WHY SYLLA INTERNATIONAL SWITCHED TO ARCHICAD
For 18 years we have been using Bentley MicroStation and Bentley Architecture for our CAD and BIM programs but decided to switch to Graphisoft Archicad. This decision was not made lightly, because it meant throwing out of the window 18 years of experience and knowledge of Bentley programs with which we designed many buildings both large and small, and then start learning a new program. It is also counter-intuitive to the old adage that the best computer program is the one you know best.
So why did we switch from Bentley to Graphisoft? For two reasons.
REASON 1 – ECONOMICS. When the recession hit in 2008, we no longer were able to maintain our monthly Bentley Select Services subscription, as we were all hit hard by the economic downturn. For over 6 years, we used the same version of Bentley Architecture and MicroStation software programs that had a lot of bugs that we had to contend with. It was a painful experience, but in life you do what you have to do until you no longer have to, and then you won’t. In late 2013, as the economy was improving, we decided to upgrade to the new BIM Bentley calls now AECOsim Building Designer–a strange name even in the context of computer technology. We wanted to buy one license at a time or upgrade the older licenses we owned for many years, but only one at a time. We were shocked to learn that Bentley could not sell us one license at a time until all the licenses are upgraded, and that we had to make a time purchase for all the licenses. With outrage and disbelief, we started looking at other BIM programs. This was the beginning of the switching process.
REASON 2 – TECHNOLOGY. SYLLA, a design-oriented firm focused on modern architecture, has always been bullish with the computer technology and was using BIM-related technologies as early as 1994. In fact, we designed a large new high school using BIM-related technology before even the word BIM was coined about 10 years ago. So we knew exactly what to look for in a new BIM application.
So, we started considering three options: 1) Continue to stay with Bentley and upgrade to AECOsim Building Designer, 2) Switch to Autodesk Revit, and 3) Switch to Graphisoft Archicad.
We ruled out continuing with Bentley, and it was not an easy decision, because we built up 18 years of CAD and BIM experience with its products and had become experts on MicroStation and Bentley Architecture. There was nothing we could not do with those two programs. Nonetheless, we decided to part way with Bentley not because of the cost cited above, but because of Bentley’s BIM business model. Bentley decided to bundle many software programs and sell them as AECOsim Building Designer. The bundled programs included Mircrostation, Bentley Architecture, Structural, Mechanical, and Electrical. This presumably makes it possible for all team members to work under one BIM platform without the need to translate BIM models. While this may make sense for a big A/E (architecture and engineering) firm that has embraced integrated project delivery (IPD), it made very little sense for us, because we are a design-oriented firm and needed only an architectural program without having to dole out a lot of money for an all inclusive Bentley Structural, Mechanical, and Electrical software we would not use anyway.
The second reason we ruled out Bentley is that the software company is not only involved in architecture, structural, mechanical, and electrical software design, but it is also involved in many unrelated software programs such as off-shore oil drilling, mining, power line transmission, highway design, railroad, and many more that we do not care to name here. All these programs seem to work on Bentley’s base platform of MicroStation, which in and of itself is a very powerful and reliable program that has proven itself over many years. When it comes to CAD, MicroStation is as good as it gets. More power to Bentley, as they pursue this business model, but for SYLLA, in search of a good BIM and architectural application, it was not the right way to go. The reason: It is hard enough to get one software program right, much less when you are involved in so many others that have to be integrated. It becomes an extremely complex programming endeavor in which the architecture component gets easily lost and suffers.
We then considered Autodesk Revit, but did not take too long to rule it out, even though we liked the fact that Revit is being widely used by many design firms, and that many manufacturers are creating BIM objects and applications that are Revit-friendly. But that large use of Revit did not play a major role in our decision because we know BIM well enough not to select a software based on its following. So we watched several tutorial videos about Revit and saw some things we really liked, but we were turned off by the fact that you work a lot in 2-D plan and have to switch to the 3-D model to see your work. At SYLLA, we are a design-oriented firm that wants a BIM program that gives us instant 3-D design feedback–or even gratification–and lets us work in 2-D when we want to. In all fairness to Revit, we could have downloaded a demo and test-driven it, but we did not even want to because we had concluded that we did not want to repeat the Bentley syndrome. Autodesk and Bentley are competitors and are following a similar business model of trying to integrate many CAD and BIM programs to capture a greater market share of the infrastructure sectors they want to conquer. We did not want to relive that same experience, which did not suit us well.
Archicad was the only man standing, and it responded to several criteria we set out for the program. SYLLA wanted a BIM application from a software company focused primarily in architecture, and the BIM application needs to be one program and not two or three on top of one another. Archicad met that criterion. Architecture is what we do, and we want the maker of the BIM program we use to be preoccupied exclusively by what we do as architects. Any divided program loyalty on the part of a BIM company provokes strong allergic reactions on our part. Further, Archicad was designed by architects and for architects. Why was it important to select a BIM program from a software company focused primarily on architecture? The simple answer is that it is easier to design and continue to improve one BIM program and work out its bugs before releasing it than to do the same thing for a dozen programs or more that have to be integrated. Second, if your sole focus is architecture, you are more nimble and agile to respond to the real needs of architects, instead of waiting for several programs to complete their respective programming development and be integrated vertically before releasing them and wait for users to point out the bugs before you fix them, whether with a patch or at the next build. In many instances, new product releases focus more on fixing bugs from previous releases than offering real innovation or breakthrough tools that would excite architects. The uncertainty of spreading yourself thin on so many programs creates a business risk for which we are no longer willing to pay the price, nor willing to accept premature program releases with bugs as a normal way of doing business. I am sure that at some point we will encounter some bugs with Archicad, just like all software programs, but again the bugs in one program are easier to fix than in a dozen applications or more that have to work together.
So we switched to Archicad with a new project we started in February 2014, with still a nagging feeling about throwing out of the window 18 years of Bentley product experience, but to our pleasant surprise, after watching several Graphisoft training videos on their website and YouTube, it took us less than a month to develop a surprising level of proficiency. Granted we still have a lot to learn about Archicad and how it works, but our BIM experience from Bentley played a big part in the speed with which we have become comfortable with Archicad. In fact, when we purchased Archicad, we bought 8 hours of training and so far have used only 2.
However, instead of dwelling in the voluntary surrender of 18 years of experience we developed with Bentley, we shook our heads in regret for not having switched much sooner. What we like about Archicad so far…
- It is a much simpler program to learn and use, and we are amazed at how easy certain tasks can be completed.
- The program seems to be very powerful and reliable. So far we have not noticed any problems.
- You can work in both in 3-D or 2-D, and changes are bi-directional. Now that is nice! Try that with other programs.
- We like the way Archicad organizes your project in the project map, view map, layout book and publisher set. It saves us a lot of times and improves our quality control and coordination of documents. In other words, we have more time to design.
- We like how every tool has a consistent setting dialog that gives us control of the parametric input you need to design your project.
- We like the layer combination concept and also the different drawing views you can generate from the same plan for different project needs. Others are not even thinking about that, quite frankly.
- We were pleasantly surprised that you can dimension and annotate in 3-D perspective. Only a powerful and mature BIM application, focused solely in architecture, can do that. Can other programs?
- The cursor, thanks to the unique gravity feature of Graphisoft, recognizes dynamically any horizontal or vertical plane you hover over to place an object, regardless of the story in 3-D. That is genius, and there is nothing like it in any other BIM application.
- The priority-based connection is awesome, and so are the 3-D cutting planes that you can tilt and rotate. You can even stagger your section line, not to mention the trace reference. The on-line help center seldom disappoints us when we want to learn how to do something.
- Graphisoft is committed to Open BIM, and as long as we can exchange BIM models with our consultants through IFC, we do not see any need to use bundled programs. In fact, any BIM program that is worth its weight in gold should be committed to Open BIM.
After only a month and half of using Archicad, we are very pleased to have made the switch. There is a lot of hype about BIM today, but BIM can only move as fast as the computing power of the hardware in the marketplace, and while computing power has significantly increased since BIM made its entry on the scene a decade ago, the full potential of BIM will not be realized until computers become even more powerful and faster to comfortably handle the level of complexities and building detailing that the virtual world of BIM seeks to emulate without slowing the system down. Cloud computing, with delta file transfer, may be part of the solution.
Some software companies seem to think that application bundling is the way forward for BIM and IPD. At SYLLA we do not believe so. What we need first and foremost is a good BIM architectural application package that makes the architect’s design work its central preoccupation and gives us the tools we need to create good design, produce a good set of construction documents without the tedious and error-prone routines we are all too familiar with, and at the end turn up a good profit. That is not too much to ask for. As architects, we need to be vigilant about the BIM hype that copiously masks the shortcomings of architectural applications that are more fitting for engineering than architecture.
We need to demand that our needs be the driver of the software companies programming objectives and not let them tell us how we ought to use BIM based on unstated business models that are more self-serving than serving the needs of architects. At SYLLA we are not bashful about letting a software company know if the BIM application does not do what we expect it to do, and we think you should do the same too; otherwise, if they do not hear from us, they will assume everything is dandy. Is it?