It has been nearly a year since we switched from Bentley BIM solutions to Archicad, and if the question is: was it worth it? The answer is absolutely yes. To what do we attribute that affirmative answer? Quite simply to an unquestionable increase in productivity and a renewed interest in practicing architecture and tackling our projects with a BIM tool that does not get in our way but makes our workflow a smoother way of getting our work done.
A year ago, it was a little risky to leave behind a program we knew well and embrace a new one we did not know enough about, but it was a calculated risk we were comfortable taking because we knew BIM and used BIM-related tools for many years. So when we decided to switch (see Why SYLLA Switched to Archicad), our search was formed and informed by our many years of BIM experience and our confidence in knowing what we were looking for, which was a single, mature BIM application, whose maker made it its sole preoccupation. Granted that Nemetschek, the parent company of Graphisoft, is involved in several other BIM and Cad programs, we were satisfied that Graphisoft, who is behind Archicad, directs it focus almost solely on its BIM flagship application.
We were not looking for the most popular and nor the most widely used BIM solution. That would have meant handing over an important business decision to someone else, whose mindset, experience and business model we could not fairly make our own, nor find it suitable to follow their footsteps we could not trace back to where and how it all started. Of course, we are always excited to see someone blaze their own trail to glory and success, but we like blazing our own as well.
Like anyone who picks up a new tool, we have a long way to go before reaching the same level of proficiency we built up over a 19-year period with Bentley products. But at the same time, we have learned a lot about Archicad in a 12-month period, and even with a comparatively lower level of proficiency with the new program, we have undoubtedly become more productive than ever before. Though we have written several blogs about BIM and Archicad on this blogpost, we want this time to share our insights into our experience with Archicad.
We will start with the “bad”– because the list is not long–and end with the “good.” The first major shortcoming we found with Archicad was short-lived. Archicad did not have a good photo-realistic rendering engine when we made the switch, but a few months later, the release of Archicad 18 brought with it Cinerender that is as good as any rendering engine on the market, only faster based on your rendering needs. Furthermore, Cinerender can crank out renderings in the background while you are working on your project.
Second, Archicad operates with a lot more keyboard strokes than we are used to. Example: “Ctrl + D” to move or copy object instead of right-clicking for the same operation. After nearly a year of using Archicad, we still forget to hit “Ctrl” a second time to copy something and the net effect: you move something without realizing that you wanted to copy it. But that is how Archicad works and we just have to get used to it.
Third, despite what has been explained to us, the orbit command still does not work the way we think it should. When we zoom up close to an object and orbit; the area of interest disappears off the screen and you have to zoom out and orbit to what you want to see and zoom in again. We would no discount the fact that we may not fully know how to orbit, but Bentley MicroStation has a much better way, because it gives you a moveable cross (the same cross Archicad has) to snap onto any object, and that defines your fixed rotation point when you orbit, no matter how close or far you are on the visible part of the screen. (Please note that this third item is no longer a problem for us because we discovered that when you orbit while in perspective mode you have a much better control rotating the model, and we did not know that before, as we used to orbit mostly in axonometry mode.)
Fourth, Archicad comes with several stair objects that work well. However, the process of building your own is not as intuitive as it should be, and it needs to be simplified. In fact, stairs are one of the hardest things for BIM programmers to design due to its large number of variables and programming complexities. Almost all BIM applications today struggle with it. Setting aside the stair geometry and configuration (straight, U, L or curved shape) and whether the stairs are open or closed risers, and the type of stringers and railings used, as architects, we need only a few variables to build a stair, and they are as follows: floor to floor height, stair width, riser height and tread depth, and an ability to calibrate the latter two to meet code and design intent. That is it. The BIM application needs to figure out the rest, including how long the stair is going to be and the numbers of risers needed.
Lastly, architects are increasingly relying on generative design programs that go all the way to fabrication. Some Archicad users have suggested that Graphisoft use its GDL programming language to develop a similar program, and if it did, it would be a great tool for its users who want to push the design envelope, and we certainly would use it, as we had already become very familiar with Bentley’s Generative Components. But that is a judgment call Graphisoft has to make based on its business priority of serving the core needs of its users. In our view, if developing such tool would take resources away from further improving Archicad, then it may not be wise. (Since we first made the blogpost, Graphisoft has found a smart workable solution. It has partnered with Robert McNeel & Associates, the makers of popular NURBS surface-modeling program Rhino. Now Archicad can connects with Rhino, which means essentially that you can design in Rhino and use complex NURBS surfaces and export it into Archicad as GDL objects. This was a brilliant move by Graphisoft, and we have great expectations about further developments of this new partnership with the makers of Rhino)
A comprehensive list of what we like about Archicad would take several blogposts, including those we have already written. After several months of using Archicad, we now have a better feel for how Archicad “thinks,” and it is embodied in its single biggest benefit: WORKFLOW, which translates into productivity. The ease with which a design moves from the Project Map, the View Map, the Layout Book, and on to Publishing, without the architect instigating much beyond modeling and saving some views, saves us an incredible amount of time and reduces the effort needed for quality control, which is nothing more than having to go back to catch mistakes that a cumbersome BIM application did not help you prevent in the first place. Archicad has increased our confidence in being able to produce better quality documents that are more coordinated. It has also helped us handle even more work with the same staff.
We like the fact that Archicad is an object-oriented BIM application. Nearly everything we put in an Archicad model is a 3-D object, and increasingly parametric. In fact, when you are in 3-D, only a few 2-D tools are available in Archicad. We call this positive constraint, because drawing in a 3-D model is a bad habit and a Cad vestige best left in the 20th Century. Nothing is as powerful in Archicad as the relationship between the View Map and the layer combination. This is where Archicad sets its self apart from many BIM applications. The ability to generate multiple views of a floor plan, elevation or section to serve multiple project needs without having to recreate them is a “BIM tour de force” that has improved our workflow significantly.
We have written before about Archicad’s priority-based connection. It is a BIM breakthrough that bridges the gap between design and construction documents, and we hope Graphisoft will fully exploit its BIM potential and develop it further.
We have found that the more you know Archicad, the more it becomes fun to use. It is easy to learn, and when you are used to other cumbersome BIM applications, you approach Archicad with nervousness about what to expect, until you realize that it is so simple and logical that when you get to an intermediate level of proficiency and understand how Archicad “thinks,” you can figure out a lot of things on your own. It is this ease of figuring things out and grasping the underlying logic upon which it is built that makes Archicad so much fun to use.
In our next blogpost, we will describe the approach we took to get up to speed with Archicad and the training that helped us get to where we are today. We will put the spotlight on the important role the Archicad user community has played in hastening our learning pace.