Architecture Software Survey: Results & Analysis

This report details the results of a survey conducted in October of 2011, as part of the development of an early-stage green building analysis tool. The Executive Summary appears below; the full report is available as a pdf (link at right).

1.0  Executive Summary

The goal of this survey was to understand the use of green building analysis tools among U.S. architects. Green building analysis tools are broadly defined, including software for energy modeling, daylight modeling, and lifecycle assessment of building materials; multi-functional tools; and other types of quantitative analysis related to the design of green buildings. The survey also considered contextual factors related to the use of green building analysis software. Specifically, the survey aimed to understand (1) frequency of green building and green building practices generally, (2) most-used early-stage 3-D modeling and BIM tools, (3) most-used green building analysis tools, and (4) strengths and weaknesses of existing green building analysis tools.

The survey collected responses from both architecture professionals and current students. Survey data was collected in October 2011; a total of hundred seven (107) valid responses were collected, nearly equally split between professionals and students. For a discussion of survey methodology, see Appendix B.

1.1  Early-Stage Modeling Software

The 3-D modeling and BIM platforms most frequently used in conceptual or schematic design appear to be, in order: (1) Google SketchUp, (2) Autodesk AutoCAD, (3) Autodesk Revit, and (4) Rhino. Large firms (50+ employees) overwhelmingly prefer Revit, while small firms eschew it; and small firms (1 to 49 employees) use AutoCAD most frequently. Current students use AutoCAD less frequently than professionals, and SketchUp more frequently. Overall, SketchUp is not only the most favored software, but is the most likely to be used with some regularity by virtually all demographics.

1.2  Green Building Practices

Self-reported familiarity with green building practices was high among both students and professionals; and firms of all sizes reported frequently engaging in green building (large firms more often than small). Use of green building analysis tools, however, is extremely infrequent, with an average score of 1.21 on a scale of 1 to 5. This low level of use is consistent across all demographics. There is clearly a good deal of room for growth in the area of green building analysis software.

1.2  Use of Green Building Analysis Software

The most-used green building analysis tool is, by a large margin, Autodesk Ecotect. Runners-up differ by demographic, and included Autodesk Vasari, Autodesk Green Building Studio, EnergyPlus OpenStudio, and, by certain measures, DOEII and eQuest. The Passive House Planning Package (PHPP), a write-in response, proved relatively popular among small firms (though not among respondents overall).

No analysis tool was used with a high degree of frequency: the average score was 1.21 on a scale of 1 to 5. Even Ecotect had an average score of only 1.86. A significant 45.8% of respondents reported that they never performed green building analysis on any project.

1.2  Satisfaction with Green Building Analysis Software

The strengths and weaknesses of existing green building analysis tools proved difficult to assess, and likely require further study. Most types of functionality (energy modeling, daylight modeling, etc.) received high importance ratings. However, satisfaction across all categories studied was middling at best (in the range of 2.5 to 3 out of 5) for all software programs, indicating large potential for improvement.

Overall, respondents showed the least satisfaction with areas of performance that can be broadly classified as "designer-friendliness," including (1) learning curve, (2) ease of use, (3) customer service and support, (4) the ability to compare multiple design options, and (5) in- teroperability with 3-D modeling and BIM tools. In write-in responses, existing tools were often faulted for being overly complex and un-intuitive. Respondents expressed slightly higher satisfaction with the reliability of results (3.17 of out 5), but lower levels of satisfaction at the ease of interpreting those results (3.08 out of 5). Among the top four tools, Vasari show the highest levels of satisfaction, while EnergyPlus OpenStudio showed the lowest — but even the highest ratings were approximately 3.4, indicating room for improvement.

The survey also revealed that existing analysis tools require a significant time investment to obtain results: 10 to 24 hours on average. This time investment may help to explain the low levels of adoption of green building analysis tools among architects.

To read the full report, please download the pdf (1.4MB).

copyright © 2013 by carl s. sterner, unless otherwise noted. more...