work with Design Automation Software or full-architect who think up building concepts and then use Building Design Configuration Software, or even full-stack-architect who move things around manually for very bizarre projects, create scripts for very complex systems or use configurators for usual repetitive projects. Who knows?

One thing we know for sure. The market of software for architects is snowballing - compare it five years ago and now. And it is not only about mass-market products but also about thousands of proprietary software products AEC companies started to spend money on.

Despite seeming saturation, new software products and better versions of old software products continue occurring.

Indeed architects will decide by themselves what is the best future tech stack for them.

Let's enjoy the transformation of the industry and have a lot of fun. ✊

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