Software Review - All about ArchiCAD
ArchiCAD is an architectural Building Information Modelling (BIM) application. It enables design professionals and construction consultants to create and collaborate on detailed digital architectural models, resolving aesthetic, sustainability, and engineering & construction challenges in a virtual environment.
Many industry professionals and academic professors still question whether CAD or BIM software supports or rather undermines the architectural design process. I recommend their use for testing design concepts alongside more traditional design tools like sketching and physical modelling.
The enormity of ArchiCAD’s functionality can leave new users (and even experienced architects) at a loss for where to start. Most people work best in an uncluttered environment, and architect’s standard interface is often anything but. However, with an adapted (simplified) template and workspace, ArchiCAD can offer an uncluttered environment with all of the tools readily available for digital design exploration.
All too often I find my initial sketches are a little too optimistic, and until I test the concept’s viability in ArchiCAD it is easy to miss oversights in setbacks, site slope, building height, or similar. A massed 3D model developed in ArchiCAD will soon show up these errors and allow for fast adaptation or experimentation, pushing & pulling architectural elements until they fit. Occasionally this results in an awkward software derived solution, and must by exported out of the computer back onto paper to be resolved more intuitively.
Now that ArchiCAD’s workflow allows for a virtual reality (VR) design interface with Unreal Engine’s Twin Motion, we are creeping closer to a world where we could eventually leave our pens and paper behind in order to design architecture. Personally, I would also like an Iron Man-esk holographic interface where I can manipulate the digital model by touch.
ArchiCAD Design course from Archi-Ed coming soon
BIM promises the potential of a paperless, digital workflow where all the design consultants and construction contractors freely share and collaborate on the development of an information-rich virtual architectural model. While we are starting to see in-roads to this type of tablet-based accessibility onsite for some projects, the abolishment of printed plans remains for off.
ArchiCAD’s model is primarily used to produce orthographically projected (flat) plans, sections, elevations, details & schedules. This type of documentation is generally divided into deliverable stages for collaboration, approval, pricing, and construction. As each of these paper-based flat drawings are single slices of a much larger picture, copious amounts of information is lost or potentially miscommunicated in the process. This is by no means a new problem, and has resulted in the thoughtful development of technical drafting standards that ensure consistency of representation, and a common language for industry professionals to communicate. Yet the fact that this methodology has hardly advanced in hundreds of years suggests that it is time to embrace a fundamentally new way or working.
ArchiCAD offers pre-set and customisable ‘Model View Options’ and ‘Graphic Overrides’ and ‘Layer Combination’ filters to fine-tune the graphic representation of drawings to meet client, consultant, certifier, and contractor expectations and requirements. Documentation can be derived directly from the 3D model, can reference dimensions and annotations directly from the BIM, and can also be enhanced with overlaid 2D drafted elements as required.
ArchiCAD Documentation course from Archi-Ed coming soon
To take full advantage of the BIM potential, the ArchiCAD file can be accessed and edited simultaneously by numerous members of the design team using ‘Teamwork’, and can distributed to various project consultants as an IFC file, or many other 2D and 3D file types (including DWG and DXF). Ideally, the collaboration on an ArchiCAD file (pln or pla) or an IFC (BIM compatible) exchange file will allow for optimal enhancement of the shared digital model without the need for re-modelling.
Ultimately, project management during construction, and ongoing building management during occupation, will be reap the largest reward from true collaboration of the original architectural model. The furthered awareness as to the usefulness of the BIM file during on-site activities could allow for greater investment in BIM modelling and management. This will ideally offset the additional time invested in accurate modelling during the design and documentation phases, and discourage the reversion towards 2D drafting used to hide BIM inaccuracies.
Practically, this means that many architects stop modelling (and start drafting) beyond the scale of 1:100. With adequate attention given to the development of complex profiles in the ‘Profile manager’, it is possible to develop a model that represents accurately at scale 1:1. Personally, when I manage a project through construction, I am much more likely to utilise more of ArchiCAD’s BIM potential than if I am only engaged to produce a design and documentation for approval.
ArchiCAD Collaboration course from Archi-Ed coming soon
Whether you require photo-rendered animations, sketch perspectives, or something more artistic, ArchiCAD provides a variety of visualisation solutions.
Most recently, ArchiCAD encourages the use of Twinmotion’s exceptional photo-realistic rendering with real-time radiosity, and interactive asset library (linked to ArchiCAD via a ‘Direct Link’ add-on).
Alternatively, while a little out-dated, ArchiCAD’s in-house engine CineRender from Maxon is also useful if you want to maximise the functionality within the program itself.
The Sketch render engine and 3D document functions are great ways to create simple sketch renders for when your model is not yet resolved, or you are after a more hand-drawn look.
Finally, export 3D document views into Photoshop to create unique artist renders with a watercolour, inked, or painted effect.
Visualisation is an important aspect of any architectural process, as many people struggle to envision the architect’s vision, even when presented with plans. In order to walk clients through the process of design, it may be helpful for them to virtually walk-through the conceptual architectural model. Some designs find this too intrusive; others embrace the close collaboration and cherish the richer feedback that it provides. Visualisation can also be understood as a quality assurance tool, allowing managers to review their team’s work. As the 2D representation of a Building Information Model is only as good as it’s 3D accuracy, visualising the model from inside and out will allow the identification of errors that might otherwise go unnoticed.
ArchiCAD Visualisation course from Archi-Ed coming soon
THE BORING (IMPORTANT) BITS
Developer: Graphisoft (Nemetschek Group)
Current Edition: Archicad 23 – released 2019. New versions are generally released each year.
OS: Windows 10 64bit OR MacOS 10.14
CPU: Intel Core i5 (i7 or higher recommended)
RAM: 8GB (16GB or more recommended)
GPU: OpenGL 3.3 compatible - 2GB dedicated memory (4GB or more recommended)
AMD FireGl or Radeon
eGPU - For Mac OS High Sierra 10.13.4 or later
Monitor / Screen: 30 FPS or higher (60 FPS recommended) / 60 Mhz
1 screen (2 or more recommended)
13inch (27 inch or larger recommended)
Storage: 512 GB SSD (1TB or higher recommended)