top of page
  • Writer's pictureAdmin

Why you should insist on 3D design, not CAD from your architect

Clients often ask if I use CAD (computer aided design).  It’s really the wrong question- you should ask, do I design in 3D?  CAD started many years ago, and replicated the traditional method of drawing lines by hand, on a computer.  When you see cool 3D animations on HGTV, that’s not CAD, that’s 3D design.  The difference is that in CAD the architect is drawing a picture of a house, in 3D design, they are creating a 3D model of a house that can be viewed from any angle, rotated, and explored inside and out.Any architect over 40 learned to draw by hand with pencils, tracing paper, and lots of erasers.  Some made the transition to CAD, using a computer to replicate what they had done by hand.  Few, however, have learned 3D modeling.  Of course many great houses were designed by hand, including those by a fellow named Frank Lloyd Wright.

So why is 3D design necessary? To start, houses are 3D objects, they would be tough to live in otherwise.  A house drawn in 2D cannot simulate depth.  2D drawings consist of three types: Plan (bird’s eye view) Elevation (looking straight at the house), and section (cutting a slice through the middle).

Plan View
Elevation View
Section View
3D Computer Generated Render View

Here’s a 3D image of the same house:

Clearly, the critical difference is the ability to see depth- no we can understand which parts of the building are in the foreground and background. 

In the past, Architects got around the problem of 2D elevations by doing perspective drawings.  Here’s a beauty by FLW:

3D Hand Drawn Perspective View by FLW

What is lacks in photorealism it gains in artistry.  But here’s the problem- it probably took Frank or one of his talented draftsmen over a day to produce this rendering.  What if you want to make changes to the design?  Move a wall?  Change the window arrangement, or the roof pitch? Time to get out the erasers!  The fact is, these renderings were not meant to be a design tool, they were produced when the design was done and no further changes were to be made.  It is simply not cost effective to produce hand-drawn perspective images throughout the entire design process.

Who cares?  You the client should care, because without 3D you are essentially in the dark during the design process, with no way to really visualize what the house will look like.  Ideally, design is a collaboration between the designer and the client.  3D design enables the designer and client to iterate in real-time.  “What would it look like with three windows instead of two?”  Let’s add a window and see.  “Would the kitchen cabinets look better painted or wood?”  Let’s find out.  3D allows the client to be a full participant in the design process.

So your architect does 3D, you’ve seen renderings on their website?  Maybe…  As I said, most architects over 40, which is basically any architect worth hiring, learned to draw by hand, and most never made the switch to 3D design (actually called “object oriented programming”).  They have a younger person on staff who does the 3D work.  This is problematic for two important reasons-  First, the architect is not using 3D as a tool for visualizing the building as they design.  They are drawing in 2D and visualizing the actual 3D building in their mind’s eye.  This can lead to expensive mistakes when it comes to the actual construction, as things they may appear to work on the drawing are impossible in real life.  More importantly, they are not able to collaborate in real time with the client, because they themselves cannot do the 3D modeling.  Want to see three windows instead of two?  “I will give it to staff, and we can meet next week to review”.  This type of cumbersome, expensive process inhibits true collaboration between client and architect.   Bottom line- if you want to be part of the design process, hire a designer who personally uses tools that enable you to visualize changes in real-time.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page