A potted history of my CAD background…

Following recent Twitter conversations regarding the best CAD software for an architect; I thought it might be of benefit to lay cards on table and to give a little bit of background concerning how I’ve ended up and still evangelising #Vectorworks design software.

Well, throughout all my architectural education, I was interested in how computers could benefit architects; probably my first experience at college was using an Apple II (pre Mac days but after the Lisa) to do energy calculations.

Incidentally, I was brought up around computers; my dad (David Stephens) was a University Lecturer at Chelsea and Kings College, London in Mathematics and computing; from the computers occupying entire rooms, powered by paper tape (I can remember a small handheld machine that could add extra holes to the paper tape), to paper cards, onto magnetic tape and my dad pushing the idea that personal computers were the way forward in the 1970’s and obtaining a Rair Black Box for the department at that time. I can remember my dad programming the lines of code to produce a b-spline between a series of x and y coordinates, something we all take for granted nowadays by simply clicking the mouse a few times after choosing the polyline tool. His teaching and mathematical work on computers was part of the presentation the university gave to a visit by Princess Anne in 1979 or so.

The system we had at college (Oxford Polytechnic, now Oxford Brookes University) was GABLE, a main frame CAD application developed by Sheffield University that was used by a few architectural practices (Ian Ritchie was one) and was chosen by quite a few educational establishments of which OxPoly was one. I wonder if GABLE is still going?

I’d used GABLE on a few projects during my Diploma course and decided focus my thesis on ‘Teaching CAD to Architects’ – The basis of the research was to investigate the optimum ways of teaching CAD to architects using GABLE as the software and the results were to be fed back into the system by me teaching my peer students the software using the findings. Well, it was in the course of writing up my thesis (on an original Mac and then a Mac Plus) that a lecturers son returned with a CAD application that could work on the humble Mac Plus. That software was Schema, which went onto become ModelShop – an incredibly easy to learn and powerful architectural modelling application that had more ability on a humble Mac than GABLE had on a huge room of computing power. It was applications like ModelShop the sowed the seeds for applications such as SketchUp to develop.

One of the original applications that shipped with the Mac was MacDraw (a 2D vector drawing application) (with MacWrite being the wordprocessor & MacPaint the painting app); immediately developers could see the market for architects and MacDraft was developed. Then hot on the heels (or maybe at the same time, CAD historians please correct if wrong), MiniCAD was developed by Richard Diehl. MiniCAD became Vectorworks and that brings us more or less up to date.

Tiny bit of my history: well I qualified as an architect in 1989 but promptly went on to set up one of the most successful Vectorworks sales, training and support companies at the time; conVRgence Ltd and latterly The Design Division (still going). Then at about 2004 I picked up my architectural gloves again, left for Ireland with my wife & family and running an architectural practice in the beautiful County Mayo.

I still use Vectorworks. I still think it’s one of the most powerful 2D, 3D, rendering & scheduling applications available for architects (plus a whole host of related design fields such as interior,garden,landscape,retail designers….). All of my architectural work from 2D draughting to 3D concepts and advanced models are done in VectorWorks, I’m probably biased but at least you can now see my background…

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