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Architectural Desktop 2004

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New improved Interface & 3D functionality CONS:

lt uses the Compressed new 2004 File format, so sharing data with anyone other than AutoCAD users is painful

Following Autodesk's acquisition of Revit 12 months ago, there has been a comprehensive repositioning of Autodesk products while it has wrestled to find a niche for Revit to occupy.

My interpretation of the party line is that Revit is the future, Architectural Desktop (ADT) is for AutoCAD stalwarts and change-resistant users who need an environment in which they can make small but progressive steps forward, and AutoCAD is merely a 2D content creation and editing tool. Interestingly, LT is now described as being a review and redline tool. Surely Autodesk is damping down its abilities in order to avoid further cannibalisation of the AutoCAD market by its own offspring.

ADT was developed to enable designers to model their schemes in 3D prior to extracting construction drawings (plans, sections and elevations) for design and construction documentation. Now on its fifth release, ADT has come an awfully long way.

Simon Jones of Autodesk UK proudly explained that: 'This is the first time we have been able to change the core architecture of AutoCAD to benefit ADT.'

On first glance, Jones has a point - ADT 2004 looks great. The interface is an eclectic mix of most of the best bits from the market, with flavours from ArchiCAD, Revit and VectorWorks. When you consider that ArchiCAD is often considered the easiest 3D architectural modelling tool to use, Revit the most integrated and VectorWorks the most user-friendly for 2D drafting, ADT 2004 has made great strides forward since the last version, which was difficult to use and incredibly 'deep'.

The interface (common across the entire 2004 range) now benefits from 'shrinking' tool palettes with a very XP look and feel to the icons and graphics. Furthermore, as the toolbars shrink when you have move your cursor away from them, the viewable area of the screen is always maximised. The result is a much more minimal interface, providing an intuitiveness I have not experienced before.

Modelling tools

With ADT 2004, assembling models is much more Lego-like than with the old version.

With many more pre-configured tools for creating items such as walls, slabs, doors and windows, modelling is as easy as pressing Lego blocks together. In contrast, the previous version of ADT required initial development in assembling libraries of parts, and editing these libraries was an onerous task that left most users cold and most copies of ADT on the shelf.

Display Reps

One criticism I have always had of the single building model (SBM) approach to design development is the amount of information you need before the model can start. This paralyses the user who could quickly test many different iterations of the design concept with a sketchpad and pencil without giving a second thought to the way it would be detailed or constructed.

ADT handles the different requirements for different levels of information rapidly via the Display Representations. These will draw your cavity wall in simple outline form, presentation form - with colour fills - and medium and fully detailed form with hatching, making it much easier to use any kind of wall detail at design stage to get the look you desire.

Live sections

In 2004, the live section-cutting utility is improved, so it is easier to place and extract a section from the model in either 2D or 3D.

The 3D is really cool, enabling you to turn on parts of the building (which are essentially behind the cut line) and render those parts with a semi-transparent effect.

Rendering ADT now has better integrated rendering technology, thanks to the addition of Viz Render - a stand-alone render tool 'chopped down' from its parent application Viz 4.

Sharing the same texture mapping and lighting effects, it greatly improves the links between the model and the image.

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