Change Leader Full Interview: Vectorworks CEO Discusses BIM, New Releases
These profiles are based on interviews, and the opinions and statements are those of the subject and are not necessarily shared or endorsed by this publication.
Dr. Biplab Sarkar is the CEO of Vectorworks, which is part of the Nemetschek Group, with 25-plus years of experience developing CAD software. As CEO, he provides strategic leadership to the company by establishing and meeting company sales, growth and market-share objectives. Sarkar earned a Ph.D. in CAD and an M.S. in mechanical engineering at The Ohio State University. He also holds a B.Tech. in mechanical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur.
V1 Media: Can you provide a brief background of Vectorworks?
Sarkar: We have been in the software business for approximately 32 years. We started in 1985; the first program was developed on a Mac, so we were a little Mac heavy in the early days, but now approximately 55 percent of our users are on Mac and 45 percent on Windows. We have more than 650,000 users all around the world, and we are available in 11 different languages.
About 57 percent of our revenue is from the Europe/Middle East/Africa region, and 28 percent from Asia-Pacific, mainly Japan and Australia. And then about 19 percent is from the Americas, mainly Canada and the United States. We have three main products: one for architectural design (Vectorworks Architect), one in landscape design (Vectorworks Landmark), and the third is in entertainment design (Vectorworks Spotlight). Since about 2003, we have developed a number of BIM-related features for Vectorworks Architect.
V1 Media: What’s your definition of BIM, and how did that affect Vectorworks’ products through the years?
Sarkar: For us, BIM is a workflow that architects should use to create a model and then derive all the views from the model. BIM should not pertain to any particular product. Unfortunately, especially in the United States, BIM is synonymous with [Autodesk’s] Revit, which it should not be. BIM should be considered as a workflow definition for how architects and contractors and construction-industry people should work to maximize efficiency and reduce costly errors.
Initially, our product was designed to work in the plan view, and you can start drawing your walls and put windows in it and put spaces inside, but since 2003, we started concentrating on creating the model and designing the views from the model. So, you can now create your own model to be the “single source of truth.” From that model, you can derive your details, elevations and sections. Also, you can use building product content libraries to create specifications, so you can have doors and windows scheduled from your building model, using our worksheet functionality, which is similar to an Excel spreadsheet. Also, we have the CineRender rendering engine inside Vectorworks that allows our architects to visualize their design, and help them create high-quality client presentations.
V1 Media: Is your modeling software in-house and proprietary, or do you use plug-ins from anyone else?
Sarkar: The modeling engine we use is Parasolid, which is an engine that many of the mechanical CAD packages also use. This helps us to create solid models for all our architectural elements, so all our walls, roofs, slabs, floors, everything is actually defined as Parasolid models. We also use a constraint engine called 2D DCM that’s used in Mechanical CAD products. So, we have a number of component technologies inside Vectorworks –it’s not that we do everything ourselves.
V1 Media: How did entertainment design become such a prevalent part of your offerings?
Sarkar: One of our employees started developing some plug-ins for theater companies in New York, so he started creating a module inside Vectorworks, and that’s how it started in about 1998. Then slowly it became an extensive set of plug-ins. In 2001, it became a separate product: Vectorworks Spotlight.
V1 Media: What is Braceworks?
Sarkar: In 2015, we bought a company called ESP Vision that created pre-visualization software. If you are trying to create the cues for your particular show, how are you going to synchronize the lighting with the music and between scenes of a particular play? In Vision, you are able to pre-program the lighting cues. Generally, the lighting designer actually goes early to the venue and sits down at the board and puts all the cues in. Our Vision product allows you to preprogram those cues, and pre-visualize the lighting for the cues, and then you can put all the cues on a USB drive and take it to the lighting board at the venue. It’s the efficient use of time that leads to cost savings because you can work less at the venue.
This year, we introduced a load analysis add-on module called Braceworks for rigging professionals to gauge the structural viability of a temporary entertainment structure. So, when you go to a trade show and see all these trusses hanging from the ceiling, and then there are lights or speakers hanging from those trusses. In Europe and other parts of the world, you have to get this certified by a structural engineer to make sure that everything is safe; that the loads and deflections are within the safe limits. Braceworks allows you to do that. All the lights, fixtures and trusses you created in Spotlight can be transferred to Braceworks, which will calculate the loads depending on how many lights you’re hanging, how many cables are going through the trusses, etc. Then you can collect the stresses and the deflections, and, at the end of the calculations, it gives you a PDF report that can be taken to the structural engineer to get stamped.
V1 Media: With entertainment structures, were they not normally designed as traditionally as other buildings, and who was doing this?
Sarkar: There are many firms who were already our customers. They will do the design in Spotlight, and they’ll figure out how many lights of this particular type they need, and how many lights of another particular type, and they’ll create a worksheet. They’ll know what cable, what they have to take, what’s the length, how many 10-foot trusses, how many 5-foot trusses and that type of thing.
They’ll have a list that they take from their warehouse, and that’s how they start their rigging process. Once they hang it up, then they have to get it certified by the local jurisdiction, who, in most cases, is a structural engineer. They certify the temporary structures in a particular venue.
V1 Media: After users purchase your software, do you work with them for the specifics, or is it built to handle all the different possible varieties of structures out there?
Sarkar: In Spotlight, we already have all the lighting devices and lighting fixtures that you see in the real world. The main entity that will be improved is the data for all the trusses.
We have the data for all the European trusses, so now we have the cross-sections, all the different properties that you need for the calculations. We also have truss data for many major trusses in the U.S., but we don’t have truss calculation data for some of the U.S. manufacturers, because they think someone else is going to steal the intellectual property (IP). Those are the only trusses we don’t currently have in Braceworks, but we have all the major European trusses, along with the materials information.
V1 Media: Let’s talk about the new 2018 release of Vectorworks. Could you highlight what’s new, and what are some your favorite improvements?
Sarkar: One we just talked about is Braceworks. On the architectural side, we have lots of favorites. One is called multiple drawing views. Users were always working on a single pane of a drawing window, but now they can have multiple panes open on a single window. You can create as many panes as you can fit on your monitor, and every pane can have a separate view of the model. You can have different visibilities in different panes. In one pane, you can show a floor plan; in another pane, you can show the whole model and all the layers of the design. You can have different class visibility in different panes. And you can drag one of the panes and take it to your second or third monitor.
So, it’s a flexible system by which you can see all the views simultaneously. You can change something on the plan, and the other views are also updated, and you can see the changes in your elevation or even in your section. That was one of the long-time wishes of our users, and now we added that.
Another that’s my favorite in the architectural world is the “direct section and elevation editing.” The sections that you created on the drawing sheets, in order to update them, you had to go back to the model and change them and come back. Now you don’t have to do that; you can edit the sections in place. So, you’re on a sheet, and you’re looking at the section, and you can just edit it in place. You can move windows and doors, and move the floor or walls and things of that nature. It’s a much better way of editing and modeling for our users.
On the landscape side, we have a digital terrain model. You will get data, basically XYZ survey points in the form of a text file. You get that data, and you compute data such as the contours of the ground at different elevations. After you generate the terrain model, you can modify the model to put your building on it. You create, for example, a flat space on which you are going to put your building, and you can actually calculate the cut and fill. What amount of earth you have to remove, or what amount of earth you have to fill in. We do all the calculations, but what has become better in the new version is that in the plan view of the model, we can do everything directly. All the contours can be edited directly. You can just reshape the contours using the reshape tool. This again is a long-time wish for our users.
V1 Media: Could you describe one or two examples of some user projects?
Sarkar: One of my favorites is the 9/11 Memorial Plaza in New York. This was designed using Vectorworks by PWP Landscape Architecture, and it’s one of the projects we’re very proud of. Another example is the Monte Rosa Hut in the Swiss Alps. It’s basically a ski lodge that is also a net zero building, and it was designed all in Vectorworks by a Swiss architectural firm.