The life and work of an architect is intellectually and technologically rigorous. The human brain is an architect’s most valuable tool. A powerful computer might be a close second.

Architecture students are no different from professional architects when it comes to technology. Students use the same tools and apply them in the same ways as professionals. Completing bachelor- or master’s-degree studies in the School of Architecture & Urban Planning requires the support of a robust and reliable laptop computer that is capable of producing professional-quality architectural work.

During your time at SARUP, you will develop complex 3D models. You will simulate lighting, materiality, air flow and energy flow. You will produce intricate technical drawings. You will use parametric representations to simulate intelligent, responsive envelopes and structures and interface with robotic fabrication equipment. This work requires a powerful computer. More specifically, this work requires a laptop that costs more than an iPad or lightweight PC.

Professors in the School of Architecture & Urban Planning work in private practice in addition to their teaching and research. This makes them expert sources on the computing resources that aspiring architects require. Their hardware/software recommendations for architecture students and a technology FAQ are provided below. These resources are intended as a guide for the typical BSAS or M.ARCH student.

Before Buying, Consider Your Circumstances
We understand that individual student circumstances vary. Carefully consider your own needs and purchase the right laptop for your situation. Whenever possible, we provide “minimum” computer/software recommendations and “preferred” alternatives. Please note that most of the following information is provided as recommendations, not requirements. It is offered as a resource to help new and returning students make informed decisions about computer purchases. The only requirements are that sophomore students and above – including all graduate students – must have a laptop computer running the Windows Pro operating system, with enough memory to run the architectural software required to complete their coursework. Whatever computer will get a student to this result is an acceptable computer.

Undergraduates have minimal computer requirements in the freshman year. They write papers, take notes, collaborate online, and so forth, but they do not yet need architecture-specific software. Freshmen can use a MacBook, hand-me-down laptop, or even an old desktop computer in many cases during freshman year. Once students reach the sophomore year, they begin design studio courses and other technical courses that have heavy computer requirements. The discussion of hardware and software provided here applies to students from the sophomore year onward, and graduate students.

  • “Minimum” means that this purchase is critically important for successfully completing coursework.
  • “Preferred” means that this purchase costs more than the “minimum” alternative and may offer a better-quality student experience.

Computer Hardware Requirements

REQUIRED COMPUTER TYPE: LAPTOP
Students participate digitally in various learning environments on and off campus. Laptops are mobile and versatile, traveling easily from lecture hall to design studio. They are able to measure and document items during site work, and they support and store student work at home or in design studio. A laptop is required hardware for students beginning in the sophomore year, and for all graduate students.
REQUIRED OPERATING SYSTEM: MICROSOFT WINDOWS 10 PRO, 64-BIT
The Windows Pro operating system is the standard platform in professional architectural practice and in the School of Architecture & Urban Planning. Most of the software students use in their classes runs only on Windows, not on Mac OS. While it might be possible to run some of these tools on a Mac using virtual Windows, students have reported technical difficulties when attempting to do so. Windows Pro is required because it matches the typical architecture firm’s office environment, and because it is a more robust system that is designed to handle the advanced, complex computational processes performed by architectural software. Students have also reported many technical difficulties when attempting to run architectural software on Windows Home Edition.
HARD DRIVE TYPE: SDD (Solid State Drive)
Minimum: 500 GB SSD drive
Preferred: 1 TB SSD drive, or larger
MEMORY/RAM
Minimum: 16 GB
Preferred: 32 GB or more
VIDEO CARD: should be discrete not shared
For an extended discussion of video cards for architectural design and rendering, visit the Lumion blog, and review the Department of Architecture software suite below.
Minimum: Nvidia or AMD, 4 GB memory, discrete not shared or integrated
Preferred: Nvidia Quadro or AMD Radeon or better, 8 GB memory
SCREEN SIZE
Computer-aided design is a graphical medium and screen size and resolution are important considerations.
Minimum: 15” with minimum resolution of 1920×1080
Preferred: 17” screen is nice for graphics, but heavier
MOUSE
A mouse is essential for using 3D modeling and graphics software.
Minimum: External optical mouse
NETWORKING
Minimum: 802.11ac wireless
WARRANTY
An on-site warranty means that the company will send someone to your home or to a campus drop-off location to fix your computer. Mail-in service normally takes two-plus weeks.
Recommended: Four-year on-site/at-home warranty with accidental damage service to protect against drops and spills.

UWM TECHSTORE

READY-TO-PURCHASE LAPTOPS. If you want an easy, pre-arranged purchase option consider purchasing your “minimum” or “preferred” laptop from the UWM TechStore. The laptop will be built by Dell and shipped to your house, or you can pick it up at the TechStore. IMPORTANT: Estimated time from purchase to delivery is three weeks.

Architecture Software Suite

The Department of Architecture requires a basic software suite for all students. Some required software must be purchased; some can be acquired for free, as indicated below. Please obtain the current production version of all software.

As students advance in the architecture program, specialized software will be required by particular teachers in particular courses. The list below includes only the basic software suite, not course-specific software.

Microsoft Office Suite is required for first-year (freshmen) students and beyond. All other software is required for sophomore year and beyond. For M.ARCH students, the architecture software suite is required for the duration of the program.

Software Package Cost
When you first get your laptop, you are not required to install all software packages listed here. You should install the software based your course curriculum or degree path that your pursuing. Look for the notes on BSAS and M.Arch to determine when software may be required.

BSAS is Bachelor of Science, Architectural Studies
M.Arch is Master of Architecture

MICROSOFT OFFICE SUITE Free
Includes Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel.
Download the software at: https://uwm.edu/o365/proplus/
How to install Office 365 at https://kb.uwm.edu/page.php?id=45766

BSAS: Required for freshmen level and above.
M.Arch: Required

GOOGLE EARTH PRO Free

Obtain at https://www.google.com/earth/

BSAS: Required for freshmen level and above.
M.Arch: Required

ADOBE CREATIVE CLOUD STUDENT EDITION $20/month first year, then $30/month

Adobe Creative Cloud is subscription based that includes Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Acrobat Pro and other Adobe products. Subscribe through Adobe’s website. All Adobe products are included with the subscription.

BSAS: Required for sophomore level and above.
M.Arch: Required

RHINOCEROS $195 one-time purchase

Go to the Rhinoceros website at www.rhino3d.com/edu. This is a general-purpose modeling system for architectural designers and is used in virtually every single studio course in the architecture curriculum.

BSAS: Required for sophomore level and above.
M.Arch: Required

Autodesk Free

Visit the Autodesk Education webpage (and look for the “Sign In” link). Fill out the registration form using your uwm.edu email address. When creating a password, please use a different one than your UWM password. After logging in, go to the software download section to obtain the free software. Autodesk needs to verify your eligibility for the free software by requesting a copy of your UWM Photo ID.

BSAS: Needed for sophomore level and above.
M.Arch: Needed

Preferred: AutoCAD
Preferred: Revit
Optional: AutoCAD Architectural
Optional: 3DS MAX
Optional: Maya
Optional: CFD
Rendering and Animation Engines Cost

Rendering and Animation engines are the most processor- and graphics processor-intensive applications for your devices. You want to have access to one or more of these rendering packages available on your device to complete your course work.

BSAS: Required for sophomore level and above.
M.Arch: Required

Preferred: Lumion Free
This is an advanced rendering and animation engine. Please note that is the most processor- and graphics processor-intensive software listed here, visit the Lumion blog for hardware requirements. Lumion outputs in photo, movie or panorama mode. Obtain Lumion at https://lumion.com/students.html.
Optional: Twinmotion Free
Twinmotion output photos, panoramas, and standard Video or 360° VR videos. Twinmotion combines an intuitive icon-driven interface with the power of Unreal Gaming Engine. Obtain Twinmotion at: https://www.unrealengine.com/en-US/twinmotion
Optional: Enscape Free
Enscape output photos, panoramas, videos, standalone, and cloud sharing. Enscape is VR capable with many VR headsets. Enscape works with Revit. Rhino, and Sketchup. Obtain Student Version of Enscape at: https://enscape3d.com/educational-license/
Optional: V-Ray $99/year
This is a general-purpose rendering engine. Students who use a free version of Lumion (see above) do not need to purchase V-Ray. Obtain a student version of this Rhinoceros plug-in at https://vray.us/academic.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need to match the minimum or preferred hardware specification exactly?
Students are encouraged to assess their individual circumstances and purchase a laptop that is right for them. To do this, a student needs to balance cost, performance, durability and timing of purchase. The minimum and preferred specifications described above are best-suited for our typical BSAS and M.ARCH student, so these should be taken as a general guideline and starting point for each student’s individual consideration. Items noted as ‘required’ in the above specification are needed for students to take part in coursework. If you do not have a required item, it will be impossible for you to complete some or all work in your courses.
Is financial aid available to help cover the cost of the laptop and software?
Yes. The cost of a laptop is considered as a legitimate educational expense, and it is included in the calculations made by the financial aid office. If you are eligible for financial aid without considering the laptop, then you will likely be eligible for more aid when considering the laptop. If you were previously not eligible for financial aid, you might become eligible when considering the laptop.
Are there any tutorials to aid with the required software programs?
Yes. Students take required courses in the School of Architecture & Urban Planning, where they learn how to use required software.

An another tutorial option is LINKEDIN LEARNING which is free to all UWM students and is available at https://uwm.edu/technology/linkedin-learning/

What if my laptop is lost, stolen or damaged – will there be backup laptops available for my use?
Yes. Campus IT offers a limited number of rentable laptops for temporary use. Also, the School of Architecture & Urban Planning computer labs will remain open, and students can use these lab computers while waiting for their laptop to be repaired. It is a good idea to protect against loss, theft and damage with an appropriate insurance policy and technical support plan.
Do you recommend that I insure my laptop through my personal insurance against damage/lose/theft?
Yes. It is advisable to have insurance coverage, a warranty and a technical support plan. A design-capable laptop is a big investment and it is important to protect that investment.
Can I configure my laptop to print wirelessly to a printer or plotter managed by the university?
Maybe. It will depend on factors related to the Windows operating system as it continues to evolve and improve, the speed of wireless technology as it continues to improve, and a student’s individual technical prowess. Students can always print by simply uploading their files to OneDrive and then accessing the files from a computer in the print lab or you can install and use WEPA print devices located on the third and fourth floors of the SARUP building.
Why do I need to purchase a laptop instead of a desktop?
Students are required as part of their coursework to use computer tools in changing locations, beyond the classroom. Examples include field documentation, community engagement, and in-office collaboration with local architecture firms.
Is the School of Architecture & Urban Planning network accessible via wireless connections?
UWM provides free WIFI to students, campus-wide, including the Architecture & Urban Planning Building. The new standard for file sharing is web-based, such as through OneDrive, Microsoft Teams, or Canvas, access to which is provided free to students.
Who should I contact with additional questions about this policy?