Cadalyst Labs Review: Graphisoft Archicad 101 Aug, 2006 By: Scott MacKenzie
Virtual building solution provides BIM capabilities
Graphisoft bills its tenth version of Archicad as a virtual building solution. The company doesn't use the more common term BIM (building information modeling), but Archicad 10 can be considered BIM software (figure 1). Those new to the CAD/BIM world should find Archicad 10 easy to learn and to excel in. Its graphic user interface has undergone significant improvement. The placement of the drawing and configuration tools is more logical, and it takes fewer steps to get from design to the plotted sheet. However, longtime Archicad 9 users may get a little frustrated at first. I bet that once they get familiar with the changes and the new features, they will be very pleased.
Archicad 10 has greatly improved the process of selecting drawing elements. The way selected elements highlight is now much more interactive. Users also can control the color and behavior of the highlighting. Previous versions of Archicad were very dependent on hot spots. Now all non-object entities are much easier to select (objects are similar to blocks in AutoCAD or cells in MicroStation.) Objects are still dependent on hot spots for single-click selection, but users can control the quantity and location of hot spots on custom objects. So keep this in mind when creating your objects.
Graphisoft ArchiCAD 10
Is It Easy to Use?
The ease-of-use evaluation is somewhat subjective. It initially depends on your experience with other programs. Keep in mind that Archicad 10 is not CAD—it's a virtual building design and documentation package. If you are a longtime AutoCAD user with little or no experience with other software, you'll be frustrated by the selection modes and command input. You'll need to break the habit of hitting the Enter key to execute or repeat commands. MicroStation users won't have this problem, but will need to get used to a true virtual building interface. Revit users should get up to speed the quickest. The project management interface is similar in concept to Revit, and Archicad lets you split your building into multiple files. This flexibility is essential for large projects.
Figure 1. A rendering of the Centers for Disease Control Building 23 created from working models in Archicad and rendered in Autodesk VIZ 6. Image courtesy of CUH2A.
Size is Everything
Archicad 10 can handle much more information than v9, and file sizes have been reduced considerably. Some files may be reduced to 25% of their original size. So for those of you pushing the envelope with large project sizes, this factor alone is worth the price of an upgrade.
Archicad 10 has many new and excellent tools, such as:
- 1. Modeling slanted, inclined or complex walls. One may question the sanity of actually building a slanted wall, but Archicad can do it. You can edit these new walls in place from a 3D window (figure 2). 3D in-place editing is the way to go. It's essential for productive 3D design and manipulation, which enables architects to experiment by making design alterations on the fly. Those who work in 3D applications already know this. Archicad doesn't have built-in mass modeling tools, like what you find in SketchUp or even Revit, but an available add-on tool called MaxonForm is excellent for massing and organic modeling.
- 2. Creating and editing complex profiles for use in walls, columns and beams. Once a custom profile is created, you can simply edit the profile and it's updated in the entire model. This ability lets you put more of your design into the 3D parametric environment, which requires less 2D drawing in your views.
- 3. Element information highlighting. The element information highlight and pop-up (or info tag) is a nice new feature. It displays property information for anything you click on in a drawing (figure 3).
- 4. Element snap. The element snap has been improved. Any hot spot or end point on the element you want to move can snap to another vertex or hot spot on the destination element.
Figure 2. Archicad 10 lets you model slanted walls like this one.
Drafting and Modeling Aids
Another significant improvement is the introduction of drafting guidelines. You no longer need to hold the Shift key down to move along a 90º orthogonal angle. It works in a way similar to polar tracking in AutoCAD and Accu-draw in MicroStation. The options provided to control the grid lines are good, too. You can control the angles, colors and the display duration of the guidelines.
Virtual Building Management
The most important components in a CAD/BIM package from a CAD manager's point of view are the management tools. Whoever creates or manages a CAD/BIM project needs to maintain control over layers, lineweights and linked files. Archicad 10 introduces the Drawing Manager palette to make this job easier. The Drawing Manager palette displays a list of all drawing views used in the model. This list is displayed in a spreadsheet-like format that can be sorted by any of the 19 possible categories such as status, placed to (where is it placed in the model) and external path (figure 4).
Figure 3. When the lower wall is selected, it highlights in blue, and the element information pop-up displays.
Incidentally, the drawing status has been improved so it tracks individual drawings or views, not just the saved date of the model it's imported from. So you could have two drawing views coming in from the same external file, and the status on one is OK while the other is Modified.
One simple but effective addition is the On-Screen View Options toolbar, which allows you to quickly toggle your display options on and off. The Display Options command in v9 has been split into two parts: On-Screen View Options and Model View Options. Display options are similar to display representations in Architectural Desktop. These options control the way your drawing elements display on the screen and on your prints (figure 5).
Figure 4. The Drawing Manager Palette can include PDF drawings in the list.
Plotting and Output
The plotting environment setup windows haven't really changed in Archicad 10, but you're no longer dependent on the PlotMaker program to print construction documents. OK, this is a big change. One big step in the plotting process has been removed. You no longer are forced to use the crippled layout and plotting program known as PlotMaker. Your working model and sheet layouts can exist in the same file, and sheet layouts can be shared via the teamwork environment. This improvement alone is worth the price of admission.
Creating and manipulating sheet layouts has greatly improved, too. Archicad 10 provides better viewport manipulation, cropping and masking. And now you can import PDF files into layouts (figure 4).
The publisher component within Archicad is an excellent solution for batch plotting and batch file conversions. It's now easier to access because it's an integral part of the Navigator palette (figure 6).
Figure 5. The button on the far right of the On-Screen View Options Display Options toolbar opens the Model View Options window.
Installing Archicad 10 was easy and uneventful. I enjoyed the cool image slide show. You get to see several nice renderings of buildings done in Archicad while you wait for the installation to finish.
During installation, you are prompted to choose from a commercial or educational installation. The educational version is fully functional, but it places a watermark on all your prints. Graphisoft will give Archicad 10 to all students, professors and schools that can prove their status as an educational facility or student.
An interactive training guide can be installed. It allows users to perform exercises in the foreground and train at their own pace.
For multiple-user environments, you can customize your installation. You can create an installation package with your preferred work environment settings, libraries and DXF/DWG translators, which is an excellent way to standardize all the installations in an office per your specific needs.
Every software vendor in the world controls its licensing differently. Archicad 10 uses a hardware protection key to control its licensing, just as in previous versions. This system is controlled using the hardware key vendor's software; it's not a Graphisoft program. Personally, I'd rather not have to deal with hardware protection keys. I have spent many hours troubleshooting hardware key problems in the past. These keys may control licensing better from a software company's point of view, but they can be a real pain for a CAD manager.
Figure 6. The Navigator palette includes Project Map, View Map, Layout Book and Publisher Sets.
Archicad breaks the user interface up into palettes, toolbars and so forth. Basic toolbar reconfiguration in Archicad 10 is easy (just as in v9). If you want to create new toolbars with a collection of existing tools, the system works great. It's very stable, and you can save custom toolbars and configurations to a file.
If you want to create some simple macros, you'll be disappointed. It's not an easy task compared with one done in AutoCAD or MicroStation. But just as in earlier versions of Archicad, you can create and use Favorites, which act similarly to macros. You can't make custom toolbars from your favorites, though. You can also create macros through the use of Graphisoft's GDL programming language. GDL is robust, powerful and stable, but it's not as easy as a menu macro or a LISP routine.
An ample supply of third-party applications are available for Archicad. Chances are you can find something you need. Or you can hire one of the companies to create something special just for you.
Archicad 10 is on the cutting edge of interoperability. Users can save to an abundance of file formats, including the newly added 3D PDF. You can directly open DWG and DGN files and import and export IFC 2x2 files without purchasing third-party software.
It's a Virtual Building Solution
I agree with Graphisoft's labeling of Archicad 10 as a virtual building solution. Building information modeling—known as BIM—just doesn't describe the technology properly. I think it's bad English (misuse of a gerund).
Archicad has been around for a long time, which helps explain why this version is so mature. Archicad 10 is fresh, innovative and solid. Longtime Archicad users will have to take some time getting used to the new interface, but they should find it to be an excellent change. I am ready to start producing new projects in v10. It's one of those new releases that you can actually get excited about.
Scott MacKenzie, a CAD manager with CUH2A, is involved in the effort to produce all new architectural projects in Archicad. He has 17 years of experience drawing and managing CAD projects with engineering and architectural firms in Atlanta. He implemented the first Revit project at HOK.