What if I can’t read plans?

“I can’t read plans” . . . it’s something we hear all the time when working with clients.

The technical demands of construction documentation have become increasingly complex in recent years. This can easily become a barrier to clients understanding the parts of their project that matter most to them. It is really important to us that you are able to understand the design of your home at each stage, so you can give meaningful feedback as the design and documentation develops.

This blog article describes some of the visualisation methods we use throughout the design process, and how these will help make the design of your house leap off the page and into reality well before construction starts.

Our office uses Archicad software for design and documentation work. Your project will be modelled in 3D right from the outset. In recent years there have been huge advances in CAD software that have made it much more than just a useful documentation tool. It is now much better equipped to help clients visualise the experience of their new home.


Your computer model

While working on the concept design we start by using a basic 3D model to help you visualise the size and shape of your new home. At this point we’re not necessarily looking at the exterior appearance in detail, it’s more about making sure we’re optimising factors such as:

  1. The location of the house on your site
  2. How close we are to height limits and boundaries
  3. Working out where you can achieve the best views
  4. Determining the best locations for important items such as the entrance, outdoor living, bedroom and living spaces etc.

We will often use very basic bulk and location models with different colours for different types of space so you can quickly understand the form and layout of your home:


As the design develops, we start to incorporate more detail and accuracy into the model. We will meet with you in our meeting room and have the 3D model open on the big screen so we can walk you through your new home:


We can make changes on the spot if you would like to try out:

  1. Different materials or colours
  2. Alternative roof shapes and pitches
  3. Window positions and sizes



We can create sketched views from the computer model – using line drawings like these can help you focus on the form and layout of your new home at the concept design stage. You may find this an easier way to understand the model without being distracted by decisions about materials and colours.


Detailed renders

Recently we have started using new rendering software that takes the experience far beyond a basic computer model. It now allows us to walk you through a detailed model with realistic lighting, materials and furniture. It’s amazing to think that it’s not that long ago we would have had to leave a computer running overnight to render a single image to this level of detail. Now it is quick enough that we can walk you through a live model instantaneously.

Take a look at the following image to see how much more of a sense of space you get when looking at the materials, lighting and fitout of the rendered model compared to the basic computer model, and then imagine being able to explore the entire house with this amount of detail!


As much as the idea of putting furniture and people into a rendered model sounds a bit gimmicky at first, it’s amazing how much this tool helps our clients to visualise the scale and ambience of spaces. It’s so effective that we are increasingly finding it a very useful design tool ourselves!


Site context and landscaping information

It can also be useful to incorporate additional information about the form of your site, such as:

  1. 3D site information from surveyors
  2. Trees
  3. Surrounding buildings
  5. Outdoor living spaces

Here are a few examples of how this information can aid in visualisation:


In the above image we have incorporated a point cloud model from a land surveyor. They used a drone flying above our client’s property to capture huge amounts of data about the site and surrounding houses, trees and ground levels. We can then import this into our Archicad model to create a highly detailed model of the surroundings with tens of millions of datapoints.

It’s a bit hard to see in a fixed screenshot, but becomes much clearer once viewed in 3D. You can walk through the model of your house and look out the windows to see exactly how much your neighbours’ house and trees will affect your views. If any changes need to be made to window positions, floor levels etc. to avoid issues they can easily be made based on these accurate visualisations. This is much better, and cheaper, than finding problems when you move in!


Another way we use site context is by importing a model of surrounding features such as the coastline and hills. You can see from the image above how much this improves the realism of the model. It can also be a useful way to check that the orientation of the house and the position of windows is perfect.

Our rendering software also allows us to model up realistic-looking trees and plants. This helps soften the appearance of the computer model and makes it look better grounded on your site.


Interior design

In addition to general interior design work, we can also model up your kitchen so you can understand how it will look in your space. Initially this can be as simple as trialling different layouts and material combinations. For example you can see how different timber veneer or cabinetry colours look within the space, and whether they look best with lighter or darker benchtop materials. As the design is fine-tuned this can be developed into complete joinery drawings that can be priced by your builder or joiner.


Animations and viewable models

Another great development is being able to view the model from the comfort of your own home. This is helped again by improvements in the features of the rendering software and the ability to share larger file sizes. We can send you through an animation showing a walk through your new home, which can be viewed on your smart phone, tablet or computer.

If you are feeling more adventurous, we can upload a whole 3D model which you can download to a tablet or computer. You can then navigate the model using a simple browser as if you are walking around a computer game.  It’s a great way to look at areas you’ve forgotten to look at during our meetings, and to show friends and family what you are planning.


Other handy tricks

Another useful feature is being able to look at cutaway views of your home. This is a way of helping clients understand the layout of houses on the hill, or 2 to 3 storey homes, where it can be hard to visualise how spaces at different levels relate to each other. The image below shows a cutaway model through a hill house, the layout of the stairwell and the shape of the feature ceiling.

In addition to 2D drawings, we frequently incorporate 3D details into the documentation set. This can be a much clearer way of helping you and your builder understand exactly how complex parts of the building should be assembled. This can be helpful for:

  1. Complex roof junctions
  2. Bespoke interior joinery
  3. Tricky wall cladding and window installation details


Presentation images

Presentation images are still very useful, and we can take a photorealistic image of your new home and overlay it with photos of your site using Photoshop.

Compare the image above with a photo of the finished house below and you’ll see just how accurate this technique can be. It does take some time to prepare presentation images such as these. As such, it’s more appropriate where high quality or artistic renders are required for the final design such as for real estate marketing purposes.


Working remotely

The great thing about all of these ways of sharing information with you is that it makes it increasingly easy to work with clients who are out of town or unable to visit our office. Even working remotely you can still see:

  1. Drawings
  2. Images
  3. Animations
  4. 3D computer models
  5. Photographs of wall cladding samples
  6. Interior finishes colourboards

We can share all of this with you by email or during video calls. This way you can be confident that you aren’t missing out on being involved in your project even if you can’t visit our office.


That’s really what is most important to us, and hopefully to you, about the whole process; that we can present you with detailed information in a way that allows you to fully understand all the aspects of your project that are important to you. This will give you the confidence to ask questions where you are uncertain, and give you the freedom to try out different ideas so you can judge how well they work before they are built.