December 18, 2020

Best Architecture Design Software 2021: A Comparative Study

Snaptrude Editorial Desk

What's in this post?

What’s in this Blog?

  1. The year of the new normal
  2. What are architects & architectural firms looking for in the best architecture design software?
  3. Parameters we used for comparative study
  4. Findings: Comparing best architecture design software
  5. AutoCAD software for architects
  6. Revit architecture software
  7. SketchUp architecture design software
  8. In Picture: Comparison diagram of best architecture design software
  9. Snaptrude

The year of the new normal

2020 was a landmark year for the architectural world around the globe. Of course, Covid-19 impacted the architecture community just like it did all the other professions. But, there was also a large wave (almost like a disappointed version of a Mexican wave, if we had to imagine one), which had the architecture community worldwide sharing their dissent about legacy design software; the same software that had ruled the industry for decades.

In many ways, this wave has also acted as an eye opener for the larger architecture world. It surely has made a lot of architects and architectural firms rethink their design software. Where earlier it would not even be considered, many of them are now open to having conversations around making a switch to smarter technology. Probably, the time is right for the industry to embrace a futuristic tool.

What are architects & architectural firms looking for in the best architecture design software?

The best architecture design software should definitely focus on simplifying the design process itself. It should have an easy-to-use interface, enabling users to create 2D & 3D models with automation capabilities that are Building Information Modelling (BIM) compatible. The best architecture design software should not only be fully-featured but also interoperable, allowing for importing, exporting and integrations with other software. And, the best architecture design software should let teams collaborate in real-time and from anywhere, through cloud capabilities. And last but not the least, the best architecture design software should be an answer to your question ‘What is the easiest architecture software to use?’.

While the best design software for someone might not be the same for the rest but majorly, most leading architects and architectural firms we spoke to were looking for these capabilities in their design software:

“In 2021, we want our new design software to not involve weeks or months of training (especially not in-person training). It should be like an online plug and play model.” – Principal, Architectural Firm in Nice, France, Europe
“Definitely has to be BIM based as it automates and smartens so many processes.” –  Freelance Architect, Montenegro, Europe
“The best architectural design software should let me design easily and not add more steps to the already complicated process of architectural designing.” – Junior Architect, Los Angeles, USA
“It has to let us take key construction level decisions during the initial stages of design like budgeting, zoning and site feasibility studies.” – Senior Architect, Architectural Firm, Philippines
“We think a cloud-based BIM software that would let the whole team work together in sync, would make the cut. Who knows, we could be working from home forever” – Principal, Architectural Firm, San Diego, USA
“I would love my design software to be Mac compatible.” – Freelance Architect, Prague, Europe
“Well, my architecture design software should be free. :-)” – Architecture student, Bangalore, India

Parameters we used for comparative study

We created a focus group, which was a mix of freelance architects and architecture professionals who worked in small and large architectural firms. The four design software chosen were AutoCAD, Revit, SketchUp and Snaptrude as the key focus was on 2D and 3D architectural visualization and these were the top software choices for architects. The broad parameters used for comparison were:

–       Design Process & Functionality

–       Usability & Learning Curve

–       Technical Requirements

Findings: Comparing best architecture design software

  1. AutoCAD:
    Recommended highly by architects and architectural firms for 2D drafting, AutoCAD software for architects is seen as a fundamental learning tool for architectural students and professionals alike. It has its own legacy but where it seems to lack is its inability to change as per the times and understand the architectural design needs of today. While it is easy to use for 2D drafting, its 3D features are known to be highly complicated. It also requires specific training to learn AutoCAD, making the learning curve steep. Also, AutoCAD requires higher technical specifications on your desktop to run it.

    Our focus group gave it a score of 100/100 for drawing floor plans, of course but when it came to sketch design, presentation graphics, cost estimation, BIM capabilities, team collaboration and hardware requirements, AutoCAD design software scored 5/100.

    Great only for 2D, lacks in other areas. Desktop only.
  2. Revit:
    Revit architecture software is highly lauded for its BIM workflow, automation and collaboration capabilities. However, it came under the scanner recently for its lack of development, lack of BIM interoperability and its increasing pricing, by the leading architectural firms of the world, as they didn’t see Revit offering them the value for their money. It was also termed to be lacking in understanding the business needs of the architectural world.

    In our comparative study, while Revit scored high on parameters like BIM, Master Planning & Vertical Zoning, drawing floor plans, presentations graphics in 2D & 3D, it scored pretty low on ease-of-setup and ease-of-use. It also doesn’t have any sketch design capabilities and requires a desktop to operate on as it is not a Mac compatible design software.
    Great only for BIM, lacks in other areas. Desktop only.
  3. SketchUp:
    Considered to be a good design software for concept development and 3D modelling by most architects, SketchUp architecture design software also scores high on its easy-to-use interface, which ensures a low learning curve for architects. It has a desktop version, a web app and a web-view version on the phone or tablet. The SketchUp app opens on the web itself for instant designing. The SketchUp Viewer is a web-based interface that can be opened on the Android phone and iPhone/iPad but the experience on app/phone may not be as intuitive for some architects.
SketchUp Viewer user reviews on Google Play. Source: Google Play
SketchUp Viewer user reviews on Google Play. Source: Google Play

SketchUp Viewer user review on App Store. Source: App Store
SketchUp Viewer user review on App Store. Source: App Store

Its free version and base version have limited capabilities, which make certain tasks cumbersome for architects (e.g. no export compatibility). It is a good choice for students and entry-level professionals to create quick presentation-ready 3D models. The 3D Warehouse is most popular amongst its users. But, SketchUp is not focused purely on architects; it is also used by stage designers, game designers and more. Due to this, it has limited architecture-specific functionalities.

SketchUp scored low on sketch design features and scored average for floor plans and interior layout capabilities. And, for increased design possibilities, SketchUp design software requires plug-ins, which comes across as an extra step for many architects.

However, the biggest limitation of SketchUp is that it is not BIM-based. It scored 0/100 on intelligent parameters like BIM, area calculation, cost estimation, collaboration capabilities by our focus group.
“It makes sense for professionals and architectural firms to invest in an easy-to-use BIM compatible 3D modelling tool instead of paying for SketchUp Pro which is not BIM based”, said one user.

Verdict: Great for 3D, but is not BIM-based. Desktop only. Operates only in web view on Phone & Tablet (SketchUp Viewer) and on web app.

In Picture: Comparison diagram of best architecture design software

Comparison of top four architectural design software 2021
Comparison of top four architectural design software 2021

4. Snaptrude:

Snaptrude is a cloud-based 3D Modelling BIM software focused on architectural concept design with BIM compatibility. Snaptrude architecture design software has a lot of automation capabilities and it integrates with other essential design software via exports, imports and BIM compatibility.

Our focus group gave Snaptrude a score of 100/100 on Master Planning & Zoning, Sketch Design and 90/100 on BIM, Massing and Area Calculation.

Unlike SketchUp (that came closest to Snaptrude in terms of ease-of-use and setup), Snaptrude offers automation based on architectural elements, therefore it caters to specific needs of architects. It is also tablet compatible, so architects can use it on the iPad. Snaptrude design software also scored higher on drawing floor plans, interior layouts, presentation graphics and data security.

“Snaptrude comes across a single easy-to-use 3D Modelling tool for architectural concept design, that can replace AutoCAD (2D), SketchUp (3D) and Revit (BIM) at a fraction of the cost.” – Principal, Architectural Firm, San Diego, USA

Verdict: Great for sketch, 2D, 3D & BIM. Desktop + Tablet compatibility.

Best architecture design software, Snaptrude

What do you think? Can Snaptrude be a SketchUp alternative and an AutoCAD alternative for your architectural firm?