7 October 2011
How to kit out your home office
Increasingly architects are considering setting up a business on their own for the first time.
While a Mayline Parallel Motion (£350) on your kitchen table is both a design icon and a reminder of your residual manual draughting skills, it will be your IT setup that is your main workhorse and likely to set you back considerably more.
The most significant investment in information technology is going to be the software rather than the hardware.
To keep software costs down, only go for the essentials. If you only need basic draughting functionality, go for the 2D-only versions of market-leading software such as AutoCad LT (circa £1045 all prices exclude VAT) from Autodesk or look at the merits of other players in the cad market. Unless you have advanced 3D modelling skills, the choice for many will be Google Sketchup (from £285).
Basic business productivity applications used to be dominated by Microsoft Office (circa £225) but if your usage is light you could try Google apps for a similar suite of tools provided as a cloud solution (£33 annual fee) or you could try the free Open Office alternatives if you can cope with some formatting issues when transferring documents with the Microsoft version.
Cad packages can cope to an extent with images text and drawings but for ease and sophistication of presentation material desktop publishing software starts to come into its own. The market-leading Adobe Creative Suite Design Standard package is expensive (circa £800), but unless you are familiar with Illustrator you can achieve most that you need as an architect if you just go for the main DTP package InDesign (circa £300) with a copy of Photoshop elements (circa £55) and a PDF printer such as Cute PDF Pro (approx £45).
In terms of hardware, you will need a computer and printer as a minimum. A laptop plus a separate screen is attractive if you need to be able to both work on the go as well as back at base. However laptops are more expensive and lower specification than a workstation, a critical but sometimes overlooked difference being the graphics card.
If you are using cad and DTP heavily then this will be a significant issue. Ideally you will be looking for a Windows 7 (64-bit version) Intel Quad-core 3.3GHz processor, a 1TB hard drive, 8GB ram and a 1024MB video card ( all in at about £980) and a 23-inch screen (from £200).
A basic A3-capable printer with four ink colours from Epson is the Stylus Office B1100 (from £200) but for photo-quality printing you will be better off with something like the Epson Stylus Photo 1400 (from £340).
Acknowledging that the back of the envelope or even a carefully considered hand-drawn sketch still has a place in an architect's armoury a scanner is a useful tool. A compact A4 scanner such as the Canon Canoscan LiDE 210 (from £70) will do the job. Recently I have seen a Mustek 1200 Pro A3-capable scanner advertised on the internet (from £200) but I haven't experienced it first hand.
The final items in your IT arsenal for your home office will be your business broadband connection (from about £325 per year) and setting up your domain name, email and web hosting (from about £75 per year).
All in all, the total bill could be around £4,500, but you may do better if you shop around or if you are able to purchase some of the software as OEM versions with a new machine. I hope this hasn't put you off!
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