Book Review – Vectorworks Architect Tutorial Manual by Jonathan Pickup

August 28, 2014 6 min read

Editor's Note: Neil Barman is an Intern Architect and Vectorworks user. 

The views, opinions and positions expressed within guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Novedge.

Neil_Barman_Vectorworks_Architect_Tutorial Manual_IMAGE 1-VW Arch Manual cover

Until recently, prints of plans, sections, elevations and the like have been the only goal when using CAD software. Plain and simple, this is because projects get built from printed sheets. Used very basically, Vectorworks can create these sheets. But using Vectorworks only in this way is a waste of the application's versatility. Times have changed, BIM is becoming increasingly more important all the time and a drawing file is no longer just a means to a printed end – it can be a design tool and a source for considerable information about a project.

Building upon the skills set out in Vectorworks Essentials, the 6th edition of the Architect Tutorial Manual methodically walks you through creating an actual, simple architectural project properly with the 3D and BIM tools available in Vectorworks Architect. Teaching true BIM concepts, the manual will lead you from schematic design through design development and on to construction documents. As long as you have a good understanding of the application's "essentials", this manual will serve you well, whether guiding you through your first true basic BIM workflow or as a reference to keep you on track from project to project. It has a permanent spot on my desk and every file I create now benefits from the knowledge in it.

A project-based approach

As with most new things, learning is best accomplished as part of an actual project, so Pickup puts you to work with this exercised-based manual.

Creating a template file

The manual starts you off with a task that will not just aid your first project but every future project you do – the creation of a proper template file. I cannot convey enough how much of a time saver this is.

Defining the site & levels

Neil_Barman_Vectorworks_Architect_Tutorial Manual_IMAGE 2-Site 2D

From there, the property, site (model), setbacks and layer setup get well defined within the file, typically giving you the fundamental physical parameters of your project. All of these can help quite a bit in guiding and informing a design, if created properly. The manual describes how to do this, in Pickup's easy to access style which gets as close as you can to simulating an in-class experience, but in book form.

Neil_Barman_Vectorworks_Architect_Tutorial Manual_IMAGE 3-Site with massing models

Each step of a given (often complex) task is spelled out clearly with its own instructions and series of screenshots. (While some of the screenshots may be on the smallish side in the manual, one can easily view them larger via the included PDF.) Accompanying each task is a movie embedded within the PDF copy of the manual, viewable only with Adobe Acrobat 10 or greater. These movies add an additional way to digest the information in the manual and should not be missed. Often Pickup adds tidbits of knowledge here that work well in the videos’ conversational style but wouldn’t really have a place in the printed steps.

(One change with this edition’s PDF from that of previous editions is that it cannot be opened on an iPad. This is certainly no deal-breaker but worth noting if you, like me, prefer to carry reference material like this with you on an iPad. It also means that working with the PDF on a computer and trying to do the exercises in Vectorworks at the same time can get cumbersome as you flip back and forth between the PDF and the application.)

Schematic design

Neil_Barman_Vectorworks_Architect_Tutorial Manual_IMAGE 4-Concept sheet
Next, the use of the Spaces is covered to kick start schematic design. Spaces are often overlooked but very capable, easy to use and potent as a tool for this early stage or a project. They can also inform the following stages of design if used correctly. Massing models and the Heliodon tool (aka the Sun) are used to locate any existing buildings and accurately generate shadows. The effective use of Viewports helps you layout key views of your initial concept to present to clients.

Design development

Neil_Barman_Vectorworks_Architect_Tutorial Manual_IMAGE 5-Window schedule

Beyond the schematic design, the Spaces you previously created can be used as guides to place the actual walls. Setting up Wall (assembly) Styles is well covered – another huge time saver that you can take forward to future projects. Generating and editing a roof is also clearly explained. Stairs, Doors and Windows are covered as well as how to create a schedule for the latter. Completing the design development section are site model modifiers such as driveways and slab pads. All of these topics can be daunting ones to address, each with their own sets of involved dialogue boxes and arrays of options, but Pickup demystifies them in his usual clear and concise manner.

At any point of course, and with very little effort, you can refer back to your previously created key views and see how the design development is evolving as it relates to the site's parameters. This really shows one of the the powers of using the application as a versatile design tool.

Once your design has been further developed, viewports can again be used to layout sheets of drawings for you or your client's review. Incorporating these sheet layouts into your workflow mean you won't be scrambling to prepare pages at the last minute before a design meeting or presentation.

Construction drawings

Neil_Barman_Vectorworks_Architect_Tutorial Manual_IMAGE 6-Construction drawings

Rounding out the manual are chapters on annotating drawings and basic framing, bringing you to the point of having rudimentary construction drawings. Notably missing, though, is a chapter on construction details, which is essential enough to this workflow that it deserves coverage. In conversation with the author, he is considering adding this for a future edition. In the meantime, that information can be found in a separate focused manual available directly from the author here.

A workflow to use or tailor to your needs

Laid out above is one (highly relevant and usable) workflow, but it is by no means the only one. You can modify the order as your project or already established workflow demands. The point is not that you follow this one workflow exactly but that you acquire these skills to do these tasks properly.

These are also not the only aspects of Vectoworks that one would need for an architectural project, but they are the main ones. Including everything that Vectorworks Architect can do would result in a ridiculously unwieldy manual. If you are hungry for more content from Pickup, YouTube videos are available as is a vast, but quite accessible, website that the author runs.

Ultimately the manual provides you with the key tools and skills to go from schematic design to working drawings using a very efficient workflow and ending up with a very versatile file. Certainly there is more that the application can do, and of course there can be many more components to any stage of this process, but you really should have the knowledge presented in this manual as a good foundation.

What can be a complex process, made of up of challenging but highly valuable tasks, is broken down into very manageable pieces and explained simply and clearly. While aspects of your workflow may differ from the one that Pickup presents, you can certainly incorporate your methods with his. The main thing is that you will not have to fumble and guess your way through learning the application; with this manual you have a tremendously useful resource to learn some powerful software. The next step is applying the knowledge to your own projects and reaping the benefits.

– – – – – – – –

A copy of the 6th edition of the manual was provided by the publisher. A review was not required but has been written because of how important I feel this manual is for learning the BIM abilities of Vectorworks properly. Previous editions of the Architect manual were purchased with the cold, hard cash that I earned by actually using the manual.


To see Neil Barman's work and to read more of his reviews visit his website. You can also connect with Neil on Twitter.

If you are a first time Vectorworks buyer, check out the current promotion: buy your first professional license of Vectorworks 2014 and recieve a ou can now receive a complimentary Vectorworks Service Select (VSS) membership that includes Vectorworks 2015 for free when released.

Related articles

The Edge: Lee Calisti Thinks Architect
Neal Pann, conversations with an Architect.
Interview with François Lévy, Architect

Also in NOVEDGE Blog