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A step in the right direction, I suppose. But as a hacker and an architecture grad student, no industry infuriates me more than the architectural software industry.

If you're looking for a new startup idea and you can build a cross-platform 3D modeler that:

    * is compatible with existing file formats
    * can cut real-time 2D plans and sections
    * provides a well documented API in multiple modern languages (please no more BASIC)
I will hand you $1,000 right now. And that's coming from someone who has $3,000 in the bank thanks only to his latest loan check.

Seriously, I think there is real money to be made here.

Incidentally I've been working on a toy BIM software package for the last few months, just for fun. The amount of work to make anything that even remotely resembles production quality is staggering. The problem with this software is that it's hard to build incrementally. You need all the functionality to design 90% of all houses or people won't buy it. It needs 3d for the design + renderings and 2d for the cutouts / details. And you're asking for an API - that would be at the bottom of an implementor's list after all the basic functionality! Plus the cross-platform thing, which doesn't make software companies any money either (are you talking just Mac or also Linux?)

But yes there is real money to be made, and Autodesk is reaping it in. There are contenders for the small time market like Chief Architect but they're not bleeding money it seems. This is a winner takes all market and Autodesk has a 30 year advantage.

Awesome! As I replied further down, I think we're at different ends of the industry. BIM needs are amazingly complex, and you're right about all of the functionality that is needed.

But for my end -- designers that depend almost entirely on Rhino or similar products -- those functionality needs aren't there.

But yes, we then have to have our designs "reimplemented" as construction documents if they are going to be built. It would be great if I could work solely in a BIM package, but none of them come close to meeting my (or most progressive designers') needs yet.

What if you inverted the product idea and started with an online object repository that was presented as an API for search, retrieval and instantiation. You would include the basic design methods for parametric designs in your API, but you wouldn't be directly challenging AutoCAD's desktop business. It seems like the missing piece these days is not the design tools, but the marketplace and the process of taking a design and validating and manufacturing it. If you could network a number of machine shops of varied capabilities and material specialties into a single point of contact for rapid assembly of completed designs with a marketplace for designers to sell their work, that could be a powerful combination.

There are already a few companies dabbling in this space http://www.shapeways.com/ being the one I'm most familiar with. The most interesting approach would be if you could find a market niche that had idle capacity and a need for creative custom solutions that was currently going unmet.

I'm not sure how that would work, but anyway I was talking about architecture and CAD for that only. How would you design something in your proposal? By writing code to glue together a bunch of objects? You need WYSIWYG editing, otherwise people could just write povray scripts and do everything locally. Maybe I'm just not understanding what you're proposing?

I'm thinking of something that acts as a catalog of pre-designed parts, that you can import into autocad, CATIA or even blender or maya. You could probably even put together a web-based interface to the geometry. It would act to some extent as a translator between different formats (.dwg,.stl,.vrml97, etc.) but the main purpose would be to act as a marketplace for designers and production bureaus. The ideal use case would be a construction project manager who's been tasked with remodeling a space on a tight time budget and shops for custom fitted design elements purchasing several designs from different sources and ordering production from one or more production bureaus within a 1-day delivery radius.

The real chicken and egg problem with this idea is that you won't have enough designers and qualified production bureaus to form enough of a critical mass of purchasers until you have a critical mass of purchasers to make the service attractive to designers and production shops. It would probably work best if you start off with a small regional network of production houses that employed their own designers.

Ah I see, yes this is also part of the 'BIM grand vision'. It's in the final stages of implementing an industry-wide system though. This would be hard to do without a solid toolchain in the beginning of the process, with a client to visualize how those parts look/work together. I don't see this as a replacement for 'traditional' tools, more like an add-on.

Big manufacturers already provide construction blocks, in standardized formats, for importing into design tools. From ICF forms to wallpapers. The 'marketplace' part is missing though, that's true. I don't even think it's a matter of technology, it's just that the industry isn't ready for it IMO. Construction is a very conservative industry.

If I were a betting person, I'd guess that the 80/20 rule/myth applies here: http://joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000020.html . Everyone uses 80% of the features, and then another couple of pet features they CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT.

Speaking of Basic, didn't AutoCAD use Lisp for "macros"?

It still does. As a younger programmer, it was my first taste of Lisp. Still, it would be nice to have more language choices.

Up until the mid 1990's yes. Then they switched to Visual Basic and C++ which were considered easier to integrate with the Windows environment or something.

I'm still using AutoLisp and I don't think our version of AutoCAD is that old?

ISTR that it was R14 that was all c++/VBA but it's been years since I touched autocad.

autolisp is still around, with VBA going the way of the dodo in favour of .NET

Hell yes. The same is true for the mechanical CAD market. Autodesk (the makers of AutoCAD) and Dassault (the makers of Solidworks) are intensely irritating to deal with. Their pricing is obscured, their marketing is heavy-handed, and for the price, their software is not that good. If I were starting a new software company now, these are the clowns I'd love to compete against. There are literally decades of pissed-off customers who want something better, but are stuck with these dinosaurs.

(Yes, Blender, Sketchup, and so forth. Not tailored for the industry well enough.)

I remember hearing that if you called up Autodesk and asked them if they were working on a Mac/Linux client, they would literally laugh at you.

Sounds like you are describing Revit, apart from the cross platform thing.

- can link in/import a number of existing file formats - can cut sections as you described - API is well documented and in .NET which lets you program in C#, F#, VB, C++ and any other language which runs on the CLR.

Great product, which improves dramatically in each release (so if you only looked at it a few versions ago, try again). It will cost you more than $1000 though!

I'm not familiar with 3D modelers, so could you explain what you mean by "cut real-time 2D plans and sections"?

Architectural plans are drawn as a series of 2d plans: top-down views ('overviews' or 'blueprints', like http://www.the-house-plans-guide.com/images/floor-plan2.gif) + sections (colloquial for 'cross sections', a 'view' on the inside of a building, like http://www.the-house-plans-guide.com/images/cross-section.gi... .

The 'traditional' way of CAD for architecture is to draw a bunch of lines and circles, much like you'd draw a plan by hand, but on a computer. This is very error prone and labor intensive. Your client asks you remove a window, you need to remove it in several views etc.

The holy grail of architectural CAD is in a part of what is loosely called 'BIM', Building Information Modeling. You make a 3d model of a building and generate separate views on that, like cross sections and plans, but also use that same model to do e.g. earthquake simulations or energy efficiency analysis or cost estimating. Autodesk has a product called Revit that purports to do this, but it has a long way to go to really fulfill the 'BIM dream'.

This is a subject near and dear to my heart - working with architects and contractors who run around with A0 format paper copies of plans, who do cost estimates by measuring, with a rule (!) each room on the paper plan and calculate areas with a calculator on a piece of paper, it makes me die a little bit inside each time I get a quote and I see the areas or dimensions or whatever different for each fricking ocntractor, instead of using software that would do pretty much everything that they just spend a day on in a few seconds.

Most 3D modelers are solid modelers (i.e. I construct a solid cube or sphere). When I aggregate many of these solids together (and possibly do some boolean operations to them), I have a design.

Now I would like my 2D cuts. By this, I mean I would like to look at a 2D cross-sectional drawing of my design. This may be at the XY plane, YZ plane, or some other arbitrary plane.

Most 3D modelers can do this, but when you make the 2D cut, you're often exporting the cut to a new file. If you change anything in the design, the cut does not update, and you must "re-cut". This is what I mean by real-time.

Good 3D modelers don't do this well, and poor 3D modelers can do this exceptionally (I'm looking at you Revit). Some can do both, but they're incredibly complicated and cost tens of thousands (Digital Project)

But for architectural design, you want to work at a higher level than solids. You want to draw a 'wall' and then parameterize it - 8cm of outside brick, 2 cm of air, 5 cm of insulation, 14 cm of brick, 2 cm of plaster. Plus this needs to have the right hatch in 2d views etc.

Have you tried Chief Architect? It works rather well in this respect, it's really made for ease of use. I don't know how well it would scale for large projects though, I've only toyed with it for small residential design. Plus the estimating and electrical/HVAC tools are poor to non-existent.

I'm taking the view of an avant-garde designer in a firm that has a separate team of drafters to implement designs and construction documents. My focus is on the conceptual design phase, so I simply have different needs.

There are a number of programs, but most designers I know prefer Rhino (rhino3d.com) and the Grasshopper (grasshopper3d.com) plugin. Rhino is now adding Python (and OSX) support, but they still have a ways to go.

Never mind my other reply, I hadn't seen your response above. I had a quick look at Rhino, I hadn't heard about it before. I'm a bit surprised that you work with the same tools as e.g. an industrial designer, although when I think of it I can understand, with the lack of expressiveness in the specialized packages and all.

But do you do that high-level design in e.g. Solidworks? I don't have any experience with that side of the industry, I'm just curious and a bit surprised.

(I'm not the OP.)

"plans" means 2D overhead views of a 3D model. "sections" means 2D side views of a 3D model, like a cross-section. I don't know what "real-time" means here, but I'd bet that it means you can grab onto the plane that defines the cross-sectional cut, move it in the normal direction, and have the model update smoothly. (The non-real-time alternative is that the location of the plane is specified by a value in some dialog box.)

$1000 would barely cover 25% of the price of a current seat of AutoCAD.

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