ArchiCAD 15: Part 2
Another interface element in ArchiCAD 15 that has been greatly enhanced is guidelines, which are now available in 3D and can provide visual feedback when creating and modifying elements. These are displayed by default in orange dashed lines that are further highlighted by yellow bold lines when the cursor is moved along the X, Y, and Z directions, making it easier to follow the coordinate directions when required.
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Guidelines related to other elements, such as the extended line of a wall segment or the tangent of a circle, are displayed in blue dashed lines accompanied by orange dotted "handlers." When these handlers are clicked, the corresponding guidelines are activated, displayed as orange dashed lines; they remain in the 3D window until the modeling or editing operation has been completed. Thus, you can have multiple guidelines displayed in the window at any time, if required, making it easier to create or edit 3D elements accurately in reference to other elements.
Guidelines can also be dragged to different positions, if required. Guidelines can be projected onto the active working plane, allowing elements to be created that "match" existing elements but are in different locations or orientations.
Other 3D interface enhancements in ArchiCAD 15 include the ability to snap to the intersection of the editing plane and existing elements, which ensures precise input even in case of curved or slanted geometry; better visual feedback when elements are selected, making it clear which elements are in front of other elements; and display of special editing lines, such as wall reference line, roof pivot polygon, etc., in their own specific colors, so that they can be selected more easily. All of these enhancements make it much easier for users to work in 3D and create and edit models more accurately and with fewer steps.
Improved Support for Renovation Projects
Although "design freedom" is the main theme of ArchiCAD 15, another key functionality it has added is improved support for renovation and retrofit projects, which are universally acknowledged to be on the rise compared to new building projects.
Graphisoft has introduced a new Renovation palette, which can be used to set the model to different "renovation filters"; this is accompanied by the ability to set the status of objects as to whether they are to be retained, demolished, or are part of the new construction. The renovation filters work in both 2D and 3D views.
The renovation filters can be customized using the Renovation Filter Options dialog, where you can specify the exact display settings for existing, to-be-demolished, and new elements, along with different override styles, including line type, color, material, etc. There are additional options that can be used to customize the filters to support different office standards or local standards in different parts of the world. You can also create new renovation filters if required.
Overall, I found the new Renovation interface very simple and easy to use, yet effective in modeling renovation projects with the ability to easily specify and communicate which elements are new, which need to be retained, and which are to be demolished. This specific renovation functionality in ArchiCAD 15 is in contrast to other BIM applications, which use generic phasing functionality to support renovation projects instead of supporting it directly.
ArchiCAD 15 includes some additional enhancements on different fronts.
On the interoperability front, the IFC interface has been improved to ease the process of model-based IFC exchange with other disciplines. The IFC properties of elements are now integrated into ArchiCAD tools and can be accessed and edited directly from the different element Settings dialogs. This allows IFC properties of elements to be specified more accurately and managed more easily. It also allows IFC properties to be transferred among elements, views, and projects, just like any other native ArchiCAD parameters.
Import and export of IFC files is now almost twice as fast, thanks to a newer and faster IFC engine in ArchiCAD 15. Improvements have also been made to the IFC "compare and merge" functionality that was introduced in the last release. The Detect IFC Model Exchange workflow now allows you to choose and edit the preferred translator as you go, and model change entries can be better managed in the mark-up tool palette. You can now distinguish the modified elements coming from different versions of files as they are displayed in different styles. When merging an IFC file, you can define the ArchiCAD "story" to which the imported IFC model data should be mapped.
Another interoperability improvement is simplified model export. If the purpose in model exchange is to display model geometry only — such as in a viewer or in an MEP program — a simplified BREP (boundary representation) geometry export option is now available, which results in accurate geometric display of element intersections and solid operations, without including all element properties and data.
Other improvements in ArchiCAD 15 include the addition of several new objects to the ArchiCAD library in key focus areas such as sustainable design, medical and healthcare design, more contemporary visualization and furniture elements, and additional doors and windows. Library migration from older versions of ArchiCAD to newer versions is now easier.
ArchiCAD 15 now provides full 64-bit support for the Mac, allowing ArchiCAD users on the Mac OS to take advantage of the increased memory management offered by 64-bit technology.
There is an improved Autosave function that provides 100-percent data safety by continuously saving all changes in the background as you work.
And finally, the BIM Server's internal processes have been optimized, allowing a single BIM Server to manage multiple projects more efficiently, and speeding it up so that the send and receive response time is slightly faster.
Analysis and Conclusions
With version 15, ArchiCAD has comprehensively addressed what has been one of its main limitations so far: the inability to create freeform BIM elements within the application. In fact, this is a limitation that its main competitors still have, so just as with the BIM server and collaboration enhancements introduced in ArchiCAD 13, Graphisoft once again comes out on top with ArchiCAD 15.
The new Shell tool, with its ability to create extruded, revolved, and ruled forms, along with the large number of parameters and interactive editing options, allows virtually any building form to be modeled. Graphisoft has a number of videos on its website demonstrating how different historical and contemporary buildings with non-rectilinear forms have been modeled using the Shell tool.
I was impressed with how substantively it has been implemented, in contrast to the typical rudimentary options available for a new tool — you would never think that it hasn't been part of ArchiCAD's repertoire for a long time.
Of course, ArchiCAD is still missing dedicated conceptual design tools that let you create massing models quickly, let alone those with organic forms. This is one area in which Autodesk has made great improvements in its last two releases of Revit, and Bentley has also implemented various enhancements, including a Push/ Pull capability similar to SketchUp's to make the creation of massing models easier and more intuitive.
Of course, there is far from a seamless connection between the massing model and the detailed building model in either of those applications — there is still some kind of mapping or conversion involved. And from Graphisoft's perspective, why reinvent the wheel when there are already popular tools like SketchUp (which can directly connect to ArchiCAD through an add-on) being used for conceptual design?
Whether or not BIM applications should include conceptual massing capability continues to be debatable — there will always be those who prefer to have them in-house within the BIM application, while others would prefer to use the more extensive, intuitive, and fluid modeling features of external specialty tools like SketchUp or bonzai3d and then import the massing model into a BIM application for further development. The lack of dedicated conceptual design tools within ArchiCAD will certainly be seen as a limitation by the former, while the latter would brush it aside and instead revel in the fact that ArchiCAD now lets you create BIM elements in any imaginable form.
It is also important to put ArchiCAD's new form-making capabilities in the context of tools such as Bentley's GenerativeComponents or the Gehry Technologies software suite Digital Project, which are not only capable of creating sophisticated forms but also driving their generation through the use of parameters, so that modifications can be made to them by simply changing the parameter values without the need to remodel the form. From that perspective, ArchiCAD's Shell tool is less sophisticated, as any changes required have to be made directly to the form rather than through driving parameters or through the propagation of changes made to the spatial configuration that the shell form is modeled on top of.
GenerativeComponents and even Digital Project are far too complex for most architectural users, but it is still important to keep this caveat regarding ArchiCAD's new form-making capabilities in mind.
On the other hand, it should be noted that ArchiCAD does include GDL, an object scripting language that allows users to literally program any form mathematically imaginable, so the option is available for those are interested — it is just not directly available in the Shell tool.
Another key limitation of ArchiCAD that continues to persist is the lack of an associative option for editing basic building elements that would maintain their relationships when modifications are made. While associativity has been nicely implemented for the new roof forms, even when they are complex, it is still annoying that walls, for example, have to be selected with a marquee and then "stretched" in order to maintain the connections between them. This is such a basic feature in most BIM applications — it is available even in the lower-cost, less feature-rich Vectorworks Architect — that not having it in ArchiCAD makes the program stick out like a sore thumb.
Graphisoft needs to rethink its conservative approach to associativity, get back to the drawing board, and overhaul many of its traditional tools so that they behave in a more modern and intelligent fashion, not only to keep up with other BIM applications, but also to enable more fluidity in modeling and editing in ArchiCAD.
It would also be nice to make the application capable of opening multiple projects without requiring the user to open multiple instances of ArchiCAD, as it still the case in version 15.
The product documentation of ArchiCAD continues to be stellar, with the new release especially well supported by a large number of videos online that explain the key features in great detail. There was a video for practically every new feature that I wanted to know about!
The new 3D interface enhancements were amazing both in their range and depth, making it as easy to work in 3D in ArchiCAD as in 3D modeling applications such as form.Z.
The new Roof tool is extremely powerful, and the ability to add to or cut portions from a complex roof with just a single click of the Magic Wand tool was incredible.
It was also good to see the dedicated support for renovation projects, and the simple and intuitive manner in which that support has been implemented. ArchiCAD does not yet have point cloud support — something that is now available from both of its key competitors — so Graphisoft does have some catching up to do on functionality that is seen as important for renovation projects. But hopefully, once it does, it can again jump ahead of its competitors and find a way to convert point cloud data directly to BIM objects — which is what the industry really needs!
Overall, ArchiCAD continues to remain a very impressive BIM application that takes on specific themes in different releases and tackles them very comprehensively, keeping it ahead of its competitors in several aspects. While ArchiCAD cannot be considered the best BIM application overall — something that none of the leading BIM applications can claim, in my opinion — ArchiCAD users who have adopted it as their BIM application of choice will be very pleased with the critical new capabilities that the latest release has made available to them.
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Lachmi Khemlani is the founder and editor of AECbytes, an online publication focused on researching, analyzing, and reviewing technology products and services for the building industry. She has a Ph.D. in architecture from the University of California, Berkeley, specializing in intelligent building modeling; a professional B.Arch. (honors) degree from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur, India; and an M.Phil. in architecture from the University of Cambridge. Khemlani has worked on design projects as a practicing architect, authored books on CAD and modeling, and taught CAD and 3D modeling at UC Berkeley. She currently consults and writes on AEC technology.
This article is excerpted from "ArchiCAD 15" by Lachmi Khemlani, copyright © 2011, with permission of the publisher, AECbytes.