Comparing Revit 2015 with ArchiCAD 18 update

This is a loaded topic. Every time people start to compare Mac and PCs or ArchiCAD and Revit, they start arguing.

My point is merely making a neutral overview over the most important new features from both applications and how they compare to what is missing in the other or what has been available already. As an ArchiCAD user, I have to admit I’m more experienced with ArchiCAD but I have used Revit, took classes and know a thing or two (three… four) about CAD and BIM software from my years of experience. So I don’t apologise, but rather feel that I have something to say about it.

By the way, this post has also been included with CAD Digest Selection.

Autodesk Revit 2015

Graphisoft ArchiCAD 18

Existing/Updated: Integration of Mental Ray rendering and Cloud-based external rendering

New: CineRender Rendering engine based on Cinema4D

After the old Accurender was replaced with Mental Ray, Revit gained the same rendering quality and materials as AutoCAD, 3ds Max and Maya (all from Autodesk). This led to good, decent rendering out-of-the-box, although for advanced rendering or animation, it was usually performed in 3ds Max or similar software.

The update lists some Ray-tracing improvements, so I got some attention in 2015.

With the increased attention to the cloud, Autodesk also added a cloud-based rendering solution, where you could send the model to the cloud, let it render on the large rendering farm from Autodesk and then receive the images. This is a credit-based system, where you pay for what you use. With subscription, you have additional credits available.

The advantage is that your system is free for further modelling, but you might have to send quite large model files over when you want to render. So it depends on the workflow.
10 years ago, ArchiCAD replaced their old internal rendering engine with LightWorks. It was “OK” at the time, but lacked Global Illumination as the most glaring omission. Nothing changed throughout the years, so Artlantis and Cinema4D were often quoted as good companion rendering solutions.

The new CineRender certainly brings ArchiCAD back on track with advanced materials and lighting.

There were some considerations about utilising or rather non-utilising all processor cores. While a dedicated rendering solution such as Cinema 4D grabs all CPU cores and power it can get, it does so at the cost of the rest of the system. Here Graphisoft opted to maintain ArchiCAD in a workable state. That implies that the OS and ArchiCAD each keep their own part of the cores available and CineRender has to do with what is left: 1 or 2 cores unless you have more than 4 cores available.

The extensive material control is available, but most architects would rather use decent presets. Subscription owners will have access to a larger library of render-ready material presets.

My fear: tweaking renderings in dedicated render software often leaves render settings and material settings dialogs open, while re-rendering. The ArchiCAD interface does not allow that, so be read for continuous dialogs to open, edit, close, render, wait, stop, re-open.
New: Sketchy LinesExisting: Sketch Rendering
This is a setting where you can alter the display in a particular view to use Sketchy lines, quite similar to what SketchUp introduced us to, many years ago.

In contrast with ArchiCAD, this is available in the viewport instead of as a rendering option.
For quite a while, ArchiCAD had the option of making Sketch Renderings. This was not done in the viewport, but rather as a separate rendering step.

It was fairly OK and could be tweaked extensively. That said, I did not see it being widely used.
Updated: Revision improvementsNew: Revision Management
I honestly have no experience whatsoever with revisions in Revit, so I’m not making anything up on the spot here.This is a big new feature set, which gives plenty of room for new workflows (and new bugs or inconstancies).

What looks nice is that it encompasses PDF too, which is helpful with non-ArchiCAD users.
Updated: Parameter orderingExisting: Extensive Parameter and Object dialog control
While mostly an update and improvement over existing functionality, it might be really welcomed by advanced users.

Since the Revit Family dialogs, as presented to the end user, still resemble a boring, uninspiring spreadsheet table, allowing the developer to at least make it easier to organise is really helpful.
While writing objects using the basic-like GDL language might offset many end users, the result that is presented to the user is quite strong: you have a visual display when changing parameters and (when programmed properly) extensive object customisation using icons, popup lists and helpful organisation of the parameters.
Some thoughts on parametric objects

While writing GDL or sketching Families are fundamentally different solutions to the same goal of parametric objects, there are many distinct differences to discover:
  • It is easier to draw something basic in the Revit Family editor and add dimension to parametrize
  • When you can program, you can make more extensive, customisable and flexible objects with GDL
  • When properly programmed, the GDL parameter dialogs can be really user-friendly, but it takes more effort to create
  • Family files tend to be (much) larger than comparable GDL objects and you often need more of them in a typical library
I honestly believe that in the approach to parametric objects that the solution from ArchiCAD is superior, yet not really accessible for the majority of its users. Especially when the GDL language is alien to most other programming languages and the “integrated editor” is really primitive, to the extreme. But improving this does not seem to be a priority whatsoever.

New: IFC LinkingUpdated: OpenBIM improvements
I’m glad that there are OpenBIM improvements to be found in Revit. Linking models is a good approach to ensure that the IFC can be used as a reference and the actual model stays clean and usable.

Most notably, direct integrated support for the BCF format. It was already available through add-ons, but this will strengthen its support in construction projects.
Updated: Access to additional parameters in SchedulesExisting: Access to most parameters in Schedules
Scheduling is one of the main goals for making BIM models: you need to query information, quantify elements, check for possible problems or simply output for others.

Schedules in Revit are straightforward to set up, but it is difficult to mix object types. You can introduce formulas, which allows for much more extensive reporting directly from within Revit. In ArchiCAD you can only add running totals.
Since ArchiCAD introduced interactive schedules, people could finally get rid of the old calculation system. It is still available and there are still a few things you cannot schedule but you can list with the old system.

And then there are still things you can not, e.g. project information such as project North Direction.

It is easy to set up a basic schedule and have it look OK. But it is not a spreadsheet system, as you can not do any custom calculations or use formulas like you can in Revit. I’d focus on having basic, usable listings and ensure they are set up to be further analysed elsewhere (e.g. in Excel).
New: Images in SchedulesExisting: Images in Schedules
Good to have an option to further improve schedules.This has always been there. It is nice, yet often not necessary and is mostly usable for an internal listing that is to be placed on a Layout sheet.

Some further thoughts

Obviously there is more to these updates. And I guess I am biased too. But I was a bit surprised about the fairly negative reception of the Revit 2015 update. Sure, there are almost no “killer new features” this year. But that said, many people often complain about having such big new features at the cost of not refining the existing ones. Lack of innovation? Sign of a maturing product? Listening to current problems users are facing? I don’t know.

Read more about the new Revit 2015 features on

I guess Graphisoft, despite being relatively small when compared to the development team of Autodesk, is able to still do quite big new features (TeamWork, Building Materials, EcoDesigner, Morph and Shell). But rest assured that many users still complain about not always finishing them properly, by taking a few releases to get up to scratch (Curtain Walls and Interactive Schedules come to mind) or simply not updating them anymore (Calculation System, StairMaker, LightWorks). Rendering has finally been switched and (if rumours are true) StairMaker will eventually be better.

So far, the ArchiCAD 18 update seems to be the biggest one, but I’m glad that Revit is improving its support for IFC with 2015.

What do you think?