Most architectural CAD software is geared toward producing 2-D construction documents first, with 3-D or rendering capability thrown in as icing on the cake. In contrast, Chief Architect, from Advanced Relational Technology (ART), is all about quick 3-D visualization and presentation, with 2-D CAD if you need it. Chief Architect 9.5 makes visualization quick and easy enough that even a novice operator can work with Chief in real time with clients, which opens up all kinds of possibilities for salespeople, design center staff, dedicated kitchen/bath designers--even computer-savvy production departments.

Creating models in Chief Architect is as easy as it gets with CAD software. Click on a toolbar icon representing the image you want to add to the drawing, such as a wall, a cabinet, or a chair, and then click in the drawing area to add the item. Toolbars can be created or modified at will, so the most-used functions are always front and center. Kitchen designers can set up their work space with a different set of tools than general drafters would, for example. Objects in Chief behave as you would expect them to in the real world--for example, cabinets snap to the wall and know which direction to face.

The software ships in two versions. The full version of 9.5 costs $1,495. This features all the bells and whistles, including CAD blocks, textures, and background images, as well as 8,500 predrawn parametric 3-D symbols representing everything from tiny custom molding profiles to fixtures and furniture, terrain modeling, and street and sidewalk constructions. For $995, ART sells a base version that ships with a fraction of the library items and without some of the more advanced features.

Chief users have always been able to pop a building model into 3-D and resize or move objects such as windows, doors, and cabinets, but version 9.5 adds the ability to add many items, such as cabinets and fixtures, directly in the 3-D view, allowing designers to show their clients more detail.

Likewise, the rendering capabilities of Chief 9.5 are much improved from previous versions. Adding a light fixture to a plan adds the digital light source at the same time, making it simple to switch from day to night views. Other useful automatic 3-D views include structural framing and a one-click overview that shows clients their floor plan in a format they can instantly understand. Elevations and sections in 2-D are generated automatically from the model and can be saved as CAD items for further processing into working drawings.

Chief provides several ways for builders and designers to collaborate with their clients electronically. Any view, including floor plans, can be exported as a simple image file, and animated walk-throughs can be exported as virtual reality modeling language (VRML) files for the Web.

New for version 9.5 is a Chief Architect viewer. For $45 a seat, $95 for a 10-seat license, a builder can purchase a read-only version of Chief that allows clients to open, but not change, Chief Architect 9.5 files in their native format.

ART also provides a lot of training for Chief 9.5. Between the single tutorial CD that ships with Chief and the extra, four-CD Video Training Series for $95, there are hundreds of individual three- to seven-minute lessons covering every aspect of using Chief Architect--24 hours of training in all. Short, concise segments and clear instructions make it easy to learn the program using the video CDs. This level of training really separates ART from the other CAD vendors--no other company has developed anything even close to it.

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Joe Stoddard is a process/technology consultant to the building industry. Contact him at

Chief Architect 9.5 lets designers show more detail in the 3-D view than did earlier versions of the software.
Courtesy ART Chief Architect 9.5 lets designers show more detail in the 3-D view than did earlier versions of the software.