AEC Magazine looks at the new modelling enhancements, improved component database and drive towards open standards in Graphisoft’s popular Building Information Modelling (BIM) platform, ArchiCAD.
A step change in the use of design tools is coming. Alongside the mandating of Building Information Modelling (BIM) by the UK Government, a drive for improved efficiency in difficult times, means that implementing BIM is now a cross industry issue.
While many architects assume that BIM equals Revit, due to systematic marketing from Autodesk to its huge AutoCAD customer base, other players are now being recognised as offering decent alternatives. Graphisoft’s ArchiCAD is the longest BIM product in development, with its first release in 1987 for both the Mac and Windows platforms.
While the name implies its architectural focus, the software also offers structural elements, as well as an MEP (Mechanical Electrical Plumbing) to incorporate ductwork and piping into the architectural design. This is slightly different to the approach Autodesk and Bentley have pursued, mainly ‘siloing’ the disciplines, but both have recently combined their BIM verticals into the one environment.
ArchiCAD has a BIM server for teamwork and collaboration that allows simultaneous development of a project model, both inside and outside of a company’s firewall. This BIM server is probably the best implementation of teamwork in the popular BIM products we have seen to date.
Modelling ArchiCAD 16 introduces ‘Morph’ technology, which further expands the geometric capability of the product and which has been an ongoing area of development through the last few releases. Morph allows the freeform creation of complex geometry using a direct modelling methodology — making edges, faces, points and surfaces open to manipulation. Morph can be used to create new geometry from sketches using commands such as rotational generation or from existing components, which can be selected and edited through the Morph dialogue. Morph objects can be merged and subtracted with Boolean tools and then classified as ArchiCAD components, stating if it is load bearing or an interior or exterior element, which can play a role in analysis later in the design process.
BIM Components The promise of decent BIM drag and drop content has yet to be realised and users can spend a lot of time building families of parts for projects. Those independent sites that do have BIM models vary greatly in their depth and richness. One site might offer a pure geometry representation of a door with no data, another might have so many variables and associated metadata that they inflate the model size to dangerous proportions.
In release 16, Graphisoft has introduced a new online BIM component database, BIMcomponents.com, which allows users to create, search, upload, and download custom BIM components of their choice in the company’s GDL format (Geometric Description Language).
One of the benefits of GDL is that parametric families of parts that are easily defined as one object can be defined to be many different variants, taking up only a small amount of memory. With both free components and premium-paid content, Graphisoft hopes that a community of users will build up around the site.
Sustainability Graphisoft has tried a number of approaches to sustainability. At first a tight integration with the then independent Ecotect linked the two packages well but Autodesk’s acquisition nixed that. EcoDesigner was an additional plug-in that was developed to offer basic energy analysis and documentation.
In release 16, EcoDesigner and the VIPcore analysis engine have been integrated into the core platform and rewritten to work seamlessly within the design process. The company is actively encouraging its customers to start using design analysis tools at the conceptual phase.
The integration makes great use of the fact that the geometry created already has many of the attributes required for running energy calculations thus speeding up the process. Physical properties of the ArchiCAD elements can be edited for experimentation and the application can access online, accurate hour-by-hour online weather data of the building’s planned location.
EcoDesigner’s clear report formatting has been kept, providing graphical and numeric results. The annual energy consumption is assessed, including CO2 emissions and monthly energy balance.
Open BIM IFC read, write and edit capabilities within ArchiCAD continue to outpace the market and release 16 ArchiCAD continues that trend. Too many people think saving an IFC file is all that is needed. In reality files need to be targeted for what the IFC model is going to be used for and what system it will be opened in.
To do this, users need control over IFC definitions and filters. Release 16 is faster at working with IFCs and now supports multiple IFC standard outputs, new data types, IFC site data, and adds Morph objects to the file (geometry that has no normal classification).
ArchiCAD 16 is now a very hot BIM tool for architects. This release sees it catch up on modelling capabilities compared with its competitors and take the lead in direct modelling ‘shape creation’. ArchiCAD is fun to model with and is as easy to use as SketchUp.
Graphisoft has had to play catch-up with green and energy evaluation, specifically with Autodesk’s acquisition of Ecotect and Green Building Studio (GBS). Release 16 sees Graphisoft enhance its built-in capability and offer a compelling suite of tools without having to leave the familiar ArchiCAD environment.
In the CAD market the term ‘open’ is pretty much a falsehood and while 2D DWG has been solved by most vendors, the move to BIM introduces new data exchange problems that only have partial fixes. When data is added into a BIM model, the only way to extract it for other uses seems to be in many different data formats with broken links and plenty of scope for conversion errors.
Graphisoft has always been one of the major proponents of IFCs and it continues to include richer tools to assist in IFC model creation. There is no other BIM product on the market that includes such a complex suite of IFC filters, reference tools and schema editing functions.
The most obvious difference between ArchiCAD and Autodesk/Bentley is the move to bundle functionality. Graphisoft’s owner, Nemetscheck, has failed so far to integrate its CAD and design brands. Nemetscheck owns a popular German BIM product called Allplan, as well as Vectorworks and Maxon (Cinema 4D) and it seems as though the brands have very little, if anything, to do with each other.
This structure does not help feature development and integration and the strategy does not play to the strengths of the group, especially when in competition with the likes of Autodesk and Bentley. It is perhaps just as well that ArchiCAD is the least expensive BIM modeller on the market.