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How is CAD used in architecture?

The UK's architecture industry is huge. Worth over £8.7bn in 2022, the market size of domestic architectural activities grew 7.2% last year and has increased by an average of 3% YOY since 2017. Impressive numbers, particularly in the wake of a global pandemic, Brexit and a host of other economic concerns.

Indeed, our architectural landscape is something of which to be proud. The UK is a world leader in innovation, talent development and international opportunities. Particularly when it comes to innovation, the UK's rich mix of history and state-of-the-art projects makes it one of the most forward-thinking but challenging markets in which to work. To keep up with that level of innovation, you need the appropriate design technology behind you – and that's where computer-aided design (CAD) comes in.

CAD has revolutionised the architecture industry and, while the technology is nothing new in building design these days, the ongoing development and advances of architectural CAD software are helping architects to explore new design possibilities and streamline their processes better than ever before.

Here's how CAD and architecture are pushing the industry forward together.

What is CAD in architecture?

CAD in architecture is the process of 2D drawing and 3D modelling of building plans, designs and evaluations using specialised computer-aided design (CAD). In simple terms, 2D and 3D CAD architecture software has replaced what used to be done on drawing boards, which has naturally provided a massive boost to the industry in terms of speed of process, accuracy of design, cost-saving and plenty more.

What's the history of CAD in architecture?

The origins of CAD in the industry date back as far as the early 60s with the introduction of Sketchpad in 1963. Sketchpad was a simple software that allowed for line drawing and movement of figures around on a computer screen and ushered in the beginning of the future of the industry. By the 1970s, 2D architectural CAD drawing (roughly equivalent to the level of hand drawn design) was in play but it was in the 1990s when the truly revolutionary developments were made in the form of 3D CAD architecture software solutions.

With the dawn of 3D architecture in CAD, so came the new normal for the industry but, while 2D drawings and 3D modelling are still staples of building design, rest assured that the development of architectural CAD has continued. Today, the likes of 4D Building Information Modelling (BIM), accurate simulations and virtual reality are all continuing the push the limit on what's possible with the use of computer-aided design in the market.

What’s the difference between CAD and CAAD?

If you're looking into CAD in architectural design, you may well have seen the acronym CAAD flying around. CAAD means computer-aided architectural design and refers to specialised CAD software for the architecture industry.

How does CAAD differ from CAD? Well, CAAD typically offers a specialised database for architecture which boasts building specific objects, parts and construction knowledge and is focused explicitly on the creation of architectural designs.

Of course, generalised CAD programs are still capable of creating architectural projects – CAAD simply incorporates more tools that architects may find useful in the design process.

How does the architecture industry use CAD/CAAD?

The baseline fundamental skill of architecture has, and always will be, drawing. Indeed, back before CAD, drawing ability was the number-one skill required to be an architect and even today it's a highly valuable asset to have as a professional in the industry despite the dominance of architectural CAD drafting.

In essence, what CAD has done has removed the pencil and paper from the architect's hand and replaced it with a mouse and incredibly detailed software. CAD architecture software now takes care of the complete design operation, from start to finish, fully streamlining and optimising what once was an incredibly drawn-out and arduous process.

Planning and design

CAD architecture design has taken most of the legwork out of the planning and design stages of building composition. Perhaps the biggest benefit of CAD to this stage of the development process has been the introduction of true 3D modelling – something that has always been incredibly difficult to portray via hand drawings.

CAD designed plans are faster to create, more accurate and much more extensive, and they can be easily shared, edited, revised and collaborated on across a business. Architectural CAD software even works seamlessly with hand-drawn projects (many architects still prefer to do initial drawings by hand before transferring them to CAD), with scanning technology capable of bringing manually created designs into the software.

Today's CAD software also allows for real-world visualisations and simulations of proposed designs without the need for building physical structures or models, while the introduction of virtual reality has allowed for new perspectives for designers and clients alike.


Most CAD software offers features like a bill of materials (BoM) which enable the user to create a list of materials and projected costs for the project ahead. This sort of generalist feature is understandably limited when it comes to cost and risk management for something as substantial as building design, which is why architectural CAD software is now typically integrated with Building Information Modelling (BIM).

BIM supports cost, construction and project management via 4D capabilities, which enables CAD architecture software to offer complete support for the industry.

What are the benefits of using CAD in architecture?

CAD software has undoubtedly transformed the way architectural projects are delivered, with the detailed benefits to the industry too extensive to mention. Here are some of the major changes.

Speed of process

Unsurprisingly, the detail required to complete the planning, design and evaluation of a building composition is incredibly in-depth, and architects today can only begin to imagine how long a process that would entail if delivered by hand.

CAD has streamlined every element of design, from drawing and modelling through to revisions and collaborations. Parts of the editing process that once took days now take hours, and projects can be completed in shorter windows than ever before.

Accuracy in production

While architects are extremely skilled when it comes to drawing, human error is a reality in every industry that can only truly be mitigated by technological intervention. CAD software allows for completely accurate 2D and 3D models, reducing the need to edits and revisions and further streamlining the process.

Opportunity in production

With modern architectural CAD software, there are more design possibilities than ever before. As well as substantially increasing quality and accuracy of production in the fundamentals of architectural design, new tools like virtual reality, real-world visualisations and simulations, and BIM support are allowing architecture firms to reach new levels of presentation for themselves and for their clients.


With all of the above in mind, one remaining obvious benefit is a drastic saving in operational costs compared to the past. Architectural design is now a much quicker, more accurate and more expansive process than ever before, which all adds up to substantial cost-savings for businesses – and it's all thanks to CAD.

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