First Look Review: MaxonForm for ArchiCAD

5 Apr, 2006 By: Steven S. Ross

Plug-in smoothes the way when designing freeform architectural objects

Want to emulate Frank Gehry? Graphisoft has enhanced ArchiCAD's design functionality with a plug-in that links the architectural design program to a freeform modeler -- MaxonForm. As the name suggests, technology from MAXON, developers of CINEMA 4D, lies at the heart of the new organic tool, which was jointly developed by Graphisoft and MAXON. Known as MaxonForm for ArchiCAD, the plug-in makes your next Gehry-esque design that much easier.

MaxonForm for ArchiCAD
Pros: Inexpensive freeform functionality
Cons: Unfamiliar interface; not-quite-perfect translation
Price: $595

MaxonForm for ArchiCAD web page

MaxonForm functions as a graphical GDL modeler and editor, customized for architecture. When you're working in ArchiCAD and you want to draw a freeform roof, wall or other object, open the 3D view and, at the bottom of the Tools menu, select MaxonForm. At this point, you can bring in an entire ArchiCAD project or select only the objects you want to work on. Items that you don't select for transfer appear as semitransparent ghosts to help with positioning.

This fires up MaxonForm and transfers the model from ArchiCAD. The project, or the chosen parts of the project, exist in one program or the other to help avoid confusion. Now you can freely manipulate the objects using various intuitive deformer tools. Colors can be assigned to organic shapes in MaxonForm. They become parametric materials in ArchiCAD, so can be set later when needed. Once complete, any selected items are transferred in their entirety back to ArchiCAD as a GDL object. Back in ArchiCAD, there's also an accurate 2D representation based on horizontal cut planes, and correct sectioning of the element.

Well-Rounded Capabilities
You could start your designs new in MaxonForm and bring the objects into ArchiCAD, but the whole idea is to edit an object, such as a flowing wall or roof, within the context of the whole building.

Future Hospital image (courtesy of MacBouwDesign, The Netherlands) illustrates the freeform modeling capabilities of the MaxonForm plug-in for ArchiCAD.

Installation was easy. The object round-trip also worked flawlessly -- although slowly when my file size approached 1GB. When the object comes back into ArchiCAD, it's a true GDL object. You can nip, tuck, section, frame and edit the shape in the CAD program, as if it had started life there.

A Few Detractions
If you have a wall with separate doors and windows built in ArchiCAD and you select the wall to edit in MaxonForm, the whole assembly is transferred as editable. When it comes back to ArchiCAD, the once-separate doors and windows are all part of the very large GDL object created in MaxonForm. To change them, you must place the new openings manually. If you edit two doors or windows together in MaxonForm, even if they are in separate walls, they come back as one GDL.

Roofs and skylights work a bit differently, because of the way ArchiCAD creates them in the first place. If you edit the skylight separately from the roof, the skylight's hole in the roof disappears. Edit the roof without the skylight to preserve the hole.

Materials exchange nicely, except that objects in MaxonForm can only have one color -- you can split the objects for more colors, if needed. You also have to manually define a reference file for ArchiCAD materials in MaxonForm. You just do it once, and after you bring all the materials over, you can use or update the file for every new project.

MaxonForm comes with a new architect-specific texture library. For an additional fee, MAXON offers more CINEMA 4D object libraries, such as cars, people, furniture and plants.

MaxonForm works on Macintosh and Windows operating systems and is now compatible with the new Intel-based Macs. You'll need at least OS X 10.2 or Windows 2000. Maxon has also made a deal with Nemetschek to develop a plug-in for Allplan and VectorWorks.

About the Author: Steven S. Ross

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