The Cost of Technology in Architecture

As architecture students, we are eager to learn all the technological wizardry out there. Maya, Revit, Rhino–they all tease us with their crazy rendering abilities and walk-thru animations. In our effort to learn these programs, we jump through hoops to get educational versions or, more often, pirated versions of this software. But who can blame us? One look at the cost of AutoCAD makes anyone scratch their heads.

Indeed, I find Autodesk to be the Microsoft of the design world. Their software can do amazing things and they have amazing price tags! In the last several years they have swallowed smaller  architectural software companies like Revit and 3d Studio Max. But what is one to do? Are we doomed to fork out the cash just to keep up with the AIA Joneses?

Alas! I have found hope in open-source software. Yes, that’s right: open-source means free! And these days you no longer need to have mad computer hacking skills to find your way around these programs, or around Linux, their operating system.

My open-source revelation occurred when I described my older computer to a friend. After berating its age and slowness, he suggested formating it and installing Ubuntu, a popular version of Linux. Boy was I surprised! My once-ancient computer now performed like a thoroughbred right out of the gate. It even seemed faster than when it was brand new.

But what does this have to do with architecture? The answer is just like Windows and Mac based software, there is a whole field of software (which is FREE) geared toward the design world. I have found several equivalents: OpenOffice for Word/Excel/Powerpoint, Inkscape for InDesign, Blender for 3ds Max, Gimp for Photoshop, the list goes on and on. While there is not quite a strict free version of AutoCAD for 2d drafting, I think it is only a matter of time before a group puts one together. Moreover, in my searches for this software, I found many AutoCAD-clones which cost a fraction of what Autodesk charges for a single license.

So whats the catch? Oftentimes these software packages are delayed in their development from commercial software. But that also means they learn lessons from commercial software and can do some things much better. I don’t think Autodesk’s days are numbered, but I do think that the clever architect could use this software and avoid the costly penalty of AutoCAD or Adobe Creative Suite licenses. I even read one account of a European police organization using open-source software, cutting their IT budget by more than half!

To open-source or not open-source…that is the question. Take a look, fellow reader, and you might be surprised by what you find!

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