ArchiCAD 8 builds on success

1 Jan, 2003 By: Michael Dakan

Graphisoft fine-tunes full-featured architectural design tool.

ArchiCAD 8
Architectural design

Star rating: 5 stars out of 5
Pros: Fully mature and relatively complete architectural CAD.
Cons: Not completely compliant with U.S. National CAD standard.
Price: $3,950


Michael Dakan is an architect and independent CAD and information technology consultant in Pacifica, California, and a contributing editor of CADALYST.

The newly released version of Graphisoft's ArchiCAD software for architectural design and drawing, ArchiCAD 8, continues the development of this venerable product and solidifies its position in the top tier of this class of software. Cadalyst reviewed ArchiCAD 7 about a year ago. This new release adds some significant features and improvements such as new modeling and element creation tools and several enhancements aimed at greater ease of use and convenience.

ArchiCAD 8 should probably be considered an incremental upgrade to the already successful long line of ArchiCAD software releases rather than a major change in functionality. Information in the previous review of ArchiCAD 7 (October 2001) is still applicable.

Figure 1. ArchiCAD 8 includes a built-in, customizable sketch rendering engine, demonstrated by this rendering of the NHS Office Complex in Los Angeles, designed by PAA Studio of Santa Monica, California.

ArchiCAD, among the most full- featured architectural products on the market, is targeted at the full range of architectural design services. It is available in versions for Macintosh as well as Windows PC operating systems. ArchiCAD creates what Graphisoft calls the virtual building, an object-oriented single-file 3D model of a building design. ArchiCAD's Teamwork functionality lets you partition a single file model into multiple work sets. You can then check work sets in and out so that multiple users can work on the model at once.

As is true of similar 3D object- oriented products on the market, modeling and rendering (figure 1) are among the program's strengths, while drafting tools aimed at generation of graphics for construction documents are a little less comprehensive. Add-ons and companion products extend ArchiCAD's core uses beyond design and construction documentation into building services engineering and facilities management.

Figure 2. ArchiCAD 8 Workspace.

User Interface
Current ArchiCAD users will appreciate the upgraded user interface, which offers a more consistent and streamlined look to program operations. The default interface docks three dialog windows along the left side of the screen-the Info Box on top, the Program Navigator in the middle, and a Preview window at the bottom (figure 2). The Info Box provides object and properties information for selected elements, and access to the settings such as layers and materials for placing new elements in the model.


AutoCAD Architectural Desktop owners who want to use ArchiCAD 8 won’t have much difficulty getting used to it. Basic object-oriented modeling routines such as walls, windows, and door insertion work similarly. The improved user interface in ArchiCAD 8 should help smooth the transition from one program to the other. Drawing file exchange and interaction between the two programs is more difficult. Until Autodesk gets coordinated with the version of the IFC standard in use by most of the rest of industry, object translation is not possible with ArchiCAD’s file import and export utilities.


Project Navigator provides a view of and access to all the views and drawing windows in a project. Navigator Preview is a thumbnail drawing viewer and provides dynamic real-time zooming and panning of the current open window.

A toolbox located adjacent to these windows holds tools to place objects and other drawing elements. The toolbox uses flyouts to give access to tool options and related functions. Along the bottom are two toolboxes that provide access to placement options and methods for the selected drawing tool, and coordinate input for precise placement. These toolboxes and windows are all floating windows that you can move and rearrange in the workspace. Additional toolboxes are available to place on the screen for quick access to other tools and information. A Favorites Palette window gives access to user-selected frequently used tools and settings.

As in other CAD programs, ArchiCAD's new polyline can consist of straight and curved line segments that are joined together to form a single element. Polylines can be drawn in place, or you can select a series of connected lines and arcs and convert them to a single polyline. Previously in ArchiCAD, you could chain together line segments to create a single group of lines that could be moved together. The new polyline element provides better data exchange compatibility with AutoCAD and other programs that have a native polyline entity.

Boolean Operations
ArchiCAD 8 adds Boolean capabilities for architectural elements. Though this is promoted as solid modeling, it's not quite solids as you may be used to thinking of them. You don't combine primitives such as boxes, cones, and spheres to form more complex solid and mass models. Rather, the Boolean functions work with ArchiCAD architectural elements such as walls, slabs, and roof elements.

You can create architectural element shapes to be used as operator elements to modify other architectural target elements. The Boolean functions Add, Subtract, and Intersection modify the target element. The operation does not modify the operator element, nor does it create a new or permanently modified target element. The operation creates an associative relationship between the operator and target elements, but the operator element must remain in the model for the result to remain. When you save the modified shape as a 3D GDL object, you can use it as a single element without having to maintain the operator elements in the model. If you don't save a separate combined element and use that object in the model, the operator element needs to be on a different layer than the target element so you can control the edge visibility of the operator element in a subtractive or intersection operation.

Though this may not quite be solid modeling as you currently think of it, it adds significant powerful capabilities for creating more detailed and accurate models than you can produce working with ArchiCAD architectural elements alone.

Figure 3. ArchiCAD 8’s Detail tool.

Details, Details
The Detail Tool extracts areas of the model plans and section views to separate project detail drawing views. This routine adds a detail marker, or tag, to the model drawing view, automatically creates a new detail drawing, and adds it to the project. This drawing is then accessible in the Project Navigator. You can open it as a separate view window and edit it there (figure 3).

The extracted detail geometry consists of basic 2D CAD primitives such as lines and arcs. Because the level of detail in the 3D model is pretty basic, as is appropriate for the full model, you need to use the basic CAD drawing tools to modify and enhance the extracted geometry to display all materials and their relationships that are needed to show how the building is actually constructed, which is the purpose of construction details.

The Detail Tool doesn't add any additional parametric drawing tools to build the complete construction detail, but rather relies on basic CAD line, circle, and arc drawing tools, along with text, to create the complete annotated detail.

Once you add the detail drawing views to the project, you can access them in PlotMaker to generate and publish construction detail sheets along with the rest of the plan, section, and elevation model views.

Figure 4. Plotmaker Layout Book Information Editor.

Layout Books, Drawing Sets
ArchiCAD 8 continues to use the separate PlotMaker program to print, plot, and otherwise publish project data (figure 4). PlotMaker is enhanced in ArchiCAD 8 with new Layout Books that let you easily define and publish drawing sets and other project data and documents. You can define a Layout Book that contains data to be distributed to project consultants for their use, for instance, and another Layout Book for the things that are transmitted to the client. You might publish the Consultants set as files and send them directly to an FTP site, but publish the Client set as plots or Adobe Acrobat PDF files to be transmitted separately.

Figure 5. Interactive Schedules editable preview.

You can include related project documents such as spreadsheets, specifications, and schedules in the sets. This functionality makes it very convenient to quickly publish current sets of project data each time it needs to be distributed at various points in the project life.

Schedules and more
Scheduling now features interactive two-way editing. In the Preview Window, you can edit text information in the generated schedule, and it will flow to the drawing and update the schedule (figure 5). You can place schedules on a drawing sheet or export them to an Excel spreadsheet file.

Figure 6. Windows Help shows Boolean operations.

User documentation for the Windows version of the software is enhanced with the addition of a Windows-style online Help file (figure 6). This Help file is not fully context sensitive and not as nicely hypertext-linked together as the best Windows Help systems that are available. This may be because the same text is probably used for the Macintosh documentation, and these Windows Help features are not supported by the Mac operating system. A printed and online multimedia version of a nice tutorial is available, but it has unfortunately not yet been updated to cover all the new features of ArchiCAD 8.

Figure 7. New sketch rendering engine.

A new sketch rendering engine adds a nicely controllable hand-drawing "squiggle" sketch option to the output choices for rendering 3D views of the model (figure 7). Line weights and effects such as overshoot length and line irregularity are easily adjusted in the Settings dialog box.

Mature modeler
The new features of ArchiCAD 8 add some worthwhile improvements and enhancements to what was already probably the most mature and complete of the full-featured architectural building modeler products available. This is a solid product that appears to be gaining market share, and is worth serious consideration if you are looking for a new tool or seeking to upgrade your present application. Highly Recommended.

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