The Virtual Building: Focus on the Art of Design

11 Feb, 2004 By: Ákos Pfemeter

Graphisoft ArchiCADThere is much talk these days of BIM (building information modeling) and the concept of the Virtual Building. These are both ways of describing the use of a database to provide an intelligent 3D model of a design project. With this database, or model, an architect can not only visually depict the project, but also edit, access, and manipulate vital information about the 3D components that make up the project.

Unlike traditional CAD databases, the Virtual Building model is a collection of objects. These objects capture and retain many of the properties of each individual building element. As a result, a sophisticated application manages changes made to a building design and automatically regenerates the entire documentation set. The drawings themselves are also automatically generated and updated, providing instant benefits to both the architect and the architectural firm. Because the technology acts as the central coordination engine, architects can deliver their drawings at a faster pace, thereby decreasing the amount of time spent on a given edit, revision, or overall project.

BIM and the Virtual Building represent a transition in the technology underlying many building design practices as architects move from using arcs, lines, and hatches to basing their designs on 3D intelligent objects. A door object, for example, automatically displays itself properly in different views and even adjusts according to the characteristics of the wall and building that contain it. The architect is free to traverse views, from plans to elevations, sections, and schedules, without having to redefine or redraw any element.

The value of the information in the Virtual Building extends beyond the production of drawings. Data about the building - and maintained in the Virtual Building model - can be used for thermal simulation, energy calculation, green building performance, estimating, interferences and clearances, and even facilities management. In the hands of the architect, this information can be transformed into added services and value for the client, delivering more for the initial time invested in creating the building design.

Figure 1. The Graphisoft ArchiCAD Virtual Building concept.

The Virtual Building concept gives architects better control throughout the entire design and build process, and this subtle shift, by itself, is an added value to the client. Architects must present their designs to multiple audiences, including local review boards, historical committees, and, of course, clients. Each audience typically requires different forms of information, but all need to gain a clear, accurate understanding of the project and the architect's intent. Working with the Virtual Building model, all the information needed for any audience is available on the architect's laptop computer, from 3D renderings to cost estimates. And as noted above, you can make changes on-the-fly to show a questioning board member the full impact of any revision, whether it's the addition of a new window or a change to a façade.

The Virtual Building Process at Work
It's well-known that clients often seem happy with initial designs, yet when a project comes down to the wire, the client - and therefore the architect - can be in for a surprise. Most clients have trouble reading 2D construction documents or visualizing how the building will look in its actual environment. For example, a client may not consider the presence of the neighboring buildings r the preservation of a historical tree on the site during critical programming and schematic phases of the project.

ArchiCAD's Virtual Building approach helps clients more fully understand the project. A real time walkthrough function enables architects to guide the client through an interactive, high-quality animation of the building model. Because the rendering can be done on the scene instantly, without consuming hours of offline computing and processing time, the client and the architect can collaborate more effectively, ensuring that all parties are satisfied with the end result.


The combination of a Virtual Building approach and ArchiCAD's design and editing tools makes it much easier to change a project along the way. ArchiCAD's multistory marquee tool, for example, lets you evaluate and implement changes easily in both 2D and 3D representations.

Changes and edits made to the Virtual Building model do not result in massive rework to create different layouts, drawings, calculations and 3D renderings. When modifications are complete, simply regenerate the construction drawings with a few simple steps. You can also update quantity takeoffs and budget estimates in front of the client, addressing any concerns that modifications might have on the feasibility of the project.


The Virtual Building approach in general, and ArchiCAD in particular, is more than just another CAD program. This technology is a business tool that allows architects to be more productive while directing energy and resources to the true heart of their work - creating excellent building designs.

Future articles will explore aspects of the Virtual Building in depth, from forms of communication to the process changes involved as a firm transitions from a drafting-based to a model-based practice. We hope you will find these tutorials and discussions useful.

About the Author: Ákos Pfemeter

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