Graphisoft’s Archicad 27 aims to put the fun back into BIM
Last month, I spent time with the Graphisoft team in Budapest, ostensibly for the launch of the newest version of Archicad (27, of those keeping count) but really to get a glimpse into what the team there sees as the main issues facing architects, designers and their clients. And that’s not what you might think.
First, let’s cover the main advantages of BIM, building information modeling. The original concept, about 25 years ago, was to create a associative environment for AEC structures, like what we’d already had in the mechanical design world for a while at that point. Move a door, and the wall adjusts. Source that door from a specific vendor and have its attributes change, and all doors in the BIM model update. Need to count those doors? BIM can do that. We’ve always been able to design buildings using 2D CAD (and many happily do that); BIM was supposed to make life easier for architects and designers working on large, complex structures with many components, trades, and disciplines to keep track of. And then, of course, BIM was supposed to automatically spit out drawings, parts lists, tallies, and all of the paper that AEC projects generate.
Along the way, using BIM created new opportunities for architects and designers. We added more disciplines into BIM, enabled simulation and digital collaboration, and the sophisticated renderings made possible by software and computing innovations became expected deliverables. And then we sort of …. stalled. BIM models got too big to be practical, we never did get rid of all of that paper, and architects and designers felt like they were busy feeding the BIM-beast rather than being creative.
Graphisoft CEO Huw Roberts said that Archicad 27 aims to change that. Yes, Archicad 27 does all of the tech things, but is fun, too. He wants Archicad to be the best design platform for architects and engineers, an integrated platform of tools, services, support, and learning, enabling multidisciplinary collaboration in a flexible, open environment. All of that. But it should also put fun and creativity back into BIM. Go here to see the details of the release —it covers much more than I can fit here— but my main takeaways are this:
- There are always nits to improve upon. The release includes various drawing generation enhancements, from line fonts and symbols to placement. Those aren’t world-beaters but are essential to architects and their construction partners. Release 27 also includes productivity tools such as distance guides to exactly place elements and attribute management to more easily deal with the non-visual aspects of design: nits, but very important nits.
What’s more interesting to me is how Graphisoft looks at parametric design, AI-assisted all-sorts-of-things, building lifecycle assessment, sustainable design, and simulation to improve how buildings are designed, built, and operated. Just a couple of examples (really, look at the video linked above for much more):
- Asset owners expect to be shown choices, and Archicad 27’s new Design Options feature makes this easy. We already see this in the mechanical CAD world, where these are called branches: starting from a common (trunk) point, the designer can create alternatives to any desired level of detail without losing the common starting point or making irrevocable decisions for all options.
- The Graphisoft team showed this using an office building: do we want one solid rectangle, staggered towers, or two towers coming off a solid base? Since these option branches are models and not artistic renderings, calculations can be carried out to help evaluate the options’ cost, constructability, environmental footprint, and other factors. Elements worth keeping can be merged into the stream, and design can continue. Graphisoft said 27 is its first go at this capability, but what it showed was already impressive.
Like everyone else, Graphisoft is trying to figure out how to introduce artificial intelligence into its products. Its take is that AI has its best first use in conceptual design and created a conceptual image generation tool that uses public-domain images to generate options for further refinement.
So, for example, we’re designing a modern-look office building with wood in the facade. Our concept is stacked, offset blocks; we send that off to the AI engine and get back several options, one of which is shown in Graphisoft’s example, below.
- The AI-generated image is just a pretty picture, and we can use text-based prompts to keep changing the image until we get to something our client likes. These images are meant to be “conversation starters” between clients and architects, and to give the designer a starting point from which to do the actual design in Archicad.
- This capability is a real differentiator and a genuinely imaginative use of AI in a space that’s right now looking at AI to speed up the mundane, tasks that are essential, like drawing creation, but where AI is often more complicated to implement.
- Graphisoft’s capability is powered by Stable Diffusion, a text-to-image tool that generates photorealistic images from any text input. Stable Diffusion says its images “are fully open source, explicitly falling under the CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.” Check their site often to see if this has changed, and know your region’s copyright laws. Graphisoft says this initial release relies on publicly available data but that future releases might work with in-house images to enable architects to leverage their own branded or iconic “looks.”
Before we leave the topic of AI, Graphisoft says it doesn’t see AI replacing anyone, anytime soon. I unfortunately can’t remember which Graphisoft-er told me this, but they see AI as helper technology, offering options (as does this ideation tool), and making preliminary guesses for humans to finalize.
Although I don’t write about it often, Graphisoft is more than Archicad. BIMcloud, BIMx, and DDScad enable it to address the broader building design ecosystem, while more robust integrations with other Nemetschek brands, like Solibri, Frilo, Risa, and Scia brands, allow it to compete head-to-head with the industry’s biggest player, Autodesk Revit. (More about that Nemetschek-ness of things in a separate post.)
- In this release, the mechanical-electrical-plumbing (MEP) solution, DDScad, gets access to out-of-the-box manufacturer data, ties into openBIM, and other enhancements.
- BIMcloud is Graphisoft’s cloud-based collaboration engine, available in private and public cloud configurations. The September update enhances security with multi-factor authentication and other updates.
- Finally, the BIMx mobile and web project coordination app saw enhancements in issue reporting, among other things. Issues can be created in BIMx using markup tools and then migrated to Archicad or other solutions for resolution. One cool thing added to BIMx in this release is the ability to specify a date and time for accurate sun positioning. This allows architects to create authentic, moving shadows, meaning they can show clients actual, natural lighting conditions — in a web app. So cool.
That’s a lot.
What’s my take? In the greater scheme of things, Graphisoft is a smaller player working hard to gain international recognition (it really needs to crack the North American market) and has decided that “Enhancing your creative expression to infinity while taking the boring out of design” is the best way to go. I think it’s working. Simply automating what humans do is necessary but not exciting — yes, we need to generate drawings more quickly, change fonts easily, and all that. But what energizes people is being creative: how can they beat their competitors by coming up with a more innovative design? Or by offering their clients something unique, perhaps the ability to compare the energy efficiency of several alternatives in real-time. Yes, the drawing has to happen — but that doesn’t mean we can’t have more fun along the way.
While I was in Budapest, I also got to meet with Graphisoft CEO Huw Roberts and Nemetschek’s Cesar Rodriguez; that conversation will be the topic of a future blog post. Suffice to say, for now, that Nemetschek really values its Graphisoft brand and sees it as integral to its digital twin vision. More on that soon.
Note: Graphisoft graciously covered some of the expenses associated with my participation in the event but did not in any way influence the content of this post. The cover picture is of (left to right) Ron Close, Márton Kiss and Huw Roberts during their media/analyst presentation, taken by me; I grabbed the uncredited photos from Graphisoft’s web stream of the event.