AECbytes Product Review (April 17, 2008)
Allplan BIM 2008 Architecture
Allplan BIM 2008 Architecture is the architecture-specific module of the new version of Allplan, Nemetschek’s flagship object-oriented CAD application, which has now been enhanced and rebranded for BIM.
Pros: Extensive repertoire of powerful and sophisticated building modeling tools; includes full capabilities for solid and surface modeling, so does not impose any constraints on the form of the building; can be integrated with Nemetschek’s Design2Cost application allowing accurate determination of building quantities and costs without the need to re-create the model; multi-disciplinary capability with architecture, engineering, services, and site design all available as modules within the same application; distributed nature of project data makes collaboration easier; strong support for PDF and IFC formats.
Cons: Project set-up with the new building structure is complicated and non-intuitive, requiring the user to keep switching drawing files to model different levels and generate elevations, sections, and schedules; lack of associativity and automated change management capabilities; poor quality of documentation, making it difficult to pick up the basic concepts of the application without a lot of effort.
Price: 5995,- EUR (9500,- USD)
It seems opportune to start off the product review series for the year 2008 by exploring the 2008 version of a BIM (building information modeling) application that is not that well known in the US but is very popular in Europe. Allplan is the flagship product of the German company, Nemetschek, which was founded all the way back in 1963 and has been developing software products for the building industry since that time. The company’s portfolio now includes solutions for the complete life cycle of buildings and real estate, from building design and construction through to facility management; they are available in several languages and used in countries around the world (see Figure 1 for some examples of projects done with Allplan). Nemetschek is the parent company of Nemetschek North America, which develops the VectorWorks line of products, and it also acquired Graphisoft a little over a year ago as well as SCIA, a Belgium company that develops structural engineering solutions.
Allplan has a long history in the AEC industry, and it ranks along with Graphisoft’s ArchiCAD as one of the first object-oriented architectural CAD applications, which are now referred to as BIM. Even in the pre-BIM days, Allplan was considerably more powerful and sophisticated than ArchiCAD (see this review of Allplan published in 1996 by Geoffrey Moore Langdon). Now that the concept of BIM has taken off in the AEC industry, Nemetschek has rebranded Allplan as Allplan BIM and has expanded the product line to include distinct products for architecture and engineering. In addition, it also offers a whole host of other solutions, many of which work are closely integrated with Allplan. Let’s start off with an overview of the Allplan family of products and other AEC solutions from Nemetschek, and then move on to look at Allplan BIM 2008 Architecture in more detail. Since this is the first time that it is being reviewed in AECbytes, the review will focus on the application as a whole rather than only on the features new to the 2008 version.
Figure 1. Some examples of projects designed with Nemetschek’s Allplan. Top left: Tibetan Health Center Hüttenberg, Austria. Top right: Revontuli Northern Lights Shopping Centre, Rovaniemi, Finland. Lower left: Expansion of the Advanced Technical College in Osnabrück, Germany. Lower right: E.ON Energie AG Headquarter, Munich, Germany. (Source: Nemetschek website)
The Allplan Family of Applications
Nemetschek’s Allplan has now evolved into a family of several integrated discipline-specific applications. Allplan BIM Architecture is targeted towards architects and building design professionals, allowing a building model to be created and visualizations, drawings and schedules to be derived from it. Allplan BIM Engineering is targeted towards structural and civil engineers, and includes capabilities for the design and detailing of reinforced concrete as well as steel construction, with automatic transfer of the building model for structural analysis to the SCIA.ESA PT software (that is now part of Nemetschek’s portfolio, following its acquisition of SCIA). The Allplan family also includes Allplan Building Services, an HVAC solution that includes the design of heating, ventilation, sanitary and electrical systems; Allplan BCM, which offers integrated building cost management, tender, awarding and invoicing solutions for planners; and Allplan IBD (Intelligent Building Data), a solution for creating quantity calculations, cost estimates and bills of quantities from the building model. All these applications work as an integrated multi-disciplinary suite, which means that an Allplan model created by the architect can be reused and edited in the corresponding Allplan applications for engineering and analysis, building services, cost estimating, and cost management. In fact, the Architecture, Engineering, and HVAC solutions actually come as modules within Allplan BIM, which means that only one installation is required even if all three disciplinary solutions are needed.
In addition to the Allplan family, Nemetschek has a whole host of additional solutions for different tasks and players in AEC. These include Cinema 4D, a multimedia visualization software that allows high quality professional renderings and animations to be created from 3D models, and several solutions for construction including DocuWare for integrated document management, Rivera for project information and communication, BAU financials for building sales financial and technical tasks, and iPunkt for managing information related to marketing and sales. Then there is a whole suite of Nemetschek On-Site Solutions that can be implemented for on-site and mobile data entry, including On-Site Photo for capturing lengths and surface areas from digital images, On-Site Survey for quick and precise measurement of floor plans, On-Site Inspector for defect entry and the creation of checklists and logs, and On-Site ProgressManager for recording detailed information on the construction progress of a building directly at the site. It also has several solutions for real estate and facilities management, but these are currently available in the German language only.
And finally, there is Design2Cost, a new quantity take-off and cost estimating solution that Nemetschek has been actively promoting with this campaign slogan: “Can a brick think? Yes, it can.” Design2Cost works by integrating Allplan BIM, Allplan BCM, and Allplan IBDin one system, with the TAI (Tendering, Awarding and Invoicing) capability of Allplan BCM acting as the interface between Allplan and IBD, allowing more accurate cost information to be provided to the client and the team to react quickly to construction variations and changes to the design. Design2Cost is also able to work with graphical data from other CAD applications and other TAI systems, allowing construction elements to be associated with bill entries, prices and calculation rules defined in various different catalogs that can be imported via XML.
Now that we have a better idea of the extensive development capabilities and experience of Nemetschek in the overall arena of AEC software, let’s look at how this has translated into the development of Allplan as a BIM application for architectural design.
Detailed Overview of Allplan BIM 2008 Architecture
The core functionality of Allplan BIM Architecture is similar to other BIM applications for architectural design: you create a building model using intelligent parametric components, and you can then generate all your other deliverables from it, including drawings, renderings, animations, schedules, and so on. In addition, because of its ability to be integrated with Design2Cost, Allplan has advanced quantity take-off capabilities, with the ability to precisely calculate quantities, generate lists and schedules, or transfer data to systems used for tendering, ordering and billing. Each of the individual building elements that can be modeled in the application has several attributes that capture its properties in detail to make quantity take-off more exact and precise.
The range of tools for creating different kinds of building components is extensive. For example, there are dedicated tools for creating regular walls, profile walls, and freeform walls. Each individual tool is very sophisticated and comes with a wide variety of modeling options. Take the regular Wall tool, for instance. Clicking on it opens up the context toolbar shown in Figure 2-a, where you can start by choosing the type of wall geometry. If you select the Rectangular option, you can choose further from a set of four different input options which allow you to model the rectangular wall enclosure in varied ways. You can also use the Properties button on the Wall toolbar to access the dialog where you can specify the properties of the wall in great detail, including the number of construction layers and the attributes and materials of each layer (see Figure 2-b). An additional Height dialog, accessible from the Properties dialog, allows you to define the height of the wall, or in the case of walls with multiple layers, the height of the first layer (see Figure 2-c). The height can be defined as an absolute value, or can be associated with default or custom reference planes or relative to other building elements. There are also several additional parameters and attributes for the wall layers that can be defined, such as thickness, material, display properties in both 2D and 3D, as well as costing-related information such as the Trade category and an associated code. All of these properties can be defined prior to creating a wall, or can be fine-tuned at any time after the wall has been created.
Figure 2. The Wall toolbar and its Properties and Heights dialogs.
The Windows tool is another good example of the extensive range of modeling options that Allplan provides. Selecting this tool opens up the context toolbar shown in Figure 3-a. You can change the anchor point for the window placement to the midpoint or either one of the endpoints, based on the specific modeling situation. Another useful option is “Enquire width of opening” which, when checked, displays the offset distance between the point on the wall that is clicked and the nearest reference point and allows this value to be changed, so that the opening can be defined more precisely. The actual properties of the window opening can be specified in the accompanying Properties dialog, shown in Figure 3-b. As you can see, you are not limited just to rectangular opening shapes, but can choose from among six different options. Even more impressive is the fact that the window element type that you select (see the Smart Symbol section in the lower left corner of the dialog), will automatically adjust based on the shape of the window opening that has been chosen. Figure 3-c shows the same window element selected for four different opening shapes on the same wall. And just as with walls, changes to the window shape and element can be made at any time after the window has been created.
Figure 3. The Window toolbar and Properties dialog, along with some examples of window openings of different shapes.
Similar to walls and windows, Allplan includes tools for creating a wide variety of building objects including doors, columns, beams, slabs, corner windows, chimneys, railings, and different kinds of foundations, as well as detailed components such as upstands, lintels, window sills, joints, rabbets, facings, roller blind housing, installation masonry, and so on. There is a whole suite of tools for the parametric design of different stair types, as well as a large toolset for the design of all roof types including pitched roof, gambrel roof, barrel roof, dormers and more complex roof designs with skylights. A dedicated tool is also available for façade modeling, which is powerful yet easy to use, allowing grid-based facades to be designed very quickly and efficiently (see Figure 4).
Figure 4. The Façade modeler interface, showing the parameters that were set for the façade design shown.
Like other BIM applications, Allplan lets you create room elements that can be used for precise calculation of floor areas and for creating color-filled plans based on various criteria for space planning and facilities management. You can create a room element by using the Room tool to define its boundaries. There is also an Auto-Room tool, which can be used to create rooms automatically within a specified area—it will detect all the spatial enclosures and create individual rooms within them. There is an extensive list of attributes that can be associated with a room, including the finishes of the individual surfaces, type, occupancy, and so on, all of which can be included in a room schedule along with calculated attributes such as gross area, net area, and volume. Figure 5 shows the ground and top floors of a sample residential project with room elements, and the area schedule that was automatically generated from the model.
Figure 5. The ground and top floors of a house model and the area schedule that was generated from the model.
In addition to object-oriented building modeling tools, Allplan includes a full array of modeling tools for creating standard solids, solids of revolution, sweep solids, pyramids, tessellated solids, and other types as well as the use of Boolean operators for combining or subtracting solids. This allows the model to easily include freeform shapes that the standard BIM tools cannot create, such as those shown in Figure 6-a. A Geo module provides the full gamut of tools for site plan design, terrain modeling, landscaping, urban planning, and cadastral plans, with the ability for slope calculations, cut and fill, longitudinal sections, curved lines, torsion lines, profiles, quantities, etc. (see Figure 6-b). This allows civil engineers to work on the site design using the same application as the architects, enabling both disciplines to better integrate their work and collaborate with each other.
Figure 6. A sample project showing the creation of freeform shapes in the model as well as a sloping site created using the terrain modeling tools.
Rounding off the capabilities of the application are: tools for annotating and dimensioning; a Layout Editor for creating layouts (that is, sheets) that combine drawings, images, graphics and text; a freehand sketching module for conceptual sketching and red-lining; an extensive library of catalogs with 2D symbols and 3D objects, material definitions, textures, and so on; the ability to calculate shadows from multiple light sources and create sun studies that can be saved as animations; built in tools that allow high-resolution, photorealistic images to be created using various rendering methods, along with an interactive connection to Cinema 4D for more sophisticated renderings; and the ability to create walk-throughs that can be saved as AVI movies. A detailed description of these capabilities is beyond the scope of this review; besides, these have now become standard tasks that you would expect to find in any BIM application targeted towards the architectural profession.
Organization of a Project in Allplan
We have seen that Allplan includes a vast number of sophisticated tools that are more than adequate to model any kind of building design. However, this by itself is not sufficient, as you will find out when you delve into the application in more detail. One of the most complex aspects of Allplan that needs to be understood before being able to work with it effectively is how the data is structured. A project is the main organizational unit, and unlike centralized model applications such as Revit, a project in Allplan is a folder containing a large number of sub-folders and files rather than a single file. The actual design and data creation process happens in drawing files. A project can contain up to 6000 drawing files, of which up to 60 files can be displayed and edited simultaneously.
Prior to version 2008, the files comprising a project could only be grouped together into an organizational unit called “fileset.” A fileset could have up to 128 drawing files. It was up to the individual user or project administrator to create a fileset structure that mapped to the organization of the building content, as this could be done in different ways. Allplan also has the traditional layers concept common to all CAD and some BIM applications, and these can be set up so that they are not visible to the user, with design components and entities being automatically assigned to the correct layer.
In an attempt to make Allplan more “BIM enabled,” the 2008 version of Allplan introduced a new organizational mechanism called “building structure” intended to make it easier to create a BIM model. It comes with a plane manager that can be used to define the different levels of the building and their heights. Once this is done, a corresponding building structure is created, as shown in Figure 7-a. The actual modeling continues to happen in separate drawing files, but these are now linked to the building structure and derive the height information from it. So, for example, in Figure 7-a, if you activate a file under the Ground Floor category in the building structure and start placing walls, slabs, columns, etc., the elements will automatically get their elevations and heights from the storey settings associated with the Ground Floor (see Figure 7-b). To move on to the next level, you would need to activate one of the files under it and start modeling—they will be correctly placed at the right elevation. This is how you would build your model, storey by storey. You can also choose to over-ride the height setting for an element, if, for example, you have an element like a column that needs to span multiple stories. The height settings can be changed at any time, and the model will automatically adjust. So, for example, you could change the height of the ground floor and specify that all the higher levels should be moved up. The model will immediately be updated to reflect this change.
Figure 7. The Plane manager and building structure for a test project. The lower image shows File #30 of the Ground Floor which has been activated for modeling.
You will notice from Figure 7-a that each level in the building structure can have multiple drawing files associated with it. This allows you to create different elements or different groups of objects within a level on different files, if required. So, for example, you could choose to create the structural elements in one file, the walls, doors, and windows in another file, the furniture layout in a third file, and so on. The building structure contains a number of file assignments for each level by default, but these files are not actually created until you activate them. So, for instance, in the example shown above, only the file numbers 30, 31, and 32 for the Ground Floor are actually created; the others can be activated if required to create more elements, and additional files can be assigned to this level as well. In addition to activating drawing files (indicated by the red color), you can also use the building structure interface to control whether a file is visible and can be edited (indicated by the yellow color), whether it is in reference mode where it can only be seen but not edited (indicated by the gray color), or if it is not visible at all (no color). This means that multiple files can be opened and edited simultaneously, but any new elements will be created on the active file only.
Elevations, sections, and lists (otherwise referred to as schedules) in Allplan have to be derived from the model created using the building structure. As shown in Figure 8, the building structure comes with some predefined elevation, section, and list file assignments. But this does not mean that these views are already predefined and readily available. If you wanted to create an elevation, for instance, you would first activate a file number in any of the Elevation categories, select the source drawing files containing the elements that you want to include in the view (so you don’t have to include the entire model if you don’t want to), change the view settings if you want them to be different from the defaults, and finally, select the command to actually generate the view. As you can see, you can actually choose to generate any elevation type under any Elevation category, so the names such as North, South, etc. in the default building structure are somewhat misleading. But since the categories can be re-named, you can customize the building structure to suit how would like to organize the project. Sections and lists are created in a similar fashion. For the sections, you would, of course, have to define the clipping planes prior to generating the section.
Figure 8. The process of generating an elevation in the building structure interface.
If it all sounds incredibly confusing, the bad news is that it actually is, at least until you learn exactly how to use the system effectively, which will take some time. I had to struggle quite a bit to understand how the building structure works, particularly because I had prior expectations of how a BIM application should work, based on my extensive experience reviewing other BIM applications. There is no doubt that the way in which the model is created and structured in Allplan is very different from any of the other BIM applications.
Collaboration and Interoperability
Allplan includes a sophisticated worksharing capability, and its distributed file structure makes it easier for an extended design team to work with it. Within a project, different users can work simultaneously on a project while a Workgroup Manager is available to manage the data and regulate the access rights of who is allowed to make changes to a project. Users can access the project independent of location and there is transparent data access, allowing everyone to see who is working on what. Multifile system data maintenance enables several files to be loaded and unloaded simultaneously. All design objects can be centrally managed, and office standards and parameters can be defined for uniform working methods and designs.
The application is strong on open standards and interoperability. In addition to traditional CAD data exchange formats such as DWG, DXF, and DGN, Allplan BIM 2008 also allows CAD data to be imported and exported in PDF format, both in 2D and in 3D. Nemetschek has forged a partnership with Adobe to integrate the original Adobe PDF libraries within Allplan, allowing 2D designs and 3D models to be created directly with layer structures, making it easier to share design data with clients, contractors, and external team members. Nemetschek is also a strong advocate of the IAI’s IFC open standards format which can allow different disciplines to exchange model information irrespective of the application being used (see the AECbytes article, “The IFC Building Model: A Look Under the Hood”). Allplan can both export and import IFC files in the latest format, and its IFC capability been certified by the IAI. Figure 9 shows a Revit building model that was exported from Revit in IFC format and was subsequently imported into Allplan. As shown, it maps the levels of the building model correctly into a building structure in Allplan, and the object information is also retained. Only the texture information is missing, but it’s difficult to determine which application is responsible for this loss.
Figure 9. Importing an IFC file into Allplan that was exported from Revit. The building structure that was automatically created from the IFC file is also shown.
Strengths and Limitations
In evaluating Allplan, it becomes evident that it is a very powerful and flexible application that has top of the line modeling capabilities. The sheer number of tools and each of their individual options gives it one of the most extensive repertoire of capabilities that is currently available in a BIM application, both in breadth and in depth. And yet, to its credit, the tools themselves are not particularly overwhelming. They are nicely organized in tool palettes categorized by function and module, which makes them easy to find and use. Properties dialogs are well designed so that even with the extensive number of options, they are clear and can be understood without constantly referring to the documentation. Wizards are available for some common tasks, and tools such as the Façade Modeler do a terrific job of simplifying what can be otherwise be quite a complex task. The interface allows the model to be created and edited in multiple viewpoints, so that you can start an operation in a plan view and seamlessly move on to the elevation, section, or 3D view to continue it. Allplan also makes use of the mouse wheel for tasks such as dynamic zoon and pan, which is convenient.
In addition to its extensive repertoire of tools, the application has two main strengths in comparison to other BIM applications. Since it has the full gamut of solid and surface modeling toils in addition to its building object modeling tools, it does not constrain the design at all. The forms that cannot be modeled with the building tools can be easily modeled with the other tools. Also, by virtue of its ability to be integrated with Nemetschek’s Design2Cost application and construction-related information embedded into the components, it allows accurate determination of building quantities and costs without the need to re-create the model for construction in another application.
Other pluses are its multi-disciplinary capability, all available within the same application, in contrast to other multi-disciplinary suites such as Revit and Bentley, which have different applications for the different disciplines. Also, since the project data is distributed across multiple drawing files rather than contained in a single model file, it is much easier for an extended and distributed design team to collaborate, exchange files, and work simultaneously on the project. This is an advantage that Allplan shares with the Bentley BIM solutions, which also have a distributed approach to storing project information.
On the downside, just as with the Bentley BIM solutions, the distributed approach does come with its share of complexity and non-intuitiveness of use. In fact, I would have to say that this is true for Allplan to an even higher degree than it is for the Bentley solutions, which I have often critiqued for their complexity (see my review of Bentley Building V8 XM Suite). The whole idea behind the new building structure and storey manager in Allplan was to better adapt it for BIM. While this may certainly be true for existing users of Allplan who could benefit from the improvements, new users would find the implementation of the building structure very bewildering, especially if they have been exposed to how other BIM applications work. In addition to the complexity of setting up the building structure and managing all the diverse files containing different parts of the model, what Allplan also loses out on is the intelligence, associativity, and automated change management capabilities that centralized model applications provide. So, for instance, if you move a wall using the Move tool, the walls connected to it do not automatically adjust to maintain the connectivity and the room element too does not automatically fill out to the new boundary. While a Stretch Entities tool is available to make these kinds of simultaneous modifications, it is based on geometry rather than on understanding and maintaining the relationships between building elements. Therefore it cannot fully make up for the lack of associativity.
There are some other limitations as well, but these are relatively minor. For instance, there is no direct way to open projects that you receive from others, as the Open Project command does not let you browse to any folder located on your computer. You have to open up a separate application, set a backup path to the location where the project is stored, and then run an Import command; only then can you go and open this as a new project in Allplan. The documentation is quite poor at explaining this and many other basic concepts, and there are no tutorials that can walk you through how to get started with the application. Consequently, it took me a long time to understand how the application works. But these problems, as I pointed out, are relatively minor and can easily be fixed. It is the overall approach to BIM that is somewhat problematic and needs more work.
The concept of BIM has, by now, become well established within the AEC industry, and many AEC professionals, at least within the US, have had the opportunity to work with or see a demo of a BIM application. The substantial improvements that Nemetschek has made in the new version of Allplan will undoubtedly benefit its existing users a great deal, but it would be a challenge for the application to attract new users, despite the fact that its individual modeling tools are extremely powerful and sophisticated. It certainly lacks the intuitiveness and ease of use that centralized model applications such as Revit and ArchiCAD have, and even Bentley Architecture—which has a distributed database like Allplan—seems more straightforward in comparison.
Nemetschek’s attempt to make Allplan more BIM-like in the form of the building structure concept has not been very successful, in my opinion. I hope the developers of the application can think of better ways to structure the project so that the user can go ahead and model without having to worry about which file to activate, and views such as elevations and sections are immediately available without having to undertake a whole sequence of steps to generate them. These have become, by now, standard expectations from a BIM application. It would be good to see Allplan properly address these limitations and emerge as a viable contender in the BIM space, given the long history of the application and the sophistication of its modeling tools that have evolved over the course of many years.
About the Author
Lachmi Khemlani is founder and editor of AECbytes.
She has a Ph.D. in Architecture from UC Berkeley,
specializing in intelligent building modeling,
and consults and writes on AEC technology. She can be reached
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