Since we are excavating an urban center with existing architecture, the main environment for spatial documentation is CAD at PARP:PS. This doesn’t exclude the use of GIS, as they are easily interchangeable, but CAD is where our base documentation lies. We have always used AutoCAD but, like most projects, get stuck with sharing the dxf or dwg files that AutoCAD produces, with both people who don’t have AutoCAD or people on Macs. Our old workaround was to use Illustrator to open those files, but we lose the accurate measuring ability. There have been two recent events that have changed all of that within AutoDesk.

The first is their Education Community. Here students can get a free version of AutoCAD to help them learn the software. It even includes the new AutoCAD for Mac. With that I can send documents to our trench supervisors (who are all grad students) and they can use the files to help them write their reports. The downside is that once a document is opened and saved with a student version, there is a permanent watermark on the file that can’t be removed, even with the professional version of the software.

The second, even better method is their free AutoCADWS website. I have written about AutoCADWS and their iOS app before, but I haven’t focused on the web version. Here you can upload your drawings in (they promise) a secure environment. You can invite others to look, comment upon, and even edit the files directly from the website. The interface is also much, much friendlier than the traditional AutoCAD interface, and thus can be used by mere mortals.

This has already changed our workflow. While we still house the main drawing on our file server, we host a copy on the WS website as well. Our architect can work directly off of the WS website version (a plug-in for AutoCAD allows connection to the WS hosted files), and everyone else on the project can view and comment on the document. If they want, they can also download the document from the WS website and keep a local copy (we traditionally put the AutoCAD drawings into Illustrator to clean up for publication). The website has group features that allow for a chat session while two or more people look at a document at the same time, and has a timeline feature to allow you to step back to previous versions of the document.

The only downside to the WS website so far is that it doesn’t handle 3D. I assume this is temporary but since we have only published plans so far, this hasn’t affected us yet.