ArchiCAD 16 release - some thoughts on ArchiCAD and BIM

While the "regular" press and websites already talked about ArchiCAD 16 in depth, I want to add a more personal comment here.

For me, this is the first version since release 8 where I was not involved in any sense during the beta-tests. I was quite active for r8, 8.1, 9, 10, 11 and 12, but due to lack of time could not participate fully for 13, 14 and 15. I'm currently using r15 educational again (for teaching and for an historical reconstruction project - images will come later).

The core ideas of ArchiCAD are still fine. The long-due updates to some older gripes and limitations are (assumably, I haven't use the software yet) the same as ever. But they provide a quite compelling version with r16.

However, much of what 16 is about has to be seen in the context of the evolution of ArchiCAD over the previous versions.

3D Modeling Freedom (from previous versions on)

3D modeling freedom has taken some big steps over the last few versions (check for details):
  • First the introduction of Boolean operations (Solid Element Operations) around r8, which were extended in r15 with the connect features;
  • The curtain wall as a "system" tool in r12, which to day is the only one of its kind in ArchiCAD;
  • 3D Document and Partial Structure Display, on the representation side since r12. This is very important, as it allows you to make elaborate drawings from the 3D model, without having to adapt the model itself (e.g. show only load-baring core structure or 3D section views with full construction detail).
Remake of an older project - check open section in 3D, which is fully linked to the model
  • The Shell tool in ArchiCAD 15 was also significant, as it allows some complex geometry (which was already possible for GDL scripting) directly in the plan and 3D window. In addition, more elaborate modeling freedom through the workplanes is added in the 3D window as well. And don't underestimate the more directly usable complex roofs.
However, this convinces me that there is a fundamental flaw in ArchiCAD: the "tools" that are provided for modeling, which inherently promising semantic meaning, are mostly geometric: extrusions mostly (walls, slabs, roofs, columns), sweeps (complex wall profile, complex beam and column profile), height-map using the mesh tool and now the shell tool. This is proven by the fact that you need to abuse other tools when the regular tool is not providing the right geometry: e.g. need a sloped slab? use a roof or a mesh. Need a curved roof? use the shell. Need a complex, non-straight stair: place a few slabs and linework.

ArchiCAD 16

So what does ArchiCAD 16 really provide as fundamental improvements?

More design freedom with the MORPH tool. Quite inspired by SketchUp push-pull modeling, which is highly welcomed. In fact, I would really love to use it on the reconstruction project I'm working on right now... But I'll have to wait till september, when they release our local version.

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BIM Components: a library in the "cloud" (well, everybody is floating in the cloud these days). But quite fundamental. The GDL concept for parametric library objects is inherently very powerful, despite the fact that nobody else seems to notice and manufacturers still mostly provide DXF 2D details or libraries with thousands of quite similar objects, without any built-in parametricity. Even the ArchiCAD libraries still provide many objects with limited parametrization.

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Everybody is green and sustainable these days, but the in-built Energy Evaluation can only be praised. Analysis is fundamental in the current evolution towards zero-energy buildings and having the tools directly inside the project development environment is very recommendable. It seems to be an evolved version of the former EcoDesigner add-on and is mostly based on the spatial analysis of the model (using ArchiCAD Zones).

Considering the complexity of getting ArchiCAD models translated to external analysis software, such as Ecotect, Energy+ or phpp does warrant an integrated solution. I do hope that such addition will convince the majority of our students that BIM is a compelling methodology that belongs at the core of their design studio work and that it no longer makes sense to completely rely on 2D drafting with some addition SketchUp modeling, as many of them do right now.

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And finally, they do continue to support and promote IFC, e.g. through the OpenBIM program. I can really recommend them for believing in playing nicely on the collaboration level.

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So what is still not so good?

The Library object interface is still the same old small unusable preview thumbnail, slabs are still only horizontal, there still is only the Curtain wall as a system tool, multi-layer slabs and walls will not resolve in sections and I bet that some of the bugs I discovered in older version are still in place ;)

But don't let that scare you away. BIM is here to stay and Graphisoft is still one of the leading and forward-thinking developers for this kind of software and they still provide the only one on OSX that is a strong alternative to Revit, although VectorWorks is getting in the same league step-by-step.