Designing Detailed Buildings in SolidWorks

The title of this post is “Designing Detailed Buildings in SolidWorks” and is a sequel to my earlier post titled “Designing Buildings in SolidWorks” in which I showed a couple of pretty amazing screen shots sent by a reader called Alexander who has been using SolidWorks to design buildings. The comments that other readers posted were quite interesting. One reader posted a link to the image of entire plant designed in SolidWorks.

Some might say that this plant is one big bunch of steel and should be designed in something like SolidWorks anyways. In a way they are right. Using MCAD software to design metal parts of buildings or metal structures, as in the case of the plant mentioned above, appears to be a logical thing to do. But what about normal buildings built using normals construction materials like the ones shown in the screen shots sent by Alexander – the railway station and the commercial building. Were these just large 2D sketches of the floor plan extruded out to create solids? Or did the SolidWorks model contain more data than just solid boxes fused together. Take a look at these screen shots that Alexander sent me today.

This is the architectural view of a building. Nothing great, right? You take a floor plan extrude the walls and cut out the doors and windows. Now take a look at this.

This is the view for the Civil Engineer. Notice the SolidWorks left pane (click the image to open it in a new window). This is actually a SolidWorks configuration turned on. This next image is the formwork view as another configuration.

And this configuration is the site manufacturing view.

As you can see, this particular SolidWorks model is not just an extrusion of a floor plan. It is detailed to a very high degree and has a lot of intelligence built into it. There is one such detailed 3D model for each project and it contains everything.

As Alexander puts it, “To control the complete building processes you have to design ALL objects in 3D with powerful data management. We don’t need drawings which looked like drawings 100 years ago. We have to use 3D with all its advantages as a new language for instructions.

Two words. Freaking awesome.

  • Ralphgrabowski

    Not getting much notice outside of Russia is Ascon and their Kompas 3D MCAD software, which the company has been targeting at these kinds of projects for a number of years. They have a drawing showcase page at, which shows buildings, trucks, plants, and so on.

  • Mook

    Freaking awesome, huh? I agree that the graphics look nice at a superficial glance. However, I've never seen even one building design using Solidworks. Not saying there haven't been one or two, but here in N. America (and Europe?), programs like Autodesk Revit and Tekla are dominant. Other niche competitors in detailing like SDS are also widely used. Can those SW building models report rebar layouts and schedules, or tell you that that the slabs are 8″ thick with 5000 psi concrete for example? Are the steel members organized by section for reporting, drawings and BOM or are they simply “dumb” graphics? Does SW allow for connection detailing? The answers to to those questions explain why SW products are virtually nonexistent in that market.

    Same holds true for plant design. Intergraph, Aveva, Coade (now owned by Intergraph) and Bentley control that market space with SW not even a blip on the radar that I can see. There are valid reasons for that too in that plant engineering firms and operating companies look for a comprehensive approach. For example, could you click on a pipe in SW to see that it was a 12″ STD, A106-B material used for Steam recovery with a design temperature of 700 degrees F? Is the piping linked to a P&ID? Detailed equipment modeling? Can detailed piping isometrics be extracted dimensioned the way fabricators and field personnel expect? Those are the sort of things that are MUST be when approaching the plant design markets.

    SW has their markets, but plant design and building design aren't it.. at least not now. I wish them luck in their attempts to enter those markets assuming they are serious, as more competition is good news for users.

  • Mook,

    I think you have missed the point of this article – by miles.

    SolidWorks is a history based parametric modeling MCAD system. Complaining that cannot do the stuff that Revit does is as ridiculous as complaining that Revit cannot do what SolidWorks does.

    The point of the article was to show how one person has successfully been able to fit a square peg into a round hole. That's the freaking awesome part. Obviously if and when DS/SW enter into the AEC market they wont be doing it with SolidWorks.

  • Mook


    With all due respect, what sort of “design” do they have if they cannot produce deliverables without a ton of manual work, or allow needed database queries to be generated? Plant and building designs are much more than just pretty graphics as you well know.

    Revit btw is parametric. It was originally developed by ex-PTC employees and later bought by ADSK. Revit gained dominance here in N. America largely because of its parametric capabilities which is the basis of their “BIM” offering. Revit has other limitations, but parametric modeling is not one of them.

    My intent was not to belittle the user's efforts.. to the contrary, I applaud the creativity. But SW lacks too many features to be considered a credible “intelligent” design solution for most applications in building design or plant design which is why you almost never see it used for those design applications.

    I'm not sure why you assert that 'obviously' SW would never be used as the basis for a possible new DS product entry in the building and plant design industry. Bentley offers both Microstation based and Autocad based solutions for plant design, so why couldn't DW offer both a Catia solution (which they already do) and a SW solution for plant design and/or building design? At least one 3rd party developer is using SW as the basis for building and industrial structural design applications

    • Jay


      Such project is precisely why DS decided to enter the AEC market (SW Live Building). This and other such projects demonstrate that there is a latent demand in the AEC market for an alternative to the solutions currently offered by Autodesk, Bentley and others. 

      This project demonstrates that even if Solidworks is an MCAD system its kernel and UI is able to design AEC geometry. After all a Column in Revit and a Gear in Solidworks are both carved out of a cylindrical stub. Its just their “attributes” that makes them a Column or a Gear !!


      Talking about SW Live Building….What’s going on with that !! It’s almost an year since it was last demonstrated !!

  • Onepetercurtis

    In my 13 years using SolidWorks I have designed 3 houses and 2 factories in SolidWorks of which I designed as a mechanical engineer and then looked over by an architect for their approval, yes SolidWorks can be a bit of a bind on such designs but also a gift.

    I was able to detail the building as I would a engine which left no room for the builder to slack or misrepresent the drawings. Also quantities were accurate which is very rare on builds as I knew exactly how much material should be used.

    The the jewel, Simulation of which I have used for windloading on roofs and thermal testing to ensure the building meets the tightest regulations and of course the mezzanine floor of which I questioned the size of beam used and reduced the price by 15%!!!!

    None of this can be knocked, however my chairman did tell me it took me 4 weeks longer than an architect to design but on-site hit the very tight deadlines everytime!

    I cant see why architects don't use SolidWorks more!

    Though have to admit that putting 2,500 slate tiles on a roof isn't wise! However creating it as an assembly then speed packing it works a treat!

  • Billmce

    It wouldn't take much for SWX to make some significant in roads into AEC. I have had to recently put in some building info so as to integrate some mechanical equipment. The biggest pain in the you know where was doing the building bit by far. Not because anything was difficult in terms of modeling but trying to figure out how to read a AEC building drawing was a major pain in the you know where – those guys have my sympathies. However, it became obvious that a couple of things could have really helped. The grid system that is used by AEC types and a new thing SWX should invent called a wall element (draw it as a box – line really- but it sections with precision and full detail on the line work). From my limited experience, the AEC types like to have you flip through multi page drawing ad infinitum. They put all the wall details on one (or several) page(s) and then draw a couple lines where the wall goes and then ID the wall as a given type with a note. You then flip to the wall sections details and see what the thing actually looks like – minor errors like identical wall section with the same over all dimension but whose details don't add up to the same over all thickness (the dry wall thicknesses were different) seem to be of no import – though it drives me nuts. Sections for specific feature are some place else and it is all plan, elevation and reflected ceiling views referenced to the grid locations and floors. The people on site are experts and reading paper drawings and they flip though them relatively quickly. But hey it is still a lot of flipping (low value added work) to get the info one needs. The nice thing at least with REVIT, is it does the flipping for you – you can automatically go from the the reference to the view without having to rummage through stuff to find it. It doesn't take much imagination to see edrawings with this capability. So add in floor elements, wall elements and then some nifty smart assemblies that simplify themselves(doors, windows, curtain walls, structures, etc) and a drawing system that lines up with the AEC practices and SWX would be getting in the ball park. Then they could turn loose their VAR channel on something they know how to do – compete and win against low automation tools.

  • Mook

    If you have opportunities to combine existing SW equipment models with the factory structure, that may make sense, especially if the structure isn't too complicated. I'd like to hear more explanation on the “jewel” simulation tool you refer to for wind loading. To my knowledge, no DS analysis product is capable of generating wind loads per code (ASCE 7 here in the US, NBCC in Canada, EC in Europe) which vary as a function of height. Did you have to manually generate those wind loads by hand and then manually input them at joints or as distributed load in a SW-compatible FEA program? Because that would be a real drain on time compared to other programs which are better equipped to design building structures including automatic generation of code wind and seismic loads (if in a seismic zone). If you were designing a building, you would also need to meet structural code specifications on designing the steel and/or concrete sections (AISC, ACI, etc). How did you check the beam size that you questioned?

    If it was a small building, I imagine that you could generate building plans and elevations drawings manually. There are reasons why SW is not used by architects and structural engineers who primarily design buildings.

    I'd love to see SW make a run at Revit as I have no love for ADSK, but let's not pretend that SW as-is without building specific enhancements is a viable alternative for architects and engineers whose primary job is to design building structures.

    • Sjack32384

      Solidworks can generate beams, girders, and columns, I have not learned how to do stress tests on a structure, like wind, live, dead loads and lateral earthquake loads mostly because I haven’t learned how to mate my beams, girders, and columns in ways like rolling or rigid at the joint to have the give the specific structural freedoms for stresses and moments. But I think it can be done and this semester I will be building a steel designed building and find out. What I have used that will allow specific loadings and connections on a structure is RISA, and a free student version is available. It’s not nearly as cool as Solidworks, but when it comes to structural analysis it does a good job. This program can calculate the stresses, moments, torque, dh, etc. using point loads, distributed loads, wind loads, earthquake loads, etc. and analyse the effect at any point on any part of the structures frame.

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  • Michael Crawford

    I have been using Solidworks for over 13 years now and still love seeing it be able to model outstanding solids. My experience comes from mining, industrial and commercial industries and I always seem amazed at its ability to stand strong against other products. If your interested in Steel Detailing,Check out

  • Brendan

    I’ve never used Revit but the description given by Billmce seems ideal – a system the automatically ‘zooms-in’ from a plain and simple outline model to finely-detailed 3-D parametric modelling of specific components as one focusses on them. Such a system would keep the assembly model-files small yet provide all the detail required as one identified the component ‘of-interest’ and ‘zoomed-in’! If I have interpreted what he wrote ‘too optimistically’, then maybe it’s about time our Software Developers got working on this idea…?

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