Proceedings—UIA/PlanCom 2002 Berlin
Mixing ten thousand architects from a hundred countries sounds like a sure-fire recipe for ideological controversy, but everyone seemed tranquilized by the shared experience of black turtlenecks and geometric haircuts. Away from the conference center's grand global debates about urbanism and the environment, the nether reaches of the adjoining Berlin Messe, or exhibition center, echoed with the hum of disk drives and the clacking of keyboards. The Welt Weit Web, among other technological wonders, is alive and well in the wide world of AEC.
The International Union of Architects, or UIA is a non-governmental organization, based in Paris, representing a million architects from nearly 100 countries. Every three years, the group holds a "World Congress" in a new venue—Chicago 1993, Barcelona 1996, Beijing 1999, and Berlin 2002 (the twenty-first such gathering, or XXI, as the organizers prefer—Congress XXII will be in Turkey in 2005). While some of the 10,000 attendees at this Congress did not visit the exhibit halls of the companion PlanCom product expo, enough did to make the show noticeably busier and livelier than recent USA efforts, such as the last AEC Systems show. Show management in Berlin placed information technology exhibitors in the furthest hall, thereby driving traffic throughout the show.
Before addressing the big international design-tool software vendors, it's worth noting a few companies that stick to the German-speaking "DACH" market (the German initials for Germany, Austria, and Switzerland).
> BauNetz bills itself as the information portal for architecture and design on the Internet. In a clean, logically navigated interface, BauNetz delivers news, architecture reports, threaded discussions, link lists, design information, construction information, access to building product catalogs and directories, information about firm management and marketing, organizations such as architecture schools and the professional society (BDA, or Bund Deutscher Architekten), a job bank, and more (likely a lot more, but my facility with the German language encompasses little beyond "vasser mit gaz"). BauNetz is one of the handful of German survivors from the dot-mania of the late 1990s. I first saw BauNetz during a 1999 trip to Frankfurt, and I've not seen another architecture and design portal in any language or culture that matches BauNetz' balanced blend of comprehensiveness and clarity.
> WeltWeitBau ("World-Wide Building," in English) offers a German language, DACH market extranet service—PlanNet/PlanTeam-Server—for setting up and managing project design/construction information on a secure website. After performing some degree of due diligence on several dozen providers of such services from around the world since 1995, I can identify a critical characteristic that distinguishes most of the successful ones (such as WeltWeitBau, which I first saw in Frankfurt 1999) from the defunct: other income; deep pockets; or both (with a few notable exceptions, such as Constructware and e-Builder). For example, Autodesk's Buzzsaw service and Bentley's Viecon, while good offerings, are not significantly better than many others that did not survive; these two lasted on the strength of their family ties. WeltWeitBau, a smaller company in a smaller market, survived on the strength of its consulting business and CAD file viewing and conversion tools (the converter is especially handy, using the ISO 10303 STEP format to convert files to and from five leading formats in the DACH market: Autodesk AutoCAD; Bentley Microstation; Nemetschek AllPlan FT; Graphisoft ArchiCAD; and RIB Software AG Arriba CA3D).
ComputerWorks GmbH is the German and Swiss dealer for Nemetschek North America's VectorWorks, even though that American company (and its product) is wholly owned by the German-based Nemetschek AG, exhibiting two stands away at this same show—and even though ComputerWorks doesn't seem to represent (German) Nemetschek's other CAD and rendering products. To make things even more confusing, ComputerWorks also distributes the Piranesi rendering package from Informatix of Britain, as well as the Art-Lantis renderer from Abvent SA of France. In any event, VectorWorks thus joined AutoCAD among American-made software on exhibit, while other USA-native packages, such as Bentley Microstation and auto-des-sys' formZ, were nowhere to be found. Finally, while German Nemetschek boasts an extensive roster of leading German architects among its customers, ComputerWorks fired the first shot in the show's "war of internationally famous architects," with a VectorWorks flyer featuring the visage and oeuvre of local wunderkind, Daniel Libeskind.