50 Tools and Apps for Architects of 2019
There are plenty of tools, devices, apps, and software that I use every day as an architect that I’ve found helpful in streamlining my day to day activities. From being able to work at home or while traveling to efficiently working through issues that arise during construction, the tools and apps that I’ll be sharing in this post have made my life as an architect manageable and more comfortable. Here are 50 tools and apps that I would recommend to any architect in 2019 divided into two sections: Tools & Devices and Apps & Software.
I’m always interested in learning about new tools, devices, apps, and software that will help with my life as an architect, so feel free to add and comment on this list in the section at the end of this post!
Tools & Devices
1. Apple iPad Pro + Apple Pencil or Microsoft Surface + Pen
One of the most helpful tools that I use both during the design stages of a project and during construction is an Apple iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil. Similarly, if you prefer to use android and windows based products, the Microsoft Surface and Pen are comparable alternatives among many others.
Five of the most common apps that I use on a day to day basis to accomplish my tasks as an architect are Procreate, Photoshop, Lightroom, Submittal Exchange, and Plan Grid. With the exception of Procreate, the other 4 apps are available as a software on desktops and laptops. Procreate is akin to sketching on paper with a pencil, but I have to admit that it really doesn’t have the same feel as the gruffness of pen on paper. Photoshop and Lightroom are great for editing graphics on the go including renderings and photographs. Submittal exchange (if you have data on your tablet) allows me to review Requests for Information (RFIs), submittals, meeting minutes, and others. Plan Grid on a tablet saves 90% of the time that it used to take to perform construction administration activities on site. More on these apps are in the next section.
The versatility of tablets and the way that they streamline everything from calendars, reminders, and daily tasks will save so much time on every stage of a project. I’d find it difficult to go out to a construction site without my iPad in hand and Plan Grid open ready to review and document issues throughout the job site. By using my iPad in this way alone, I’ve already paid for the iPad tenfold based on the efficiency I’ve gotten throughout every project.
Without diving into the Apple versus Windows debate, having an up-to-date desktop such as the iMac, iMac Pro, Dell Precision 7910 or greater, and similar windows based computers is critical for all architects. I use Dell Precision 7910 (they’re now onto 7920 in 2019) for all of my Building Information Modeling (BIM) work, graphics in Adobe software, and all construction activities. I can’t say much about Apple’s computers for architects aside from the fact that they’re capable of running BIM software such as Vectorworks (a great alternative to Autodesk Revit) without an issue and all their business related software and interoperability with other Apple devices is streamlined and increases efficiency.
I’ve used Dell Precision towers for a little over a decade now and I’ve never had an issue with its performance while developing large complex models in Autodesk Revit. When built correctly with a solid state hard drive, top of the line graphics card for workstations, lots of RAM, and a great processor, these computers won’t struggle with BIM models until they get overwhelmingly large (5GB plus in file size). Even then, it takes a lot of detailed modeling – like a library project where I modeled thousands of books for rendering purposes – to really slow down the computer. There are comparable alternatives out there from companies like Hewlett Packard, but I’ve come to trust Apple and Dell products for all my needs.
One of my latest purchases was an Alienware M15 laptop from Dell that’s built for gaming including virtual reality. However, the purpose of the laptop is to be able to work while traveling and also to develop renderings in Lumion Pro version 9. This rendering software is graphics based and operates almost exactly like a first person video game. Therefore, the type of video card, processor, and amount of RAM needed to efficiently build and render models in the software is critical. If you plan to develop renderings using Lumion Pro, check out this post where I give some basic tips for beginners.
If you’re planning to use the laptop to manage a business, present to clients, and travel with less focus on developing BIM models and renderings, I highly recommend either the Apple Macbook Pro or Macbook Air. The Macbook Pro will allow you to develop some graphics using Adobe software on the go while the Macbook Air will be easier to transport everywhere due to its lightweight construction.
4. 3D Scanner
My latest favorite tools to use out in the field to document existing conditions is a 3D Scanner. More specifically, I’ve been using the Leica BLK360 device with Autodesk ReCap on an Apple iPad Pro. The way this device works is that I’d show up to the existing space where I need to document the existing conditions including measurements and photographs of all building components. Once I get to the space, I take out the Leica BLK360 device, place it onto the tripod as level as possible, take out my iPad Pro, open Autodesk ReCap, synchronize the Leica BLK360 via Bluetooth (only need to do this once), and click the scan button.
When the scan is complete, I move the Leica BLK360 to a new location with visual connections to the previous location and scan again. This allows the software and scanner to develop a connected view of the space. Best of all, each scan provides a 360 photograph of the space so I can review any missed elements later at the office. This is a great tool for documenting existing conditions in complex spaces or at projects located far from home. When the final scans are compiled, they can be used as a point cloud model in Autodesk Revit or simply viewed and measured in Autodesk ReCap.
A final note on the Leica BLK360 – it’s a very expensive tool to add to an office, but if there are lots of renovation projects in the office, the 3D scanner will save lots of time and pay for itself through its efficiency. It also allows us to increase our fees for documenting existing conditions since it’s more precise and saves everyone time.
For the majority of us who can’t afford a 3D scanner of our own, the next best option for field verification visits is a laser measurer. I’ve personally used ones from two companies; Leica and Bosch. Personally, I like the laser measurers from both of these companies because they’ve been very accurate and easy to use. The speed in which I can measure a space using a laser measurer in addition to a tape measure saves a lot of time on projects. Even though my office has a Leica BLK360 scanner, we often bring a tape measure and laser measurer to smaller projects where the scanner would take more time to setup, use, and process. We also use these measuring devices during construction when issues arise or if there are minor things to verify.
With all the devices I’m constantly carrying around like my smartphone and tablet, it’s important to always have a portable charger for long field visits, meetings, and while traveling. There’s nothing worse than showing up to perform a punchlist using Plan Grid on my iPad Pro and having less than 15% of battery remaining or needing to call into a conference call with a phone that’s nearly out of battery. With the low cost of portable chargers, it’s a must have for everyone who travels and are out on site often. These are very helpful for traveling with a 3D scanner because you’ll likely drain the battery on your tablet if you’re scanning a large existing building with no outlets nearby.
From traveling to photographing built and in-progress design work, a DSLR camera is an important addition to every architect’s tool kit. As architects, we learn about the built environment best when we’re sketching, making a model, traveling to new places, and exploring architecture. A DSLR camera allows us to share the world from our perspective, capture memories and places that we’ve experienced and loved, and create content to build our own brand. The camera that I’ve used from their latest model in 2010 and recently upgraded is the Canon EOS 80D.
When paired with a great wide angle lens, or a tilt-shift lens if money isn’t a factor, the Canon EOS 80D takes beautiful photographs and provides features that makes it simple for beginners to learn the different settings of the camera. From the smart technology that selects the best settings for the scene being photographed to providing full manual control of the entire camera, I’ve enjoyed using my Canon EOS 80D paired with my 17-40mm Canon Ultrawide Angle Lens during my travels. A telephoto lens is also a fantastic addition to the camera arsenal for shots from a distance such as this one that I took of the Skylon Tower in Niagara Falls, ON from the USA side of the falls.
Understandably, DSLR cameras and lenses are typically out of most architects’ budgets and there are the alternatives of using a smartphone for photography, especially because their camera and technology get exponentially better every year. There are also smaller lightweight cameras with lens interchangeability that take beautiful photographs and videos that come at a much lower cost like the Sony Alpha 6000 that my sister bought for her travels around the world. When we bought our cameras, we found bundles from Amazon that provided lots of travel accessories and lenses with the camera. If you’re in the market for one, I recommend looking for a bundle to save on costs.
There are still days where a project under construction or a existing building requires a site visit where we need to carry around a clip board and scaled to fit drawings on 11x17 paper. There are lots of architects who don’t own or have access to a 3D scanner for field measuring. I’ve seen consultants carry 8.5 x 11 clip boards and folded 11x17 drawings fumbling through pages as we stood in an area that needed to be reviewed or looking for a hard flat surface to place their drawings to write their notes. Fortunately, my office has a set of 11x17 acrylic clipboards that make these trips a lot easier by laying all my drawings flat and having a hard surface to markup drawings. It’s very helpful for field measurements when a colleague is measuring and you’re holding the clip board with the drawings taking notes.
9. VR Headset
With the evolving rendering software and technology available to architects, having a virtual reality headset is starting to be one of our best design and marketing tools in the office with new clients. For visionary and innovative projects that come with forward thinking clients, we’ve developed virtual renderings that allow our clients to move through a space, look around, and experience how the space would appear in reality. We started with the simple comfort headset for smartphones where we uploaded our renders to a phone, placed it in the front of the headset, and passed it to our clients and team members. Now, we’ve invested in a comfortable and better headset that provides higher resolution images, which continues to get positive reactions from our clients. We use a combination of the Oculus Rift and IrisVR software to allow clients to walk through BIM models as well as 360 panoramas generated in Lumion.
I’ve gone through my fair share of sketchbooks ranging from the classic Moleskine (about $15+) to the lower cost similar versions (approximately $10) and at some point decided that I’d only get Moleskines until technology fully takes over the printed world. My experience with the cheaper alternatives is that they typically break at the spine, pages separate, and the hardcover doesn’t hold its original shape. The classic sketchbooks and notebooks from Moleskine has been the total opposite experience where each of my books, including one that was beat up during travels, have retained their original appearance and quality.
One of the purchases that my office made almost a decade ago was LED desk lamps that come with USB ports for charging devices and offer a range of light settings. Aside from the efficiency of LED lights, my desk lamp has a few preset settings meant for reading, relaxing, and illuminating the space. Each of these settings have different amounts of cool and warm light to create an ambiance and provide enough light for the task being performed. I use my desk lamp every day to charge my phone, as backlight on cloudy days when my office area gets really dark, and when I need to sketch or read hard copies of construction documents.
After kick starting my Glowforge, which is a desk top laser cutter, I’ve had nothing but great things to say about the product. The reason why the Glowforge laser cutter is one that I recommend to everyone isn’t only because of the great physical machine, but it’s actually because of the intuitive interface, constant software development and updates, and the great online community of laser cutting enthusiasts. My favorite feature is the onboard camera that shows the material on the cutting bed and the software that allows you to move your cuts where you want them to be. Cut/etch settings can also be adjusted and saved for future projects. The laser cutter can be used to make gifts, products (like the leather ones I’ve been making and selling at Mars Leather Company), architecture models, and craft hobbies.
13. Warby Parker (Eyewear)
Based on my list of architect friends and colleagues, I’ve noticed that a lot of us wear prescription glasses every day. In the past, getting a new pair of prescription glasses and sunglasses every year or two was a big expense that averaged about $750. After losing my prescription sunglasses that cost $450, I started researching lower cost alternatives and found Warby Parker. My experience with this company has been a 10/10 because of their excellent customer service. To make a long story short, my optometrist gave me the wrong prescription and Warby Parker’s customer service team changed it 4 times at no additional cost to me, even though it wasn’t their fault! The same purchase of a pair of prescription glasses and sunglasses cost $320 total from Warby Parker instead of $750 and doesn’t compromise beautiful design and quality.
The best part about Warby Parker is their home try-on program where you can order 5 sample frames at a time to try on at home for free to find the ones that fit you best. Here’s a link to the try-on program.
14. Boosted Rev (Transportation in Urban Areas)
A product that I’ve added to my list of prospective products and looking forward to purchasing in the future is an electric scooter from a company named Boosted called the Boosted Rev. Recently, I decided to give my car to my girlfriend to commute to her new job that’s about 22 miles one way from our house, which forced me to find a new means of transportation. My commute is roughly 6 miles one way to the office and I decided to use my road bike for the time being. There are some great dedicated bike lanes to make my ride safe, but there are also areas where I share the road with cars going 45+ miles per hour.
While researching an alternative means of transportation that would go slightly quicker and make my commute more enjoyable, I was interested in the Boosted Board, which many people who follow YouTubers like Casey Neistat would know. That’s when I learned about their latest release at the end of summer 2019 of the Boosted Rev, which is an electric scooter that goes up to 24mph with 22 mile range on full battery. Imagine passing cars stuck in the morning and evening traffic – especially in cities like Chicago, San Francisco, New York City, and others where there’s always stop and go traffic just to commute 6 miles – at a speed of 24mph. The amount of time you can save by using this scooter would pay for it. The safety features such as the headlight and tail light and 3 different brakes make it even more compelling. The size of the scooter would also allow it to fit anywhere in my house – especially where I store my bike. The only downside I’ve found is the weight, which is 47 pounds and the idea of trying to lug it around a store for a quick stop.
Any architect in a city working within a 10mile radius of their home would find the Boosted Board, Boosted Rev, and a lower cost alternative like the Xiaomi Scooter a great way of commuting to and from the office. Biking into work is also a great way of getting exercise, but there are some downsides to this like the size of the bike, storage, and cooling down when you get to your destination.
15. LED Flashlight and Headlamp
A must have tool for visiting any construction site is an LED flashlight and/or a headlamp for viewing conditions above ceilings, behind wall cavities, machine rooms, and other areas with little to no light. I used to think that I could just rely on the flashlight on the back of my smartphone, but after one site visit where I couldn’t get enough light in an area about 10 feet away from me, I decided it was time to start bringing around an LED flashlight. Other folks in my office use a headlamp, which I’ve been debating as a purchase for my construction kit. It helps to have one while developing a punchlist in dark areas – especially if you’re using Plan Grid on an iPad. It’ll get light in the areas needed for a photograph instead of hoping that the flash from the camera will capture what you need. A good flashlight is an LED one with an adjustable beam feature and a headlamp that provides lots of light.
16. Embody Chair or Aeron Chair
When I graduated from architecture school and started setting up an office area in my apartment and eventually my house, I was reluctant to spend a lot of money on a good office chair. After researching and learning a lot about the benefits of having a great ergonomically designed chair with features that assist better posture, I decided it was time to purchase one that was right for me. When considering the fact that we generally sit for a majority of our day as architects, our chair becomes one of the most important parts of our lives. With lots of research, I was deciding between two chairs from Herman Miller; the Embody Chair or the larger size Aeron Chair with the neck rest.
Ultimately, I decided on the Embody Chair and after 3 years of constantly using it, my body is grateful that I made the choice. I can sit in the Embody chair for hours without feeling fatigue and I love the way that it conforms to the different contours of my body. The adjustments also allow full control of things like height, seat depth, recline, and so on. For architects who work with many manufacturers and purchase things for personal use, my suggestion is to call the manufacturer or a local representative where you plan to purchase an office chair (like the ones mentioned here) and let them know you’re an architect interested in purchasing one for personal use.
17. Adjustable Desk (Sit or stand)
For the past 4 years, I’ve had an adjustable desk that brings my monitors from a sitting height to a standing height and my body is grateful that I have this feature. Throughout the day, I do my best to get up, walk around the office, stretch my legs, and get my blood flowing. On days where I have so much going on that I just can’t seem to get away from my desk, I find myself going from sitting to standing at least once every two hours. This simple move helps me get my mind back on track and focused on the tasks at hand. Once I start feeling fatigued, I lower the desk to sit. The one that I have at my office is the adjustable one that’s set on the top of my fixed height desk like this one from Amazon. The kind of adjustable desk I’ll likely purchase for my home office in the future is the automated adjustable desk that lifts and lowers with the push of a button.
18. Standing Mat
Personally, I like to take my shoes off when I get to my desk and get straight to work. There’s something about having my feet on the ground around me that feels better than having shoes on all day. With a standing desk, this can get tiring in weird ways. Sometimes, my feet ache a little bit from standing and other times the area at the base of my toes start to feel fatigued. That’s where the standing Mat can really help because it provides the cushion that I need when standing barefoot at my workstation. It helps me stand for longer periods of time without the aches in my feet and the fatigue in my body.
A colleague of mine introduced me to a footrest from Steelcase called the Campfire footrest and shared with me the way that it helps his posture while sitting at his desk for long periods of time. Steelcase recently developed a new version of their footrest that takes up less space and could be used in different positions based on how you’re sitting. I’ve been using a footrest at my desk for the past two years and I’ve found it to be very helpful in keeping a good posture, stretching my legs, and focusing on my work. This is especially true with the adjustable footrest that can hold your feet up low, medium, and high to stretch out different muscles and accommodate different seated positions.
20. Bose Headphones
There are lots of different companies that provide great sound canceling headphones that help us stay focused while working and traveling. I’ve always loved Bose headphones and I’ve been using the wired sound canceling over-ear headphones since 2011. Even after the ear muffs started ripping away and the foam padding was exposed, I found replacement muffs for $5 on Amazon and simple changed them out. They’re still going strong and they’ve helped me stay focused while writing a book, developing content for Journey of an Architect, and designing architecture projects. A great alternative that my friends can’t stop raving about are Beats wireless studio headphones. I’ll be sticking with Bose and my next purchase when my current ones give out will be a wireless over-ear headphone from Bose.
21. Espresso Maker, Steamer, and Bean Grinder
When I graduated from architecture school, I gave up espresso and coffee and started drinking tea every day to get over the reliance I developed on strong caffeine. Like many architects who have a love of coffee and espresso, I wanted to enjoy the drink for what it was instead of relying on it solely for the energy it provided. In 2019, I finally decided to get back into espresso drinks, especially lattes and cappuccinos, because I enjoy the flavor and the craft of these beverages. I’m slowly getting into it so that I don’t fall in love with the feeling that comes with a boost of energy. Instead, I’m just enjoying it for the taste and gradually learning to enjoy the energy that comes with it. If I worked from home or had lots of money to invest in an espresso maker, I’d likely purchase one from Breville that does the bean grinding, tamping, steaming, and espresso all in one machine. However, I’ll be sticking to the separate espresso/steamer machine with a manual bean grinder until I get to a point where I know exactly what kind of machine suits my lifestyle.
When you get to a point where you start traveling for work, it’s time to get a garment duffel bag that’ll keep your dress clothes safe and in great condition throughout the trip. Whenever I travel, I also want to be able to pack athletic clothes to get a run in the evening or early morning. That’s where the garment duffel bag comes in handy because they allow you to store your dress clothes in a protected area of the bag, roll it up into a duffel, and pack more clothes inside. Once it’s packed, you simply zip the top to close it up and it becomes a carry-on bag for traveling. I purchased on when they were just getting on the market for a high cost and lower quality materials. These days, you can find one that does a great job, looks fashionable, and makes traveling easy.
As I start driving to project meetings and job sites further away from home, but close enough where flights aren’t available or wouldn’t make a difference in travel time, I like having a good espresso or tea drink with me throughout the trip. Until recently, I’ve never owned a travel mug and I’ve been in love with one from Zojirushi with my colleagues recommending ones from Yeti. The travel mug from Zojirushi keeps drinks hot all day, which can be difficult for people who like to start comfortably drinking their preferred drinks after a few minutes. My latte was still at boiling temperature after about 30 minutes of being in the travel mug, which makes it perfect for long trips. My friend’s preference is the Yeti travel mug that he’s had for years and I’ll be sure to add it to my collection when I’m ready for a new one.
24. Apple Watch
Every architect knows that when we get in the zone when developing BIM models and construction documents, we often lose track of time and find ourselves sitting in the same position all day. We also have days when we’re putting out fires and need to be in 10 places at the same time. That’s where I’ve found the Apple Watch to be very helpful for my day to day activities and health when paired with my iPhone. All my meetings and events, tasks, emails, messages, phone calls, active goals, podcasts, meditation apps, and music are seamlessly synchronized on my watch. When I want to get away from it all during a run, I simply connect my Bluetooth headphones, turn my watch on do not disturb, and go. It reminds me to do simple things like stand after 50 minutes of sitting or to walk somewhere to start closing the exercise or calorie ring for my exercise goal. I can also quick respond to messages with the tap of a button or asking Siri to do it for me.
25. The Essentials
I won’t dive too deep into the essentials for architects because we all know the standard tools that vary from architect to architect. Tools like a scale, trace paper, felt tip pins, drafting pens, drafting dots, French curves (for the fancy hand drawing architect), drafting tubes (very helpful for transporting drawings in bad weather), and so on. There’s also the protective gear for job site visits like a reflective vest, jacket, hardhat, steel toe shoe, ear plugs, and so on.
Apps & Software
1. Autodesk Revit or Vectorworks
Architects who use a windows based workstation or laptop should be using BIM software for all of their projects with CAD as a supplemental software to integrate work from consultants who haven’t made the move to BIM. Apple users should be using a software like Vectorworks to develop and render their projects. My preference has been Revit because it’s the first BIM software that I learned and I love the way that it’s streamlined with all my consultants. The interoperability of all Autodesk software is almost seamless and having multiple team members working together in the same model allows us to develop projects in a fraction of the time than working in software like CAD. Vectorworks is great for users coming from a Rhino based background where the tools and drawing features are similar. Vectorworks also has a good visualization engine for conceptual graphics as well as final renderings. Vectorworks is also a great financial choice because it has a larger upfront cost per license, but there’s no monthly fees. There is a subscription version for a low monthly cost as well, but if you know you’ll be using Vectorworks for a long time, the perpetual license might be a better option.
When I first heard of Lumion, the software company was already on their 4th version and I was intrigued ever since the moment I saw their advertisement video. As a user of Lumion Pro version 9, I’ve had nothing short of a great experience with this software, which reminds me of playing a first person video game. During design and at the end of the design phase of a project, the model can be synchronized or imported into Lumion where you can navigate through the project, apply over 9,000 different materials, and place pre-modeled entourage. Rendering also start and finish in a fraction of the time that it takes in other non-graphics heavy software. A rendering of a large and complex model took 3 minutes per image at high resolution for a project that I recently completed. If you’re considering getting Lumion, I highly recommend you check out my post where I give tips for beginners getting into Lumion.
3. Plan Grid
Architects who are working on projects under construction or maintaining facilities for different organizations should have an office wide account for Plan Grid. This software, now owned by Autodesk, allows you to upload all drawings and documents to an online system where they can be viewed, annotated, updated, and shared with responsible parties. I love using Plan Grid on my iPad for developing punchlists because I can assign different tasks to the general contractor on the project, “stamp” (places a pin on the digital drawing) the area that requires their attention, note the pin with the issue and resolution, and take a photograph to document the issue that was discovered. Once the contractor completes the task, they sign off by updating the stamp that automatically notifies the design team, and I can close the task once I’ve verified it’s been done satisfactorily. I can also export a report and distribute it via email to all parties on the project so everyone, including the client and/or owner, is aware of the outstanding issues. Imagine doing this for over 1,000 items using a piece of paper, pen, clip board, and camera. Efficiency is what Plan Grid provides, which also increases the quality of the end product.
During construction, all submittals, RFI’s, closeout documents, bulletins, architect’s supplemental information, and so on are maintained in my Submittal Exchange account specific to each project I’m working on. Similar to Plan Grid, Submittal Exchange is a platform that streamlines the construction administration process by keeping everything organized, time stamping all incoming and outgoing documents, and saving on paper waste. The software also automatically notifies all parties who need to know about specific submittals and RFI’s and notifies the design team when reviews have been completed by consultants. This reduces the anxiety that comes with the potential of forgetting to respond to an open item for weeks because it was sent to your email’s spam folder or a contractor trying to get a time extension on a project and blaming it on response times from the design professionals. The auto-reminders are extremely helpful for getting responses from all parties involved in the project. A similar software is Procore, which I have less personal experience using , but have also heard great reviews from my colleagues.
For reviewing and marking up digital design drawings, RFI’s, submittals, and other construction documents, Bluebeam is the best software. My favorite aspect of Bluebeam is the simplified interface where everything is intuitive and tools are easy to find in the interface. The software can also open large documents, which I often find Adobe Acrobat struggles to do and will eventually crash during the markup process, and navigating through the document is fast. The best part about Bluebeam is that it’s available on phones, tablets, and computers as well as easy to use as a team. If you have a few extra dollars to spend outside of the Adobe Suite, Bluebeam is definitely worth a purchase.
6. Adobe Suite
Every architect who develops conceptual designs for projects, portfolios and monographs to share with clients, proposals for potential projects, and general graphics for their office needs to have a copy of a handful of Adobe’s products. In no particular order, my favorites are: Photoshop, Illustrator, Lightroom, InDesign, and Acrobat. It’s better to have the creative cloud monthly plan instead of subscribing to each software individually since the prices will add up very quickly. The best part about having the creative cloud package is that a lot of their software is available as apps for smartphones and tablets. All the projects that you see here on Journey of an Architect has been developed with the assistance of Adobe software.
One of my latest favorite tools to travel with is my Apple iPad, Pencil, and the Procreate sketching app that is akin to having all sketching tools at the tip of your fingers. From the various types of sketching tools available to the layering system, exporting options, and unlimited drawing board space, I’ve used the app to brainstorm ideas as if it were my mind mapping think pad and develop conceptual sketches for projects. With that said, I still prefer to use my Moleskine sketchbook with a fine felt tip pen for sketching, but I’m starting to love using the Procreate app.
The Microsoft Office suite is the essential package of software for every architect. Instead of trying to explain why everyone needs to have Microsoft Office, I’ll highlight a handful of them that I like to use as an architect. First, Microsoft Teams is extremely helpful in my office because it allows us to quickly message everyone working on the same project in specific channels or to privately message others for things like getting lunch, help on a project, and so on. Teams also has the ability to do a video conference call with others and share screens. Microsoft One Drive is just like dropbox for storing and sharing files. Lastly, we’ve been using One Note to keep track of things like travel receipts by quickly taking a photograph of them and filing them in our personal One Note drive on our phones, which seamlessly synchronizes in the cloud.
Although I’m an avid book reader who enjoys the texture, smell, and weight of a physical weight of a book in my hands, I’ve come to enjoy listening to audiobooks read by the authors and great narrators. In fact, this is one of the ways that I go through so many books throughout the year with finishing roughly one book a week. There’s a great app from the public library called Libby, which I’ll share later in this list, as well as one that I highly recommend called Audible. The reason why I find it useful to have Audible where I pay for audiobooks is because there are times when new books that I don’t want to wait to have available in my library’s app that leads me to buying my own copy. Listening to an audiobook is just like listening to a great podcast without advertisements and full of amazing content.
For book lovers who have been on the fence about getting Audible to listen to books instead of physically holding and reading text, I encourage you to give it a try and listen to one audiobook. I was against the idea when audiobooks were new and the narrators’ voice put me to sleep back in 2009. These days, all the audiobooks I’ve listened to had narrators that keep me engaged throughout the entire book. Best of all, I can listen to them during my travels.
If you want to give Audible a try, here’s a link to a 1 month free trial that comes with 2 free audiobooks to start.
10. Amazon Prime
These days, almost every architect has Amazon Prime, which includes so many services like same day and one-day free shipping (in select cities), music, movies, and so on. The services that are provided to members who pay monthly or annual subscriptions to Amazon Prime makes shopping easy. I’ve had Amazon Prime since my time in architecture school in 2008 up until the time that I started to become more of an avid shopping minimalist where I refrain from purchasing items. Their previous free 2-day shipping option helped me purchase over 100 books for my library, accessories, supplies, and so on. Although I no longer have Amazon Prime, I still use their services to purchase items with the longer 3-5 day shipping option and I’ll admit that I do miss the faster shipments of my items, the growing collection of television shows and movies, and music.
If you want to give Amazon Prime a try, here’s a link to a 1 month free trial.
Whenever I’m at my computer or out for a run, I’m almost always listening to music, podcast, or audiobook. This is especially true when I’m developing a BIM model for a project where I can get in the zone and literally tune everything else out. When I need to focus more with tasks that involve writing or reading, I listen to music instead of content filled audiobooks and podcasts. The two services I often use are Spotify, which has a great free version available on devices and computers, and iTunes, which is a subscription service only. Although I love iTunes because it synchronizes with my phone, tablet, and watch, I use Spotify’s free version to save money. I don’t mind the advertisements, but I know so many people who have the subscription services and would never go back to having interruptions… ever.
Both Spotify and iTunes offer premade playlists that I’ve been using instead of creating playlists of my own. In fact, I found favorite “mood” playlists that help me stay focused, motivated, or relaxed throughout the day. Check out some of the popular playlists on iTunes below by clicking the image - I like “Lofi Chill Hop Beats” for staying focused and designing.
For architects who are as fortunate as I am to have a local library system that provides free online apps full of content, apps like Libby (also known as Overdrive) are a must have on all devices. Using Libby, I input my library card’s information and if it’s affiliated with the app, I get full access to browse and borrow from the library’s extensive collection of audio and electronic books. I’ve used the services for both and I love the audiobooks more than the ebooks. The collection from my local library (both Buffalo and New York City, which is available for New York state residents!) includes all the latest and popular titles.
If a book that I really want to listen to or read is borrowed by the maximum number of people, I can place a hold on the up to 10 or 15 titles (depending on the library), which will provide an estimated duration for waiting, and when the title is available, it’ll automatically be added to my library where I can easily open and listen to or read the book. The downside of this is that the holds can often take over 20 weeks to be available like Michelle Obama’s audiobook, Becoming, which had a waitlist of over 24 weeks. This is where an app like Audible is helpful for me because I can purchase the audiobook and listen to it immediately.
Without diving too deep into this one, having ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft as well as your preferred airline apps is a must for traveling. Being able to schedule a ride for a very early redeye flight, show up to the airport, and scan my boarding pass on my watch or phone saves so much time and headaches that used to come with getting on line to check in, running to the TSA check, and searching for my gate. It’s also very convenient knowing how long it’ll take for my ride to show up to my location with an approximate arrival time at my destination.
Everyone, not just architects, need to have an app from Intuit called Mint, which is a personal finance app that links directly to your financial accounts, helps you easily setup budgets, and notifies you when your spending habits are exceeding the set budget. I’ve used Mint since 2012 and its helped me observe my spending habits, set new goals, and eventually get out of debts like my student loans early in my career as an architect. As of 2019, it’s helping me keep track of my investment accounts, my bank accounts, and remaining two loans (car and mortgage), which I plan to have paid off in full by the end of 2021.
When I first discovered Masterclass, they were just beginning to release their first batch of online courses from famous instructors including Frank Gehry, Gordon Ramsay, and others. As an architect, I was intrigued by Frank Gehry’s course on architecture, which I found to be a great primer that reminded me of why I got into architecture and that all architects (even the stars of our time) go through the same problems with clients and contractors. Learning his process of developing and presenting his ideas to his clients and eventually realizing them has helped me tweak my own design process to find what’s right for me and what I consider to be my design style.
In 2019, there are so many Masterclasses available that I plan to take using their subscription service, which wasn’t available when Masterclass was initially launched. Two that come to mind are Anna Wintour’s masterclass on creativity and leadership and Jimmy Chin on adventure photography. What I love most about Masterclass is the amazing quality of all their videos. They put so much time and effort into perfecting every detail of every session with their famous instructors. The $15/month cost of having access to every class is also a great deal – especially for the content that every instructor shares about their business and lessons learned through their experiences.
One thing that I decided not to do when I entered the profession and worked at a firm was to never moonlight and develop projects for my own clients on the side. Unless I spoke with a partner at the firm about the project, decided it wasn’t right for the firm, and had an agreement with them that it was okay to take on the client and project on my own, I wouldn’t feel right about doing it secretly. However, when I want to make a little extra money, I like the idea of using a freelancing company like Upwork where I can create a profile and look for potential clients and projects from other architects and interior designers to do tasks like drafting existing conditions using plans provided by them in CAD or BIM and making redline corrections that they provide. This allows me to continue developing and using my skills in these programs while creating relationships with other architecture and interior design firms around the USA.
17. Lynda.com (AKA LinkedIn Learning)
After graduating from architecture school where the two drafting programs I learned were AutoCAD and Rhino, I needed to teach myself how to use BIM software so I could apply and get my first job as a young architect. Without knowing where I to start, I researched several potential places to take an online course. Aside from the in-person college lecture room style courses, I found Lynda.com, which had a variety of courses from different instructors. At the time, Lynda was its own entity, but is now owned by LinkedIn.
I signed up for my first course with a gentleman named Paul Aubin, who at the time that I was taking the course in 2013 had only a few courses available on Lynda.com. The course took me a day from beginning to end where I treated the session like I was preparing for a final studio critique. I stayed focused through all of the lessons, used some of the provided sample files, and repeated some lessons more than twice to make sure I got the gist of it. While writing this, I searched for Aubin’s courses on Lynda and found a lot of them with some specific ones on things like detailing in Revit 2020. I highly recommend having a subscription to Lynda.com for all architects looking to learn new software or advance their skills in current ones.
Every now and then, our architecture project files that we need to share with consultants, clients, and contractors grows over the standard 10MB maximum email size and we need to turn to other services to transfer the files. Dropbox, which I’ll mention later is one alternative. The one that I use often is WeTransfer where you can drag and drop the files to send to someone (up to 2GB transfers per session is free), and you can select to either have it automatically email the people who need the files or get a link to share via email or chat. We use this service for every project and the best part is that it’s free!
For all the projects that I developed here on Journey of an Architect, I used an app called Evernote to store all my research articles and notes and organized them by project folders. When I first started using Evernote, it was free to use on up to 4 different devices with a storage space limit that I would probably never reach. Now, the app has been updated with so many features including a program for computers that makes it easier to store, organize, retrieve, and share files with others. There’s also the great web browser extension that allows you to save articles, which is intelligent enough to provide options that remove things like unwanted advertisements and saves only the important text and supporting images. Personally, I still use the free version, which is available on up to 2 devices at a time. If you love using the app and find yourself constantly adding content, you should definitely get the subscription to remove the limitations.
There are plenty of social media platforms for everyone to use personally and for business. For architects, the two that I find myself using to help me find inspiration and trends in architecture are Pinterest and Instagram. Pinterest is fantastic for finding both unbuilt and built work all over the world and saving them to boards that can be organized in any way that I choose. For example, I have a board for minimal architecture that has a modern aesthetic, one for concrete architecture, wood, and so on. Instagram is a fantastic app for searching for trending images related to specific tags around the world, following people, firms, and tags that inspire your work, and sharing projects of your own with the rest of the world.
Everyone has at least 30 accounts with different companies, which leads to at least 20 different login names and passwords that have to be remembered and regularly updated to prevent hackers from getting into the account. Worst of all, the passwords for each account should never be the same as any of the others because if a hacker figured out how to log into one account, you wouldn’t want them having access to all the others.
To help me keep track of all my login names and passwords as well as create extremely strong passwords, I use an app called 1Password where I can store all my login information and update them annually. The app has a password generator that creates sophisticated passwords and saves them to an application that uses several levels of encryption to keep my information secure in their database. When I’m using my phone, tablet, or computer to log into any account, the company has web browser extensions and an app for devices that allow me to simply login (using finger print or face scan when available) and tap a button to login. The biggest downside of this is if I ever need to manually type the sophisticated password to log into an account on a family or friend’s computer, which usually doesn’t happen.
One of the oldest file sharing services that is constantly updated to add new features that makes it easy to store and share information with family, friends, and teams working on the same projects at the office is Dropbox. Since the app allows you to download it directly to your computer and use it as a folder on your drive where you can drag and drop files into it, Dropbox is easily one of the most useful file storage and sharing apps around for architects. This is especially true for working with teams in different cities, states, and even countries that have access to Dropbox.
We’ve used it for several projects and have never encountered an issue incorporating it into our workflow. In fact, the NYC Micro Dwellings project, which was the first one that I did for Journey of an Architect, used Dropbox so a friend could share photographs of the project site with me that he took with his DSLR for rendering purposes.
There are two ways that Airbnb can be used for architects; personal travel stays and business trips. For personal travels, I like to use Airbnb because I can find unique places and explore the different types of houses and lifestyles that have always intrigued me. For example, I’ve stayed at an off-grid log cabin built by a farmer on a cliff in a small rural area called Plantagenet in Canada, which was a beautiful experience. I also stayed in a very old church converted into a home and a cliff house that was previously owned by a pianist who passed away. There are tiny homes, off grid homes, castles, and more available on Airbnb for you to explore and experience.
Architects who travel frequently can also use Airbnb to book stays for business trips, which works in almost the same way as the personal travels. The difference here are the tax breaks and the places to stay, which are catered more to the necessities and amenities of people on business trips.
If you’ve never used Airbnb before and want to try it out, here’s a link to save up to $55 on your first stay.
A new app that I discovered in early 2019 is called Arki, which was developed by an architect who wanted to explore ways augmented reality can be implemented to help during the design process of a project. Architects can upload their BIM models to the software, open the app on their phone or tablet, point their camera on a surface in real life, and place the model in the app. Once placed, the model is locked and you can literally walk around it, up to it, and so on. You can also bring the app to the project site, place the model where it would be located, and literally walk around as though you were inside the model. This is a great way of presenting designs to clients and letting them see the forms and spaces of your proposed design for their project.
An app that I used to be addicted to using when I was searching for a house to buy is Zillow, which is a map based real estate app that allows you to see everything available on the market as well as estimated values and recent prices of houses sold anywhere in the USA. As an architect, I’ve loved using the app to look at pictures, prices, and the interesting realtor’s descriptions for houses in neighborhoods of interest. It gives a realistic view on the things that the general population are looking for in a house as well as the prices that people are willing to pay in specific neighborhoods. It’s also great for architects who are interested in owning multiple properties and maybe becoming a developer in the future to understand the current and potential future of the residential market.
There are so many tools and apps being developed and released that architects can take advantage of to benefit their career and lifestyle. I hope this list of 50 tools and apps include ones that you’ve heard of, are currently using, or are interested in giving a try! Feel free to comment below and share the tools and apps that have influenced your career and lifestyle as an architect.
Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post are with companies that I am affiliated with, which means I’ll make a commission from any sales that come from the links. I only recommend products that I’m familiar with and have used or heavily researched. If you choose to use the links that I’ve provided, I’d like to thank you for your support.