Internet-based design collaboration is getting a real-time boost from computer-aided design software vendor Autodesk Inc. The company is shipping a new product, Architectural Studio, which lets designers create or modify architectural designs in real-time collaborative sessions over the Internet rather than simply marking up CAD designs.
The new product is the first that allows two or more designers working in different locations to change any aspect of a design in real time over the Net, says Yangwei Yee, associate partner for the New York architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, who beta-tested Architectural Studio. The new software has the additional benefit of being simple to learn because designers use graphical on-screen tools like pencils, knives, and tracing paper that mimic the tools they use at a drawing table, he says. "You select a pencil, draw a line, and the line appears on everybody else's screen. You drag a line to increase a dimension and the dimension changes on everyone else's screen," he says.
Architectural Studio is used to create initial 3-D conceptual designs, rather than the detail-rich mathematically exact models created in full-featured CAD programs and used to produce blueprints. Analyst Jeffrey Tarter, editor and publisher of the industry newsletter SoftLetter, says Architectural Studio fills a major hole left by CAD programs. "CAD programs have done a wonderful job of automating the creation of blueprints, but CAD is not suited for the concept stage. Most concept work is still being done with pencil and paper," he says.
Architectural Studio drawings can be imported into Autodesk's beefier Architectural Desktop CAD application, where the final design can be completed. Douglas Look, Autodesk's senior design strategist, says the software's support of digital tablets and flat-panel monitors with digitizer pens allows architects to use Architectural Studio in the field as they would a sketchpad. The software is available immediately starting at $1,100 per user, with an additional $600 annual fee for real-time collaboration services.