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AECbytes Product Review (Sep 21, 2010)

ArchiCAD 14

Product Summary

ArchiCAD 14 is the new release of Graphisoft’s BIM application for architectural design, which includes a server-based collaboration module as well as translators for enhanced interoperability with engineering applications.

Pros: Includes IFC-based translators for open collaboration with leading engineering applications, as well as specific add-ins for Revit Structure and Revit MEP to further improve the accuracy of the model exchange; more element classification options for better model mapping with engineering applications; ability to easily see changes in subsequent versions of models imported from consultants; several useful enhancements to the Teamwork collaboration module including easier element reservation, a BIM Server performance monitor function, and the ability to create a Travel Pack of a Teamwork project; several additional productivity and performance enhancements in new release; is the only BIM application that supports both 64-bit and full multi-processing; cross-platform, with both Windows and Mac versions; excellent quality of Help documentation for learning the application; availability of useful add-ons including Virtual Building Explorer, MEP Modeler, and EcoDesigner.

Cons: Translators for engineering applications cannot fully match the ease of use and accuracy of competing multi-disciplinary BIM platforms; limited conceptual design capabilities; lacks built-in freeform modeling tools for creating complex building forms within the application; building elements lack built-in associativity with other elements, which would have allowed more fluidity in modeling and editing.

Price: $4250 for a new license; $895 for upgrade; free educational version for students.

It was just over a year ago that I reviewed ArchiCAD 13, which featured a brand-new, first of its kind, server-based BIM collaboration capability, available to users at no additional cost. With a flexible element reservation system, a technology that detects and transmits only the changed elements between the client computers and the server, and a revamped Teamwork interface for the server-based collaboration, the new technology allowed project team members using ArchiCAD to work together more easily and quickly in real-time on modeling projects. This has been a significant breakthrough in the AEC industry in its transition from CAD to BIM, showing that it is possible for a distributed project team to collaborate and work on one design model just as easily as it was doing earlier with separate 2D drawings. Developing this technology in ArchiCAD involved a complete re-engineering of the application under the hood to enable the individual building elements to work with a database server, which may help to explain why we haven’t yet seen this capability in other BIM applications.

Thus, the model-based collaboration functionality in ArchiCAD 13 was a significant breakthrough, even for a product that has featured a long list of noteworthy innovations in recent releases such as the Interactive Training Guide and easier modeling of complex forms in ArchiCAD 10, the sophisticated Virtual Trace feature simulating the physical tracing paper concept in ArchiCAD 11, multi-processor support and ability to produce 3D documentation in ArchiCAD 12, and recent add-ons such as the Virtual Building Explorer, the MEP Modeler, and the EcoDesigner. The new version of ArchiCAD released earlier this summer had a tough act to follow, and while it would be difficult to match up to the radical and exciting offerings of its immediate predecessor, ArchiCAD 14 does manage to hold its own, with improvements in its collaboration and interoperability features as well as several productivity enhancements. Let’s take a closer look at what these are.

Enhancements to Model-Based Collaboration

ArchiCAD 14 continues to further improve the application’s model-based collaboration capability with some additional enhancements, making it easier for a distributed design team to work together on the same ArchiCAD project. The flexible reservation system, which was a key element of the new Teamwork module introduced last year, has been further improved with an expanded set of techniques to find and reserve data more quickly, such as elements on multiple layers and layer combinations or all elements of a schedule. A new Teamwork preference can be set that releases all the elements reserved by users when they close the project, in order to avoid the problem of users sometimes forgetting to release their elements and data even after they stop working on a project, making them unavailable to other team members. Recall that one of the helpful features of the new collaboration module that had been introduced in ArchiCAD 13 was the color-coding of the workspace so that the elements reserved by different users were displayed in the color assigned to them, making it immediately clear who is working on what. This has been further expanded in ArchiCAD 14 by the ability to centrally define user colors, so that each Teamwork user has a unique color which is, by default, uniform on all client machines, regardless of project, and enables easier identification of users and communication between them. Users can also add a photo to their profile which is displayed in the Teamwork interface, helping to put faces to names instead of just colors.

Another new Teamwork-related feature in ArchiCAD is a BIM Server performance monitor function, which provides feedback to server administrators on the performance of the server computer and the BIM Server application (see Figure 1). It provides a picture of the server’s current status, as well as a recent history of server-related events, enabling the administrator to continuously monitor the BIM Server’s performance and memory and determine if any changes need to be made to the hardware or software for optimal server performance. In addition to CPU and memory usage, it also provides information on the number of users currently online and the number of projects that are currently open, providing an at-a-glance overview of Teamwork activities, which can also be helpful to project leaders and CAD/BIM managers to understand and improve project workflows and collaboration.


Figure 1. The new BIM Server performance monitor function in ArchiCAD 14, providing an overview of server performance and Teamwork activities.

A handy new "Travel Pack" functionality in ArchiCAD 14 allows users to take a Teamwork project anywhere as a transportable data package by copying it from their office workstation to a USB drive (see Figure 2). This copies all the necessary files and libraries that will be needed to work on the project from a remote computer without the need for physical access to the BIM Server. This is extremely helpful when traveling, or even if a user simply needs to take work home—all that the user needs to do is plug the flash drive with the “travel pack” into the remote computer and start working, without the need to access the BIM server or download any large data files. Of course, the remote computer must have a copy of ArchiCAD, preferably the same version as the office computer. If the BIM Server is accessible from the remote computer, users can send in their changes to the server from the remote machine as well. Remote access to the server has also been made easier in ArchiCAD 14 by the automatic recognition of different addresses of the BIM Server for users who often work from multiple locations.

Figure 2. Accessing the new Travel Pack Teamwork functionality of ArchiCAD 14.

And finally, a new “Solo” mode for Teamwork is available, which allows solo practitioners to derive the benefits of the BIM Server technology on solo projects as well. This mode can also be used by project leaders in the early stages of large team projects to streamline the workflow and set the stage for the expanded use of Teamwork among multiple users as the project develops. A new “Reserve All” option that allows a one-click reservation of all elements is especially helpful for Solo Teamwork projects.

Improved Interoperability with Engineering Applications

A key focus area of ArchiCAD 14 is to facilitate what Graphisoft refers to as “open design collaboration” between architects and engineers through the enhanced use of the IFC file format. Being a single disciplinary solution, ArchiCAD has always been a strong proponent of the IFC standard, relying on it to exchange model-based data with other applications. This aspect has been significantly enhanced in the new release by providing preconfigured IFC translators optimized for several leading global and local structural and MEP applications, allowing architects using ArchiCAD to improve their coordination workflow with engineers using these applications. As shown in Figure 3, when a model is saved in the IFC format, you can now choose one of several translators to export the model to a specific application such as Revit Structure, Revit MEP, Tekla Structures, Scia Engineer, Nemetschek Allplan Engineering, and DDS-CAD MEP. Each translator is especially optimized for its application, allowing for a smoother information exchange with ArchiCAD. The same translator can also be used when importing an IFC file from any of these applications into ArchiCAD.


Figure 3. The new set of IFC translators for different engineering applications available in ArchiCAD 14 to improve model import and export.

In addition to the translators, Graphisoft has developed two add-ins for the Revit applications to further improve the model exchange, both of which can be downloaded for free from Graphisoft’s website. For Revit Structure, an “Improve IFC Exchange” plug-in is available that improves the fidelity of its IFC model-based data exchange with ArchiCAD; it can be used for both import and export (see Figure 4-a). For Revit MEP, the plug-in allows the MEP model to be exported directly to ArchiCAD, merging it with the architectural model (see Figure 4-b). It also converts all the MEP elements in the model to MEP Modeler elements—provided that a MEP Modeler license is available—retaining the intelligence of the MEP model. (The MEP Modeler is an MEP add-on to ArchiCAD, but not a full-fledged MEP BIM application.) Before importing the model, the Revit MEP translator still needs to be selected as the option for the Translator in the IFC Settings dialog, which will ensure that the Revit MEP elements are correctly imported. This eliminates the need for manual processing after the import, which was often required in the past. Since the intelligence of the MEP model is retained, any change that is made to the Revit MEP elements, such as moving a duct, also moves and reconfigures connected elements so as to maintain the intelligence of the MEP system—similar to how it would work with the MEP Modeler. Given that ArchiCAD also includes clash-detection capabilities to detect model conflicts between building structures and/or the different building systems, the ability to accurately import engineering models from other applications allows architects to greatly improve their design coordination with the engineering disciplines.


Figure 4. The free Graphisoft add-ins available for Revit Structure and Revit MEP for better exchange of their model data with ArchiCAD.

In addition to improving the IFC-based exchange of model data with engineering applications through translators and add-ins, ArchiCAD 14 allows more accurate model mapping by providing three key Classification properties for construction elements: IFC Element Type, which allows mapping of ArchiCAD elements to the precise IFC element definitions (as shown in Figure 5); Position, which can be used to define the element as being either an external or internal part of the building, important for data exchange with energy analysis applications; and Structure Type, which can be used to specify whether the element is load-bearing or not. ArchiCAD’s Find and Select command allows all elements of a specific type to be simultaneously selected, enabling a Classification option to be applied to all of them in one step, for example, you could select all the columns in one step and set their Structure Type as Load-Bearing. Another related enhancement is the expansion of the Partial Structure Display that was introduced in ArchiCAD 12 with an additional option, “Core of Load-Bearing Elements Only.” This allows the model to be filtered to display only the load-bearing components, which can then be exported using the correct IFC translator to the structural engineers, allowing them to receive only what they need instead of the complete model. (It should be noted that the IFC Translation dialog shown earlier in Figure 3 includes filtering options such as IFC Domain and Structural function, which can also be used to restrict the import or export to specific elements rather than the complete model.)


Figure 5. Fine-tuning the properties of elements using the new Classification options for better model exchange with engineering applications.

Given that multi-disciplinary design workflows typically involve several rounds of information exchange, another useful feature in ArchiCAD 14 for multi-disciplinary collaboration is the ability to compare IFC model versions and to import only the differences, displaying design changes with color codes in the architectural model context. This is done through the new IFC Model Change Detection Wizard, which enables architects to compare two subsequent versions of a structural/mechanical model provided to them in the IFC format, identify the differences between the two versions (including the new, deleted and modified elements), insert the changes into the current ArchiCAD model or into an empty ArchiCAD project file. The changes are listed as ArchiCAD mark-up entries and can be navigated in both 2D and 3D windows using the controls of the Mark-Up palette to inspect them more closely (see Figure 6). The architect can now more easily respond to them, if required, by making any needed changes in the architectural model.


Figure 6. The new IFC Model Change Detection Wizard in ArchiCAD 14 that allows the changes made to a model to be viewed by specifying the older and newer versions of the file.

Productivity and Performance Enhancements

The collaboration and interoperability enhancements in ArchiCAD 14 have been balanced out with several productivity improvements, which continue to improve its usability and efficiency. The improved OpenGL display mode in ArchiCAD 13 has been further enhanced by the ability to display shadows (see Figure 7), allowing live 3D views to be used not only for better in-model visualization but also for communicating design intent to clients instead of creating rendered images every time. Site design has been improved with the ability to directly import site survey data from theodolites contained in a text file. The XYZ coordinate data contained in the file is automatically converted into an ArchiCAD mesh element, providing an accurate 3D model of the site. It is now possible to use familiar spreadsheet-editing techniques to work in Schedule and Index windows, improving productivity and ease of use. Schedules exported to Excel can also include graphical information and retain the format of both graphics and text for WYSIWYG results (see Figure 8).


Figure 7. The ability to display shadows in OpenGL display in ArchiCAD 14.


Figure 8. A schedule in ArchiCAD 14 shown alongside its exported version in Excel, demonstrating how the format of the text and the graphics has been retained.

Documentation-related productivity enhancements in ArchiCAD 14 include the ability to add custom prefixes and suffixes to associative dimensions while retaining their real measured values (see Figure 9), easier access to the Offset command along with the ability to apply it to multiple selected elements simultaneously as well as create multiple element copies while using it (see Figure 10), increased control over model-based sections and details of doors and windows with an extended set of Reveal and Wall Closure setting options, and improved page setup for PDF output that allows scaled drawings, including those with header or footer, to be printed from PDF correctly. A large number of new parametric library objects are available and many existing library objects have been redesigned or expanded with new features, enabling contemporary content and entourage to be easily added to models.


Figure 9. Adding custom text to an associative dimension.

Figure 10. The Offset tool is now available from the Pet palette in ArchiCAD 14.

And finally, ArchiCAD 14 includes speed improvements in various operations depending on project size and complexity. In addition to faster IFC model import/export, interactive element schedule updates, and library handling, the BIM Server now takes full advantage of 64-bit computing on the Mac OS X platform.

Analysis and Conclusions

With ArchiCAD 14, Graphisoft has made considerable headway in addressing what had earlier been one of the key limitations of the application in comparison to leading competitors such as Revit and Bentley: that ArchiCAD was a stand-alone architectural BIM application rather than part of a multi-disciplinary suite of building design applications. By providing IFC-based workflows for each of the leading engineering applications (with the notable exception of Bentley’s structural and MEP applications), as well as specific add-ins developed for Revit Structure and Revit MEP to further improve the accuracy of the model exchange, ArchiCAD can now be used much more easily by architects as part of a multi-disciplinary workflow. Thus, one of the biggest stumbling blocks to its adoption in the context of integrated design and project delivery has been considerably reduced. It cannot be considered as completely eliminated, as importing and exporting files using a translator is still not as easy and accurate as simply opening up a Revit Structure file in Revit MEP or a Bentley Architecture file in Bentley Structural. But ArchiCAD’s “open” approach also has the benefit of enabling integration with a much wider range of engineering solutions used world-wide, which a single platform typically lacks. Graphisoft is to be commended for putting so much effort into interoperability rather than simply paying lip service to it. It has also highlighted the richness of the IFC platform for facilitating model-based interoperability, showing that the IFC can actually work if properly implemented.

Most of the other enhancements in ArchiCAD 14, including those for the server-based collaboration module introduced in the last release as well as the productivity and performance enhancements, are incremental updates rather than monumental improvements to the application. Thus, while they undoubtedly serve to improve the application in several ways, they do lack the “wow” factor, making it likely that ArchiCAD 14 will be known primarily for its interoperability enhancements. I hope that going forward, Graphisoft will address some of the other key limitations pointed out in the reviews of earlier releases, such as the lack of conceptual design capabilities (especially in comparison to Revit, which has made great strides in this in its last two releases), the lack of built-in freeform modeling tools for creating complex organic forms within the application (which is one of Bentley’s strong points), and the lack of an associative option for editing building elements which would maintain their relationships when modifications are made—without needed to resort to a geometric “Stretch” command, as is currently the case—allowing for more fluidity in modeling and editing.

It would also be great to see Graphisoft continue to push the boundaries of innovation in the AEC industry by exploring advanced, cutting-edge technologies such as generative rule-based design and optimization, and incorporating them in future releases of ArchiCAD to make it more intelligent and capable of automating repetitive tasks, helping to reduce the large number of tedious modeling steps that are currently involved in the creation of a BIM model.

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 at lachmi@aecbytes.com.

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