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Becoming a digital architect

Frank Harper
Contributor

In 1994, I graduated from school and started a 2 years apprenticeship with the aim to become a technical draftsman. As part of the German dual training, there is a theoretical component, which is lectured at technical school and a practical component, which I was trained at an architectural office.

I was offered a position in a small architectural office, which employed only two architects.
There, I was introduced to Archicad 4.55. By then, the office worked on Apple Macintosh PowerPCs, which could handle the complexity of our projects.

Whilst I learned how to use different digital pens on the computer, the school however trained us to use ink pens on paper. Having learned and used both ways, it helped me to understand the digital world better.

When undertaking my studies at school, I was keen on looking over the architects’ shoulders.
The office project, that I was involved with was a refurbishment of an old barn, where everything was crooked.  Having done a site survey of the old barn, we fed the details into Archicad and modelled walls, beams and trusses in order to achieve the best possible basis for the new design. It was fascinating to see the design becoming a ‘digital twin’.

During my 2 years training as a draftsman, I spent extra time at the office to watch the digital modelling in 3D, calculating and extracting 2d plans from the model. As computers were not as elaborately as today, the final plans needed some time before everything could be published.

In 1996, I was offered a place at Stuttgart University. I luckily had a head start to other students. Whilst using Archicad, I could quickly build models and rotate and visualize them in order get the most out of it. I even had enough time to model different options and compare them to each-other. Whilst using the powerful 3D engine, I was able to make impressive 3D views and presentations. Two-dimensional information was mainly retrieved form the model, with some additional work for lines and dimensions. For layouts, I used ‘Plotmaker’, a separate Graphisoft software at that time, which was later incorporated into Archicad.

Being a student, I tried out several software packages. However, I found no other 3D software which was as fun as Archicad. Autocad was clearly a software for engineers but not really for architects.
3ds was powerful, but too complex. Archicad was just right for me, as I was able to design almost everything imaginable. In my opinion, Archicad was the best CAD software for architectural students at that time. Each year, I was excited to try out improvements of the new Archicad versions.
It was fun! The picture shows an inspirational housing for flight staff near Stuttgart airport, designed with Archicad 6.0 at 3rd semester in 1998.

Archicad helped me to understand the architectural design process, how to place dimensions properly and to understand building rules and materials. It also restrained me from getting too crazy. Hence, my student designs often turned into well-proportioned and inspirational projects whilst respecting the rules of architectural history.

As a professional, I have been using Archicad for small, medium and large sized projects.
Today we design everything in 3D, together with small physical mock-ups, which give us further insights into the intended designs.

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