The rise of an amateur architect

Our family owns a house in the northern parts of Norway. The family spends around eight weeks there a year fishing, mowing the lawn, hiking, meeting family, eating good food and more. I have also spent a considerable part of my spare time sitting in Trondheim mapping the island using OpenStreetMap.

In all honest, the main house is due for some upgrades and repairs. We have started by upgrading two of the upstairs bedrooms. But more complex tasks are in line. The current bath was built by my grandfather some 30 years ago. The kitchen could need some paint. A wall should be torn down. And on and on it goes…

How do we plan these changes? How do we play around with our options? Pen and paper? Software? I have been looking for a tool which would let me plan the whole “estate” – from garden to loft. Line of sight analysis, landscape modelling, logging changes, versioning etc…

Ideally it should be an open source product. Easy to use. Sophisticated. Should handle modelling. Integrate with Google Earth or OpenStreetMap. I would like to have a tool integrating the best from OpenStreetMap with some fantastic architecture software. I want it all, I want it now – and preferably for free as well.

I ended up using SweetHome3D. Admittedly the name does not work well for me… For me the name implies a tool specially designed to help its user design dollhouses. But the tool is a good one. As in most lines of life it is give and take. This one is on the plus side. For an amateur architect like me it is probably good enough.

This is not a tool for designing a house while keeping abreast with how many nuts and bolts you will use when you start building it. It helps you to think about interior design and where to place furniture. It helps you place walls and give you an impression of the rooms/level you are working on.

It is probably what we need to get on with our plans. We need to see how things connect on each level in the house. Ideally also between the different levels – but that’s beyond version 3.5 of the software it seems.

Our current model is available for download here:

[wpfilebase tag=file id=11 /]

This is not an in depth review, but at least I will have a reference to friends and family asking about my experience in using SweetHome3D. I will list up some pros and cons.

Good things

SweetHome3D allows me to draw basic rooms with rooms and floor. It gives me tools for measurements of area, lengths and widths. Moving around in the model is easy. All in all the feel I get from using the program is good.

With Google Earth like controls I can fly around in the model – or oven above the model using an aerial view. I mostly use the “virtual visitor” option. This is a small icon which, when moved around in the 2D drawing, provides a point of view for the draft 3D view.

Other things:

  • You can create high quality photos and videos – all centered around the “virtual visitor”.
  • It works on Windows, MacOS X, Linux and Solari

1st floor rendered. Is this what it will look in two years time?

Not so good

I can not design plot with this tool. It works well for one floor at a time. But the development is strong in this one, and with the recent additions the software seems to be moving in the right direction.

  • The stove-pipe will go from the oven and bent in a slightly different manner than usual. The software does not support piping.
  • Designing the outside landscape would be a pre. It is currently possible to place trees on the flat area outside.
  • Drawing a complex roof implies sloped walls and more. It’s not easy.
  • Designing a room with an open connection to a loft (above an adjacent room) is one I have not figured out so far.
  • Roof beams are important parts of the interior of a house. To make them I will have to make fake “walls” starting just underneath the roof. Not sure if it will work.
  • Copy structure and paste mirrored structure
  • Floor plan export to other formats than SVG.
  • The rendering for videos seems slow. It could perhaps integrate better with the graphics card? The recording path is strictly between points. It would be better to have it smoothed out.
  • No support for electricity wiring and piping. Wall sockets are supported though.

What about integrating it with OpenStreetMap?

The ideal tool would let me import a piece of land from OpenStreetMap, add an elevation model and then set up a basic project file to work with. Automation would be a big part of it. It should let me use my camera to build both an inside and an outside model.

After working with the data from OpenStreetMap the tool would then let me add the revised scenery back again. This would be good for me, and for OpenStreetMap.

Conclusion

SweetHome3D works for me. Using it I have continued to discover new features. I am therefore sure some of the afore mentioned shortcomings are not for real.

Big thanks to the SweetHome3D programming team!

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