The best architecture software helps you render 3D building designs that accurately match your vision.
For professionals undertaking business information modeling (BIM), design software for architects creates more efficient home design workflows through 3D modeling tools.
In a study (opens in new tab) from top architecture software developer Autodesk, 70% of architects say using BIM reduces project errors; 64% say it helps deliver higher quality, creative projects; 56% say it increases client satisfaction.
When you’re designing eye-catching architecture, graphic design software and digital art tools are useful for sketching ideas. But the best architecture software lets you do so much more - from drawing, redesigning, saving, and printing plans to including engineering information to ensure structures are viable in a real-world environment. Dedicated software for architecture can even be used to set up workflow management.
To help you find the right tools, we’ve tested the best architecture software for building design - so you can focus on creating the worlds you want. To make our informed choices we've looked at each software's top features, including shortcuts, ease-of-use, platform compatibility, available plugins, and cloud integrations.
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The best architecture software of 2022 in full
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AutoCAD has long been a staple of construction engineers and architects, thanks to developer Autodesk including specific building design and architecture toolkits. This isn’t just another computer-aided design (CAD) program - it's one of the best architecture software tools you can get.
Using AutoCAD, architecture professionals can expect greater efficiencies. The program speeds up the design process with the addition of automated object generation and pre-built objects. This lets you quickly place walls, doors and windows, and mechanisms for creating elevations, sections and plans from model geometry.
There’s a major caveat. AutoCAD is most commonly used as a 2D architecture tool, even as many in the building design trade are shifting towards true BIM application. For BIM-oriented customers, Autodesk offers Revit.
Chief Architect’s Architectural Home Design Software is a great choice for those focusing on residential over commercial properties.
One of the best architecture software programs for designing properties inside and out, Chief Architect is ready-made for professionals, from architects and remodelers to interior design specialists. 2D and 3D drawings, floor plans, 3D renderings, construction drawings - the software offers a good range of tools to get your project off the ground.
The architectural software is available in two versions for home design professionals: ‘Interiors’ for those working inside the house and ‘Premier’, which allows detailed exterior and interior design.
Useful, then, for those who have more specific needs (and want a powerful professional tool to deliver specific results).
Both editions let you rapidly construct 3D models of exterior and interior spaces, then project those into 2D plans and elevations.
Chief Architect can be purchased outright, or via a monthly subscription.
Read our full Chief Architect Home Designer Suite review.
3DS Max is another offering from Autodesk, and one of the best building design tools for 3D modeling, especially for architects looking to create photorealistic open spaces.
The creative tool was one of the first to offer hardware-accelerated rendering of 3D images. Today, its value lies in creating stunning visuals and fly-through animations, making it one of the best architectural rendering software programs to promote your project. And it’s packed with automation features to keep the design process on track.
Alongside the base 3DS Max subscription package, you can choose between three ‘Industry Collections’ to match your use: Product Design, Media & Entertainment, and the Architecture, Engineering and Construction collection.
This last collection bundles top architect software like AutoCAD, Civil 3D, and Revit. It also has tools for structural analysis, steel detailing, building performance analysis, and even vehicle path calculations.
That level of control and capability means 3DS Max, as a whole, has a steeper learning curve than other architecture software on the list. But once mastered, it’s the ideal program for architects crafting rich environments in 3D.
Civil 3D - another top architecture program from the Autodesk toolbox - goes beyond modeling and drawing CAD functionalities demanded by most architects and builders.
Giving the platform a civil engineering twist, Civil 3D lets you create 3D model-based designs and environments. If you work with BIM workflows, you’ll find the tool also offers a streamlined, design-driven documentation pipeline to keep collaborative projects on course,
The civil engineering design tool is designed to work with other Autodesk products - particularly AutoCAD, Revit, and 3DS Max. This makes it one of the best architecture software programs for professionals deep inside the Autodesk ecosphere.
One useful ability is the integration of survey images with terrain modeling, roads, service schematics, and constructional geometry. All these elements are placed into a single, highly annotated package. That allows engineers to focus on a specific area, while monitoring how design changes might impact other areas.
CATIA started life as a tool for precision modeling military hardware. And that makes it more than capable at handling complex architectural needs and generating finely detailed models.
Since its launch thirty years ago, the software has proved to be a bit of a trailblazer. While plenty of architecture software programs have added collaboration features and security-controlled distribution, CATIA had these tools from the beginning.
And it continues to move with the times, receiving performance-enhancing updates that expand on existing coordination features and embrace cloud functionality.
The program’s interface is pleasingly clean - if you’re broadly familiar with other software for architects, you should find CATIA easy enough to dive into, even if the learning curve is steeper than others (that’s the trade-off for military-grade precision modeling).
With this powerful, fully featured architect software, there’s no standard pricing. Instead, your firm will need to request a quote tailored to your needs and usage.
Revit, another Autodesk design tool for architects, is the company’s BIM-oriented offering. If you like AutoCAD, but need Building Information Modeling capabilities, this is one of the best architect software programs available.
It has industry utility beyond architecture alone. Structural and MEP engineers, and those in construction will also benefit from the 3D architectural software, which enables building design, modeling, and coordination and collaboration features when the team is working on the same scheme.
Designers using Revit work with objects, not a vector between two points. That means they can work quickly and with confidence. And, just like Autodesk’s Civil 3D, documentation can be streamlined to ease BIM workflows.
However, if you’re graduating from AutoCAD to Revit, you may find the transition a little overwhelming at first. But once you’ve scaled the steeper learning curve, the architecture software unlocks a serious competitive edge over traditional design applications.
Rhino is a powerful 3D rendering program for those modeling curved surfaces and softening a building’s image.
While most CAD programs are great at rectilineal architecture, Rhino was designed from the start to handle curved lines, meshes, and NURBS surfaces of high complexity, like those in the features of a human face or the sweeping curves of a super-car.
For architectural design, Rhino can easily model the complex intersections of curved roofing or any part of the structure that isn’t inherently straight.
As a platform, it isn’t a specialized tool. Instead, it uses add-ons, like the one for BIM functionality, and the Grasshopper visual programming system to tailor the program for specific users and tasks.
This makes Rhino a highly flexible tool that can be tweaked to automate complex modeling and detailing operations for those projects that need them.
Unusually for CAD architecture software, you are not forced to upgrade to the next release and upgrades generally cost half that of a new license.
SketchUp is about as easy as CAD gets, making it a great entry point if you’re new to 3D modeling.
The design program for architects started life as a Google-backed project. And while it’s changed hands since then, the clean, easy-to-use experience that defines the Google product suite remains.
After a few simple tutorials, designers should be able to work rapidly to construct complex solid geometry using it. It might not be suitable for designing a building entirely, but it is an excellent tool for rapidly prototyping a design when it is still at a conceptual stage.
But what really makes SketchUp stand out is the offer of genuinely free 3D architecture software. It’s limited, of course, but gives professionals a feel for the product before committing to a commercial license.
The free building design offer has made SketchUp one of the best architecture software tools, generating a large and active community of users on hand to help the inexperienced. That community spirit continues with an extensive user-generated object library; a vast resource of pre-constructed parts to drop into any project.
Read our full SketchUp review
Alternative design software for architects
While we've featured some of the most powerful and popular AutoCAD and 3D design software programs in this roundup, especially for use in building designs and interior designs, there are plenty of alternative architecture software to consider.
Some of these are worth looking at because they better serve as an introduction for beginners, while others are notable for being free 3D architecture software packed with useful features you won’t have to pay for.
TurboCAD Deluxe (opens in new tab) is one of the best programs for beginners and intermediate users. A lower price tag and greater accessibility offsets the comprehensive featureset found in some of the best architecture software. It’s worth trying in order to simply get used to basic functions, though you won’t find command line options here, which are typically offered by more advanced architect programs.
FreeCAD (opens in new tab) is an open-source, free 3D modeler, and it’s especially good for reverse engineering models and seeing how changing parameters can affect the whole design. While it's not as feature-rich as professional, paid-for programs, it’s a well-supported platform with complex features to explore. Best of all, it offers cross-platform support across Windows, macOS, and Linux.
SolidWorks (opens in new tab) is a powerful CAD program that strikes a balance between ease-of-use and advanced features. There's still a learning curve, though it's not overly steep. Watch out for a clever wizard tool that inspects building designs for structural weaknesses. However, it is a general 3D modeling tool rather than specific to architecture itself, so it might be better used for materials modeling rather than buildings.
Tinkercad (opens in new tab) is free 3D design tool that’s tailored to beginners. So, if you’re not quite ready to tackle grand projects, this software helps you develop your skills in basic handling and features before moving on to more advanced architecture programs. Treat it like a design sandbox to nurture your skills.
CorelCAD (opens in new tab) is a dedicated CAD program from the team behind creative design tools like VideoStudio Ultimate and Corel Painter. It's a 2D drafting and 3D design platform that’s not as complex as the best architecture software on our list. As you'd expect from Corel, this is a good all-rounder that brings together a strong toolkit – especially the creation and manipulation of vector graphics – for a modest cost. It also supports .stl files for 3D printing.
Architecture software buying advice
What is architecture software?
Architecture software is designed to aid professional architects in their job of designing buildings and models.
The best software helps architects outline their ideas and brings their visions to life virtually on a computer, allowing them to analyse and stress test their designs through intelligent software before unleashing their creations in a real-world environment.
How to choose the best architecture software for you
The best architecture software lets you boost the quality of designs and make workflows more efficient. Choosing the right architecture tools means assessing how you intend to use it, how you’re comfortable using it, and your skill-level.
AutoCAD is an amazing computed-aided design tool for professionals, for example. But there’s a very steep learning curve to getting the most from it. If you’re new to architecture software, you may prefer a simpler tool like Chief Architect. Check if your chosen tool uses object- or vector-based design.
You’ll want to check whether the software has BIM capabilities - not all architecture software is alike. And its 3D modeling prowess. Some tools even go beyond the four walls, adding interior design and landscaping. If your business delivers more than architectural plans, investing in an all-in-one package may work better than getting the best interior design software and the best landscape design software separately.
Factor in budget and pricing models. Autodesk offer subscription packages for its architecture and modeling products, while alternatives like Chief Architect and Rhino have one-time-buy licenses.
Finally, select the architecture software that best suits your creative flow.
The best architecture software: How we test
When testing the very best architecture software, we judge the tool on interface, performance, power, and available tools. Users rightly expect premium computer-aided design software to be powerful, feature-rich, and easy to use (if not easy to learn - comprehensive architecture software is naturally more complex).
There are different grades of architecture software, with professionals and consumer products to fit a range of needs. In reviewing CAD software for architects, we don’t expect all tools to mirror functionalities, but we test to see how well each one performs for its intended audience and its intended use.
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