Last issue AEC reviewed the new renovation tools in the latest release of ArchiCAD from Graphisoft. This month we conclude the review, highlighting the other functional improvements to the popular architectural BIM modelling tool, writes Martyn Day.
As AEC Magazine has reported previously, the interest in Building Information Modelling (BIM) has recently been accelerated thanks to the Government’s construction advisor, Paul Morrell announcing that BIM will be mandated on all Government projects after 2016 with a gentle phasing in over the next five years. This decision has probably brought fear to the firms that specialise in government run education and healthcare but with BIM adoption being fairly low, the majority of the industry will be learning on the job.
While Autodesk has done a good job in marketing Revit as being BIM, the reality is that there are a number of applications that offer similar BIM deliverables, Bentley Architecture and Graphisoft ArchiCAD being two popular choices in the UK.
For those not familiar with ArchiCAD, it is a Hungarian developed architectural 2D and 3D modelling application, which is the most mature BIM solution on the market, having been launched in 1987. I specify architectural because unlike the competing solutions, ArchiCAD focuses its main feature set on the single discipline (although there is an add-on for MEP). Another unique feature is that ArchiCAD runs on both Apple Mac and Windows PCs which, with the rise in popularity of Apple computers, is a clear advantage.
Before diving into the Release 15 features, it is worth mentioning that Graphisoft also recently launched an online design community and mobile communication tool called BIMx for iOS. Using this application it is possible to send models to people using iPads or iPhones who can then explore and remotely walkthrough the 3D designs without having an ArchiCAD license.
The software offers four different rendering engines, gravity, fly mode, individual building element information, distance measuring and pre-saved walkthroughs. BIMx is included as part of the ArchiCAD 15 trial download.
Graphisoft themes its yearly updates to ArchiCAD like no other vendor. The major two issues addressed in this release were the renovation market and expanding ArchiCAD’s ability to handle complex geometry. In the July/August issue we looked at the effective workflow that had been implemented covering the creation and deletion of elements, clearly showing what was to be demolished and what the new design would be.
With tough market conditions out there for architects, it seems most vendors are adding some capability in this area, although like its collaboration server technology, Graphisoft has excelled at reducing the complexities of use.
Architects continue to look to innovate and create designs using new freeform geometric shapes and structures. Release 15 expands the geometric creative freedom of ArchiCAD and has addressed longstanding issues of user interface when comprehending 3D space and applying workplanes.
ArchiCAD 15’s key geometry enhancement, the new shell tool, is all about providing design freedom. The shell capability supports three methods: extrude, revolve or ruled. All work in a simple or detailed way allowing quick creation of basic forms or generation from complex profiles.
The software automatically creates a ‘membrane’ for this structure based on its defining components (core driving geometry). The thickness of the shell can be defined and composite structure can be applied and it will be displayed. These composite definitions can be applied to all shell structures in whichever method was used to create them.
There are a range of other capabilities with shells; such as the ability to alter the base height, apply distortion, flip, grow, rotate, mirror, segment, drag, and morph.
It is possible to define a single contour polygon for a shell in 2D section or elevation that can be used to shape basic geometry into more complex shapes, such as roof elements. This can also be done in 3D, using other elements in a model. It is also possible to create any number of holes within a shell, which can also be easily manipulated. The edges of shells (even holes) can be assigned different materials.
In combination these can be used to create really complex, detailed geometric forms, with intelligent structure information that can be applied to the Information generated for the model.
Many times in BIM tools, complex geometry, like roofs have been defined in products such as McNeel and Associated Rhino and simply imported as dumb geometry, which break the whole concept of BIM.
ArchiCAD 15’s shells also play happily with standard ArchiCAD elements, such as skylights. They can be placed in 2D or in 3D and when they are placed they automatically oriented themselves with the shell and can be moved within the shell body.
The gravity feature of ArchiCAD can also be applied to shells. This means components that are drawn over them will automatically sense the height of the component underneath. A shelled component can be selected as the external or internal surface, enabling the ‘embedding’ of elements, like walls into the shelled structure.
With the introduction of complex shells, ArchiCAD has new intelligent connections, which consolidates previous connections for items such as curtain walls. There is some new naming here too, Trim means a connection that creates association between components (all will update if edited), while cropping will cut a component to another element but without making a direct association (components are independent of editing). There is a new trim elements to roof and/or shell command, allowing for fast modelling with walls and columns.
This release brings substantial new 3D capabilities for ArchiCAD and, as usual, have been implemented in a very easy to use manner. Creating complex geometry still requires some thought, although here it is mainly considering which of the many 3D construction methods best fits the shapes required. I understand that the foundation modelling technology for all this is brand new and will possibly enable development of ArchiCAD towards the generative design capability, which is the forte of Bentley’s Generative Components (GC) and Rhino Grasshopper.
ArchiCAD 15 has new blue, auto-orienting Editing Planes, which make element selection and modification much easier. They can be applied to selected components or moved around the 3D space to start the creation of new geometry and support independent grid and snap points.
Using a new dimming effect it is possible to get a better sense of depth in 3D element creation and modification. The creation and placement of reference guidelines have been significantly enhanced aiding both 2D and 3D creation, providing visual feedback.
There are also new GDL parametric libraries of 3D components with some lovely boats, solar cell and heating, wind turbines, shelving units, kitchen appliances and all the other typical household and business items.
With the growing need for sustainable architecture, Graphisoft offers EcoDesigner for ArchiCAD, which has been updated for release 15. EcoDesigner, can quickly and easily analyse designs for energy efficiency. Providing invaluable feedback on the building’s performance means the architect can make better decisions on how to conform to regulations and satisfy the interests of the client and the operator of the building.
In release 15, EcoDesigner gets an improved Building Energy Evaluation Report PDF, adding 40% more information versus the previous version. The software also outputs to Excel for a detailed breakdown can now be exported to the Passivhaus energy calculator. Weather data has been improved to include ASHRAE-compliant city data.
Users can now override U/R values to experiment with different material properties, which will be useful in the early design phase.
Graphisoft is probably the biggest supporter of the Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) standard for BIM and has been since its onset. Interoperability is potentially the biggest problem that the construction industry will face as competing BIM systems really lack a credible open standard. IFC is all the industry has and it is still playing catch-up.
ArchiCAD 15 has enhanced IFC output; MEP elements can be saved as complex yet lightweight BREPs (boundary representation) geometry, renovation status saved to IFC, ArchiCAD and IFC models can be merged. IFC properties are now native elements in the ArchiCAD database and settings can be edited in the element settings dialogue.
The final point to mention is that this version is native 64-bit on Windows and Mac OS, IFC and BIM server. This means much more memory can be addressed, which means larger models and faster performance.
This is a big and beefy update to ArchiCAD. For existing users who create mainly rectilinear buildings there are speed and feasible benefits to many of the new features despite the concentration on freeform geometry.
Moving to 64-bit to have larger models and address lots of memory is worth it on its own.
The real benefit will be to those designers who have struggled to design shapes that have proved difficult in previous versions, or have had to create dumb geometry to define the surface. With the increasing use of computerised manufacture the cost of producing these free forms is drastically reducing and become more popular.
With ArchiCAD 15, it now has the 3D power to allow much greater freedom in geometric exploration.