In the January issue, Tech Spec featured a software program called ArchiCAD, a 3-D tool that not only is used to design buildings but can also be linked to a software suite called Vico Constructor Pro that translates the architect's design–in real time–into time and cost data that can be readily picked up by estimators and schedulers. On the last day of March, I had the opportunity to travel from Tech Spec's office in coastal Maine to Boston to see it at work.

Bill Gloede Tech Spec met Akos Pfemeter, the global marketing director for Graphisoft, the maker of ArchiCAD, at the Boston Architectural College just down the block from Boston's Prudential Center. Pfemeter, who hangs his hat at Graphisoft's worldwide headquarters in Budapest, sat down with Tech Spec in a second-floor lounge at the college, opened his laptop, and designed a house–all in the space of about two minutes.

Granted, this particular house made a Katrina trailer look pretty good–it had one door, which did not seem to open properly because we had not specified the arc of the opening swing, and a single window in a dormer that was perched a tad low on the roofline. But no matter. The kicker was that we could now look at the specs for the foundation, the outside walls, dimensions, cubic footage, and a whole host of other things; plus, if we had loaded in a materials list, we would have known how much it would cost to build–minus labor, of course. And if we made a change, it would immediately show up in all the above.

Pfemeter then took me on a virtual tour of a large, mixed-use building somewhere in Europe. We could not only check out the placement of support columns in the ground-floor atrium, we even moved one and saw the effect the move would have on the structure–not pretty, but it didn't fall down either. Then we visited one of the residential apartments on the top floor and entered the kitchen. We could see every detail that would be contained on the blueprints. With the addition of pictures and specs for appliances, we could have seen the finished kitchen in near photographic quality.

ARCHITECTS IN PARIDISE: Amid the museum pieces in the lobby of Boston Architectural College, with Boston townhomes behind, Akos Pfemeter (left) shows Kurt Ameringer the newest tweaks to ArchiCAD software. Photo: Bill Gloede "This is the difference between two dimensions and building information modeling," explained Pfemeter, noting that most design work is still confined to a 2-D world, and systems that render in 3-D are mostly just for visualization. ArchiCAD, he said, "is not just for visualization. It is an intelligent building information system. Building elements are modeled. If you put in a door or place a window in a wall, the entire database will be updated."

This, naturally, set my mind to wandering, always a dangerous proposition.

"What if," I asked Pfemeter, "a builder were to give this to people at the sales center? Would they be able to add or delete options, and get a price immediately?"

"Yes," he answered. Not only that, but they could also come up with a good idea of how much longer (or shorter) it would take to build it.

The specter of a sales type altering the design of a production home made me think even more. "Can the design functions be locked out so that the salesperson could switch options?"

Again, Pfemeter answered yes.

Well, then. This might have possibilities, I surmised. But those possibilities come at a considerable cost. As Tech Spec reported in January, ArchiCAD software ( costs around $4,000. The Vico Constructor Pro bundle ( runs $10,500, plus an annual subscription fee of $1,903.

Graphisoft, the U.S. branch of which is based right outside Boston in Newton, Mass., is currently working on a new version of ArchiCAD that will include even more functionality. The market is wide open, said Kurt Ameringer, ArchiCAD manager for Graphisoft. To date, he has lots of design clients, none no big builders.