descending the summit


As architects, it is common to attend conferences, summits, or other out-of-town events intended to augment our careers, increase our knowledge and allow for opportunities to expand one’s network. Some might be in it for the open bar. The latter isn’t part of my world, so for my money, I want to learn something before I leave.

Last week, I attended the Vectorworks Design Summit 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland; it was the first one I’ve attended. At this point, I suppose it’s obligatory to spend time in praise over it and how it’s affected my professional life in a positive manner, and share which pub had the best crabcakes. Well, I will say good things about it and I will share positive moments that I took away and can use in practice, but I think it’s important to be specific and practical to be fair.


Let’s start with the Keynote speakers and whether they delivered in their motivational expectations as well as a proverbial adrenaline rush to start each day. I’ll give this one to Vectorworks as they extended beyond a commercial for the latest version as the temptation exists. Day one, a series of actual users from each major industry, for which Vectorworks caters, spoke briefly of how the software supports their work. Paul Beaty-Pownall Managing Director of bpr architects Ltd, wins day one for me, as the architect of the group sharing specifically how the software helps his firm. If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m not for fluff in these instances, I want to know real examples and real tips that I can use in my real firm.


Brad Cloepfil, Founding Principal of Allied Works Architecture stole the show for me for the two-day summit, as he not only shared excerpts of incredible work his firm has done recently, but made the connection for how his firm committed to Vectorworks and how they use it as a primary tool along with traditional analog and current digital methods. I laughed when he spoke of not allowing his staff to play with SketchUp and convert to Vectorworks. Smart move Brad, I concur.

As I balanced my refreshment intake alternating between coffee and diet soft drinks for each session (attention span issues), I can’t say I learned something completely new – at least nothing that I’ve never knew or heard of as I’ve used Vectorworks since 1995 when it was inappropriately named MiniCAD, of which they dropped two decades ago. I didn’t attend those types of classes. However, that doesn’t mean that one should avoid the summit believing there isn’t a one-to-one correspondence between time and money invested and knowledge gained. None of us know everything and everyone can teach us something. I believe in the gleaning method of learning.


Jim Wilson, User Experience Manager at Vectorworks, Inc., is the guy I want to spend time with (off hours picking his Rendering mind) to find ways to make better models and render them in powerful ways. He was more than gracious in answering questions with that all-too-familiar voice (have you watched his YouTube videos), but I feel more could have been dispensed at his session, except the lag in the Wi-Fi or whatever was causing the unwelcome “beach ball spinning” on his Mac, slowed down what I hoped to get out of his session. Nevertheless, I will find him via email and hope he doesn’t block my email with my questions. To be honest, I snuck into his session since it was closed when I registered. Therefore, anything I got out of this was a bonus and a worthy steal.

François Lévy, Partner of Lévy Kohlhaas Architecture gets my gold star as expected. He comes as an experienced speaker, not a member of the Vectorworks team, but as a practicing architect in Austin TX. This type of speaker embodies my goals for learning as he is an “in the trenches” kind of guy sharing with real examples how his office uses the software, how they build and manage a project, how to use the software correctly and honestly identifies areas of the software that could be improved to better serve our industry without being unprofessional or unkind. I’ve participated in a couple of his webinars coming in to last week. Yet, I knew I could glean something fresh amid the primary take away knowing I’m doing exactly what he is doing, confirming my own methods and my own skills as an architect who is also a Vectorworks user. It was just fun.


Top 10 take-aways…

(I would say as an experienced user, my list can be reduced to eliminating bad habits.)

  1. Renderworks – Use camera objects and viewports instead of saved views and batch rendering mode. This only makes sense to experienced users and remains an unknown because the saved views are the only way to create animations.
  2. Renderworks – Don’t use Final Quality Renderworks – enough said. Create a custom version.
  3. Renderworks – Investigate VW Cloud Services – this is on my to do list or must do list.
  4. Parametric Styles – This is a newer feature (2017 or 2018), but doors, windows and other elements can be saved to assorted styles that will allow common items to have pre-defined attributes with no need to change those elements in a model if the design changes. For instance, if all the doors go from wood with wood frames to hollow metal with hollow metal frames, one needs to only change their style, presuming those styles already exist in the model.
  5. Title Blocks – VW2018 has improved title blocks, but this one may take a bit of time one afternoon converting my current title block, a symbol, into the new VW Title Block Border Tool. I’m sure once I work through it once, I’ll be thrilled it exists.
  6. Organized – As a right-brained architect, one would expect me to be a scatter-brain, but being organized has generally been a strength. Tom Klaber of Klaber Design+Architecture hammered into our heads the importance of a global centralized control of data and using VW to auto coordinate information. This always intimidates me as I get lost in the rabbit hole on these matters, but I believe they simply amount to a few hours here and there to get my current templates and organizational strategies in place and improved.
  7. Office Library Templates – Carrying on the last point, as a one-person office, there isn’t an urgent need for this, but I have templates and libraries and this should be on my agenda because one never knows when someone else will come on board.
  8. Vectorworks Template(s) – Luc Lefebvre suggested creating a new template from scratch with the latest version of Vectorworks. I can see his logic here in an “eat-your-vegetables” kind of mentality. Perhaps with import ability of classes and layers, this isn’t as bad as I think. I’ll need to work on this one in the background.
  9. Site Modeling – Francois mentioned many useful tips, but I needed to be reminded of the ease of creating a 3D site model as he shared – live no-less – the creation of a simple site model and adding elements for design analysis (zoning in his case). Watching him work was cool, but it was reassuring of my own abilities. The tools are right there in Vectorworks.
  10. Worksheets – Yes, oh yes, I need to do more of this. I was truly encouraged by Eric Berg’s OCD tendencies of how I can use these more in my work flow. Mr. Levy seconds this emotion I presume. This is high on the to-do list. Get more “I” of out BIM.

Was it worth it? Of course.

Would I go again? Yes, depending on my schedule and the distance from my office.

Do I recommend it? I do.

Thanks, Vectorworks, but I must descend the summit and get back to work.


descending the summit

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