Building information modeling – Learning Vectorworks

Building information modeling (BIM) is more than just an architectural bandwagon sales pitch for architects to upgrade their computer software – it’s the new reality for designing.

Before BIM came to the forefront of design architects primarily used a computer program like AutoCAD, which was essentially drawing in two dimensions on a computer screen. There were some features in 2D CAD programs that made drawing obviously better and quicker than drawing by hand (such as changing the scale of a drawing and making revisions without redrawing the entire sketch), but overall the process wasn’t that much faster than applying pencil to paper. You were still required to draw a line from point A to point B, and the line lacked any inherent meaning other than being merely a line.

When I was looking for a computer program to complement my design process I knew I had to go beyond the 2D CAD programs and make the leap to a BIM program. I have used many different 2D programs like Autodesk AutoCAD (various versions) and Bentley Microstation, but it was my experience with Autodesk Revit that convinced me of going with BIM. Revit made certain tasks incredibly easier (especially during the construction documents phase), but because of its complexity it proved to be not very intuitive.

After extensive research of current BIM programs including Revit, Graphisoft Archicad, Nemetschek Vectorworks Architect, and many other programs geared more for smaller projects (residential and small commercial), I pulled the trigger and went with Vectorworks. There were many reasons that I decided to go with Vectorworks (including technological capabilities, price, ability to play nice with other programs like SketchUp and CAD programs that read .dwg files), but one of the driving factors for my decision were the tutorial manuals created by Jonathan Pickup, an architect living in New Zealand and founder of Archoncad (

Part of my research was finding available resources for learning the BIM programs. It turns out that BIM can be a little complicated, so any learning resource I could purchase would provide a great asset to me efficiently learning the program. When I purchased my Vectorworks Architect it came with two 600+ page manuals. Of course these manuals include insightful information to demonstrate the capabilities of the program, but trying to build the momentum to read such manuals was like watching CSPAN for an entire day.

The Jonathan Pickup manuals read like simple lesson plans. Rather than go through every command and state the sometimes obvious ability for that command (I’ve read manuals that have used multiple pages to define and demonstrate the ‘Move’ command – it moves things) Pickup uses multiple lesson plans that show specific capabilities and combines these lessons into a cohesive project, so that at the end of the tutorial manual you’re left with a project that parallels a real-life architectural project.

We buy computer programs with the resignation in knowing that we will never know everything about that program. (I’m positive that most people using Microsoft Word – my self included – use only 5% of the program’s capabilities.) Buying a BIM program is a huge investment for any design professional, so it only makes sense to have access to resources that allow you to take advantage of the program as best as possible.

I can only speak from experience for the Pickup tutorial manuals I currently own (Architect Tutorial and the 3D Modeling Tutorial), but his manuals are incredibly insightful and exude a simplicity to understanding the program without feeling dumbed down. The manuals include a CD containing movies of each lesson plan, so if seeing is better than reading then you’ll understand the directions that much better.

Any time I work through the manuals I’m usually dumbfounded at the end of each lesson, filled with disbelief that creating architectural pieces (such as a site plan incorporating measurements from a site survey or designing a bus stop using NURBS [Nonuniform Rational B-Splines – also another acronym meaning fancy curves]) was actually much easier that what I was anticipating. Pickup’s knowledge of Vectorworks and his ability to convey succinct directions has allowed me to apply Vectorworks towards an efficient design process that’s typically impossible to achieve using 2D CAD programs and other BIM programs.

For more information regarding Jonathan Pickup’s tutorial manuals check out his website at, where you can find more resources to learning Vectorworks Architect and some of the other versions of Vectorworks. And just to prove his extensive credentials for teaching Vectorworks, his manuals are sold directly from the Vectorworks website here.


2 thoughts on “Building information modeling – Learning Vectorworks

  1. VPO 812

    I’ve been an architect for 30 years(licensed). I started VectorWorks, my first foray into CAD, about 4 yrs. ago. I also play drums, about 45 yrs., and came to the realization that learning a software program as complex as CAD w/ or w/o BIM is comparable to buying a very expensive musical instrument and a few books and expect to become a master. It’s not going to happen. I believe it takes a discipled approach of taking lessons, both for theory and practice as well as performance. This is achieved with through manuals, User Groups, DVD’s, You Tube presentations, podcasts and discussion groups.
    I have found Vectorworks and their community to have a strong presence in this process. I have also purchased training manuals from Jonathan Pickup, an architect in New Zealand, who has organized training topics into easily digestable bits. These can be viewed at his website. In addition, he prepares monthly podcasts covering application issues.
    I have been using this program for residential, mixed-use and multi-family projects and most recently, a small private school. The program has allowed me to look at complex stacking schemes and plan options very quickly. I look forward to continuing my mastery of Vectorworks.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s