Building Design

ArchiCAD 9: 3D for Architects

1 Feb, 2005 By: Steven S. Ross

Building modeler delivers drawings with easy to use modeling tools.


ArchiCAD 9 arrived with what at first I thought were minor improvements. But they add up to quite a lot, especially for 3D work, visualization, and working on a laptop with a cramped screen (figure 1). The latter situation may occur often now that ArchiCAD supports terminal server technology that makes it possible to work over the Internet from a remote location.

Figure 1. The 3D view overlays the 2D drawing. It pops up with a palette for creating walkthroughs in the lower right. The selection for viewing all site elements is in the lower left. I pushed this to the limit. On a 733MHz Windows XP machine with 512MB of RAM and an old 133MHz front-side bus, it took 6 seconds to appear. On a Macintosh G4 with 512MB of RAM, it took about 30 seconds. On a G5 with 1GB of RAM it came up instantaneously, and on a 2.8GHz Windows XP machine with 1GB of RAM (front-side bus speed unknown), it popped up in about a second.
Figure 1. The 3D view overlays the 2D drawing. It pops up with a palette for creating walkthroughs in the lower right. The selection for viewing all site elements is in the lower left. I pushed this to the limit. On a 733MHz Windows XP machine with 512MB of RAM and an old 133MHz front-side bus, it took 6 seconds to appear. On a Macintosh G4 with 512MB of RAM, it took about 30 seconds. On a G5 with 1GB of RAM it came up instantaneously, and on a 2.8GHz Windows XP machine with 1GB of RAM (front-side bus speed unknown), it popped up in about a second.

This new release also benefits from improvements in DWG compatibility and an improved library search system that enables symbols to be found by name (figure 2). About 2,600 symbols are included in the libraries that ship with the software.

 Figure 2. The program gives access to libraries and other objects, including a direct link to items online at Graphisoft.com. There are also drag-and-drop options from DWG.
Figure 2. The program gives access to libraries and other objects, including a direct link to items online at Graphisoft.com. There are also drag-and-drop options from DWG.

Text input and display are also improved. Users can grab dimension text with visible handles to move and edit, and also paste whole blocks of formatted text from most word processors (figure 3).

Figure 3. ArchiCADs full-featured text editors style is easy to set up.
Figure 3. ArchiCADs full-featured text editors style is easy to set up.

All of this is particularly important to ArchiCAD's market of architects, builders, planners and facilities managers (there's a special ArchiCAD version for FM). Among major, full-featured (and, need we say, expensive) CAD packages, only ArchiCAD and Nemetschek's Allplan are specifically aimed at the builder market. Bentley and Autodesk add an architectural interface to their products. ArchiCAD can't match Allplan for structural design calculations, although it does feature a built-in truss designer and column designer. ArchiCAD provides a lot more power than the typical architectural design software package, but is still easy, nimble and intuitive to use.

Archicad 9
Archicad 9

As with v8.1, ArchiCAD runs on Macintosh and Windows 2000/XP machines. Graphisoft's minimum memory requirement for both platforms is 512MB. I found v9 usable on a Windows XP machine, but slow and crash-prone on an OS X Macintosh G4. I suggest that you spring for a gigabyte of memory for either platform. The new version is faster than v8.1, and I suspect it's faster than v7 (I benchmarked the older version on a slower machine, so I'm not absolutely sure). Crash recovery is better now—all the project files seem to survive.

Moving to 3D

I've been an ArchiCAD fan for well over a decade, since the days when it was Macintosh-only. Because I started early on with slower machines, I still tend to draw in 2D plan or elevation, knowing that a 3D object is being created at the same time (figure 4).
Figure 4. ArchiCAD 9s new 2D drawing screen gives users more room to draw. Here the toolbars are docked to the left.
Figure 4. ArchiCAD 9s new 2D drawing screen gives users more room to draw. Here the toolbars are docked to the left.

I've started to adapt, editing directly in 3D and then defining objects in greater detail later, as necessary. Younger architects usually draw in 3D from the start. ArchiCAD works well both ways, but this version makes 3D easier to use. This is not a true modeling package ranking with products such as form-Z. With it users can draw creatively, although this means that the model may look fine but won't give accurate results with programs that handle, for example, energy and weight analyses. But ArchiCAD is getting closer to that capability, and in the meantime, separate model-checking packages are available. Until the CAD vendors get this right, the structural and construction folks will continue to redo the model.

Look and Feel

Keeping its commitment to cross-platform compatibility between the Macintosh and Windows forced Graphisoft to make some compromises over the years in regard to look-and-feel. As the interface has evolved and software functionality has increased, the interface has tended toward telescoping palettes, multiple toolboxes, context-sensitive palettes that pop up with the windows they refer to and all the other tricks software designers use to keep as many command icons as possible close at hand while still leaving screen space for the drawing.
Archicad 9 summary
Archicad 9 summary

This version is the best yet. It clears up some of the icon clutter (mainly with more context-sensitive palettes that show all options for an element, no matter what tool is being used) while keeping everything handy. Suddenly, the screen looks 10–20% larger. There's a setting that provides up to 50% more space, but running that way forced me to open too many toolboxes on my own. A Classic setting puts an extra line of old favorites back on the screen. Of course, users can customize the interface any way they want.

Although I've become quite comfortable with ArchiCAD over the years, the new interface didn't cause much uncertainty. This is an upgrade that will require an absolute minimum of user reorientation and training, with good productivity benefits.

Additional Features

The new object (ArchiCAD calls them elements) screen display and selection is easy to use even in extremely detailed models. The arrow cursor has a nice quick-selection option (figure 5). Users click inside the element's polygon to grab it—no more hunting for the edge.
Figure 5. A quick select for 3D elements removes the text from the screen. Now the other selection options are just one click away.
Figure 5. A quick select for 3D elements removes the text from the screen. Now the other selection options are just one click away.

The on-screen representations seem better, too. Column construction details, for instance, are visible for selection without having to explode the column first.

Floor plan hatches are now applicable for slabs, roofs, zones and meshes. This saves a bit of time and offers more possibilities for categorization of elements by hatch type. A floor and hatch-matching objects associated with it can be selected at the same time, for instance. There's a new cover fill option for this.

ArchiCAD offers improved DWG compatibility, including drag-and-drop and more element control, for better collaboration between ArchiCAD and AutoCAD offices. If users find a DWG symbol online, they can just drag it into project (Autodesk calls this "i-Drop"). Graphisoft supports the International Alliance for Interoperability's IFCs (Industry Foundation Classes) through the current version, 2.0/2x.

ArchiCAD's DXF/DWG translator supports up to AutoCAD 2004 (figure 6). It handles the basics well: AutoCAD layers, pen colors, fonts and blocks. It write DWG and DXF data that contains both paper space and model space information in the same file. ArchiCAD recognizes AutoCAD xrefs at input and output, preserving the link and allowing xref administration (linking, unlinking and binding) within ArchiCAD.

Figure 6. Access to translators, in this case DWG, is quick. The program comes with a good assortment and more are available, including the latest IFCs.
Figure 6. Access to translators, in this case DWG, is quick. The program comes with a good assortment and more are available, including the latest IFCs.

ArchiCAD 9 includes easier document output with a better connection to PlotMaker. The option of using the NCS-compliant (National CAD Standards) grid-based drawing numbering system make management of large document sets somewhat easier.

ArchiCAD now integrates the fast and accurate LightWorks (www.lightworkdesign.com). rendering engine. In addition, this past October Graphisoft unveiled a link to project planning and estimating software. Highly Recommended.

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Click to enlarge
























Steven Ross has reviewed architectural CAD software since 1985.


About the Author: Steven S. Ross


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