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RUCAPS (Really Universal Computer Aided Production System) was a computer aided design (CAD) system for architects. It ran on minicomputers from Prime Computer and Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC).


It was developed by two graduates of Liverpool University, Dr John Davison, and Dr John Watts. They took their work to architects Gollins Melvin Ward (GMW) in London in the late 1970s, and developed it whilst working on a project for Riyadh University. It became the Really Universal Computer Aided Production System (RUCAPS). RUCAPS was later sold through GMW Computers in several countries around the world. It was amongst the leading systems of its time, selling many hundreds of copies at a time when CAD was rare and expensive. RUCAPS was superseded by Sonata and then REFLEX.

At the time, the early 1980s, practically all the major CAD systems for architectures came from England. The GDS system from Oxford Regional Health Authority was formed from the Building Design System that was based on the modular hospital system used at the time. GDS was a more General Design SYstem, and found widespread use. It remains as Micro GDS, a well used system in Japan.

Acropolis, which came from the large UK design practice Building Design Partnership, was another major system that held up the banner for 3D production design systems against the simpler 2D systems coming from the USA.

GINTRAN, a system from Bob Philips and Michael Beaumont of Bristol University also found customers. That system had the benefit of refining the design automatically from several calculations including cut and fill, thermal loss, solar gain, structure, total cost, circulation, and the building regulations. This system would harness the power of a Digital Equipment Corporation PDP8 to iterate overnight. It would then display the results in perspective, with the calculations. Very little draughting was required, and often the designs were both complex and elegant. Plug in evaluation packages could be added, and at its demise, GINTRAN had a module that employed expert systems to compare the design with the fire regulations.

Many of these systems followed the principle of grouping components to make more complex components. This follows the approach in real-world building where window and door components are fabricated away from site, and brought to the building to be assembled into the whole. By "assembling the building" as a computer model, dimensions can be checked, items counted, and surfaces measured for costing.

The geometric principle of modelling the building was demonstrated for computer-based building modeling as early as the late 1950s in SketchPad by Ivan Sutherland. It remains the same for current building modeling software. It significantly improves on the 2D line drawing systems which were introduced to replace drawing boards.

Over the years, many calculations have been applied to the 3D geometric model of the building. For example it is possible from the geometry to determine cut-and-fill for the site, travel distances between rooms, heat loss, structure, solar gain, piping and ducting routes, natural and artificial lighting, boiler or air conditioning loads, compliance with building codes, and many other issues. Building modelers permit assembly processes to be explored, for example to test whether a large piece of equipment can be maneuvered into place, or whether partially erected structures are still within design loads.

Additionally, it became commonplace to show non-orthogonal views of the building. It was possible to display perspectives and other projections. Objects concealed by others (the hidden lines) were automatically removed from the view, and colour shading was added. Eventually building modeling software was able to display internal and external views of the building reproduced to near photographic quality.

RUCAPS was a significant milestone in the development of building modelers and sold in significant numbers during the early 1990s. Many thousands of architects around the world were introduced to computer aided design using this system.

The system

RUCAPS was a building modelling system. To ensure simplicity, it straddled the divide between two dimensions (2D, i.e. flat) and three (3D), by offering what was known as 2.5D. Here, all the elements of the design were placed in space in three dimensions, but each element, such as a window, door, chair or wall, was modelled in a series of 2D views. These views were of the plan and two elevations, each of which were drawn conventionally, as though on the side of a glass box. The "box" was then moved about the design and placed. By looking down on the model the plan view of the whole model was visible, and from the side just the elevation was seen. Because moving the component, or "box", moved both the plan view and the elevations for it, the plans and elevations remained in harmony, and designer's time was saved.

RUCAPS was built from modules. For example there was a program to generate the geometry for building components, another to assemble them into groups, and another to assemble those sub-assemblies into a model of the building. A dozen or more modules took care of printing, copying of floors, printing schedules, and so on. In the way of the time, the user directed operations by calling up the relevant program module ather than, as today, selecting from a menu.

A large computer screen displayed the building model. The screen, or sometimes two screens, was controlled from a keyboard for launching programs, and typing in coordinate data. Basic components were given several 2D views, from the top and sides. The information was usually coded onto A4 sheets of paper, and typed in as a series of coordinates. Once available to use in the building module, the components would be located using a large digitizer. This permitted a base drawing to be taped down, and used for locating the new components.mthe screen was then used to help ensure accuracy.

Along the bottom of the digitizer was a template with commands which could be selected as required, so the keyboard was often not required. Assembly was aided for many users by the familiar look of the large digitizer, which looked much like the drawing boards common at the time. To aid the process of aclimatistion, the digitizer was used with an electronic pen, which made placing components both quick and accurate.

MIni computers were used to power the system. Initially single-user, the system soon graduated to larger computers that could handle eight or more workstations simultaneously. The nature of building modeling systems is that very little information needs to be transferred from the database to the workstation, so performance levels were good despite what looks like limited equipment. Most early display screens were monochrome, but later RUCAPS systems were colour. All were using vector graphics, which was a step up from the earlier storage tubes. Plotters were large format and pen based, using amid of roller ball pens and Rotring wet ink pens of several thicknesses and colour.

RUCAPS was expensive, as was all CAD at the time, so its use was confined to large building projects. It was then necessary to have several people working on the same model. An early multi-user system was developed, allowing single building models to be worked on simultaneously by many people. It was a system that employed layers, where components were allocated categories allowing groups of them to be switched off or on when the drawings were produced. Layering allowed, for example, drainage to be printed separately from electrical components, but still maintained on the single model. No 3D was available in RUCAPS though a totally separate 3D modelling and perspective hidden-line program called AUTOPROD written by Col. Nigel Hitch was sold alongside RUCAP. There was no database or modelling connection of any sort between RUCAPS and AUTOPROD.

No clash-detection or calculations were undertaken on the model, but some hiding of one component by another was possible so that external walls showed on elevations while the internal elements were concealed in a 2.5D fashion.

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