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Grand Designs 3D: Self Build & Development review

Seth Barton
30 Jan 2009
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
180
inc VAT
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A pen and paper is all you need to start designing your dream home. However, this is a relatively affordable alternative. This easy design application can help you visualise your ideas in 3D before you bring in the professionals.

Though named after the popular TV programme, it's actually a repackaged version of Archon's 3D Architect software. However, it does include some designs from the series, which give you a good idea of what's possible.

Building blocks

Self Build & Development can be intimidating at first glance. It's fairly easy to get started, though, thanks to the three bundled manuals. It took us a couple of hours to work through the basics with the 50-page quick-start guide. Then there's a 140-page guide to common tasks, plus a 320-page reference manual. We found all these resources incredibly useful. They're well written and full of step-by-step guides and screenshots.

The interface hides all the more complex options behind right-click menus. Once you've got your head around the basics such as setting the real-world scale, it's very easy to throw something together for fun. We quickly made a basic home, although it wouldn't win any architectural awards. Constructing a building that you've already designed in detail on paper will be far more taxing.

All the design work is done in 2D to keep things simple and you work on one floor at a time. You can lay down walls freehand or you can create rooms to specified measurements. The application joins all the walls automatically at the corners. When you enclose a space, it designates it as a room and lets you name it.

Adding windows, doors and stairways is easy. There's a decent range of such objects provided, with some designs being plain enough to please anyone. These are easy to position, simply snapping into your walls. Right-click on the icon and you can change the object's dimensions as well as other details, such as height from the floor and whether it opens inwards or outwards.

There's a handy tool for adding additional storeys, either above or below the ground floor. It lets you keep the elements you want, whether that's just the outer walls or the whole layout with identically placed windows. You can then remove or tweak the necessary parts.

There's a wide range of different roof designs included. However, even the manual admits that the roof is tricky to get right. Though roofing simply-shaped buildings is easy, anything that qualifies as a grand design will likely be a struggle.

Some architectural features also prove problematic. Split-floor levels have to be achieved by creating and then attaching together multiple buildings. Dormer windows are a real pain to add and there's only limited support for conservatories, although you can build simple examples beam by beam.

Archon's Conservatory Designer is sold as a separate, but fully compatible, package costing ?50 including VAT.

Inside information

Once you're happy with the structure of your building, you can decorate the interior by placing furniture and adding textures to surfaces. This way, you can quickly tell if that second bedroom is big enough for a double bed and a wardrobe. There are thousands of objects and textures to choose from. At any point in the design process you can simply tap F12 to switch to a full 3D render, pan around and zoom or use the 3D walkthrough mode to explore inside.

You can adjust the level of the surrounding terrain and even import local survey maps in DXG format to get the contours and positions of nearby buildings correct. The 3D renderer supports full ray tracing, so you can see how much light your rooms will receive. Use the bundled Creative Lines package to produce professional-looking architectural plans. However, this program doesn't make structural calculations, so there's no guarantee your grand design is viable in the real world.

Self Build & Development will struggle to create some of the more ambitious organic shapes that have featured on the show over the years. However, most things are possible with perseverance. It's expensive, and certain features are a little fiddly, but if you would like to design your next home yourself then we'd recommend it.

Details

Price£180
Detailswww.eleco.com
Rating****

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