Building Information Modeling (BIM)

Share BIM Models with Virtual Building Explorer

3 Nov, 2010 By: Matthew Brewster

ArchiCAD Insights Tutorial: Communicate designs to your clients with Graphisoft's visualization tools.

Editor's note: This tutorial courtesy of Graphisoft.

Building information modeling (BIM) assists the design process for many architects today. Being able to visualize complex structures in 3D allows designers to make better-informed decisions before earth is moved and trees are cut. Likewise, photorealistic renderings and animations help clients understand a finished design — but they can take a considerable amount of time to produce. So, how can you utilize BIM models to quickly and effectively communicate with your clients?

Among BIM's many uses, visualization is at the top of the list for most users. Early in the design process, many options are explored and materials are discussed. Common solutions involve taking clients for a tour through the virtual model as they navigate in the BIM application, or presenting them with screen snapshots that have been printed out. Historically, neither method has been ideal, because the working environment in BIM can be somewhat crude.

In answer to this dilemma, Graphisoft recently introduced new ways to view BIM models. For example, ArchiCAD 14 includes the ability to display shadows in OpenGL. For the design process, sun studies can be generated as quickly as the model is adjusted. These same views can be used to present the design model to clients with almost photorealistic quality.

To create a quick sun study, first turn on Sun Shadows in View > 3D View Mode > 3D Window Settings. In this case, I would also recommend turning Contours off.

Second, go back to the View > 3D View Mode menu and open 3D Projection Settings. In this window, click the More Sun button. This is where you can set the location, date, and time of day for accurate shadow casting. Also, make sure you set Project North correctly in the Options menu.


This is a great improvement for the designer, but what about giving your client the ability to walk through the model? Graphisoft developed the Virtual Building Explorer (VBE) to answer this question; it delivers a walkthrough file of near-rendering quality that can be opened on any computer. Also, compared to the time that it takes to set up a typical animation and wait for the computer to calculate it, VBE is much faster to produce. With a simple Save As process in ArchiCAD, you can create a self-running file. Clients can open this file without installing any software or learning how to navigate complicated programs.

Starting with a model in ArchiCAD, there is minimal setup needed to prepare for VBE; simply create the model with the desired materials. Keep in mind that the model won't be editable in the VBE environment, so it's a good idea to double-check for errors before exporting. Also, there is no need to place Lamp objects to illuminate the model. VBE takes care of the illumination, both interior and exterior. The Global Illumination (VBEG) option adds radiosity effects to the model.

Open the 3D window and set the view to the desired position. This will be the initial view when you open the VBE file. Now launch the Export for Virtual Building Explorer command from the File menu. Click Export, then click the Launch button after the Export for Virtual Building Explorer status is finished. This will open the file in the VBE application.

The first thing you may notice is the interface. The application automatically runs in a full-screen mode, allowing you to navigate through the model without the distractions of dialog boxes and palettes. Although there is a control menu available, it is hidden out of view until it's needed.

To move around in the model, use your mouse and keyboard, as in ArchiCAD's Explore mode. Note that using the scroll wheel does not zoom in perspective. To move forward, use the Up arrow or W key. VBE supports surface gravity and egress recognition during navigation (similar to what you find in 3D computer games); you can also hit the F key for Fly mode, which allows you to walk through walls.


To get to the controls, press the Esc key. A menu giving you information and other functions pops up from the bottom. Hitting Esc again will close the controls. At this point you can save it to either a Mac- or Windows-formatted file and send it off to the client, but first we'll take a closer look at using VBE.

The Global Illumination menu displays controls where you can process the model and add radiosity effects. Click Initialize, then click Light All. This may take some time to process, depending on your hardware and the file complexity. You'll see that once it's complete, the model offers a much better quality of light.

VBE can also display the model in 3D stereo mode for a more immersive viewing experience. For this you'll need a pair of red/cyan glasses, which are included with the VBE package.

With just some brief instructions, your clients will be navigating through the model in no time. You can experience Virtual Building Explorer for yourself with VBE sample files.

While higher-end rendering can be accomplished with ArchiCAD's built-in LightWorks rendering engine or a standalone rendering package such as Artlantis or Maxwell Render, Graphisoft offers new ways to explore your design.


About the Author: Matthew Brewster

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