GRAPHISOFT's BIM 2017 North America User Conference AECbytes Newsletter #86 (March 30, 2017)

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend GRAPHISOFT’s biennial conference focused on users of its ARCHICAD BIM application and related solutions such as BIMx and BIMcloud. This year’s event was held in Las Vegas and provided a learning and networking opportunity for GRAPHISOFT’s users in North America. The company is headquartered in Hungary, Budapest, where it was founded, and it is owned by the Germany-based Nemetschek AG, so it already has a local presence in Europe and will be hosting a similar conference in Japan in a couple of months for its customer base in Asia and Australia. I found the North American conference last week very interesting and informative, with keynote presentations by industry leaders on much broader issues than technology alone, ARCHICAD-focused sessions from power users and experts, as well as updates from GRAPHISOFT, including a sneak peek at some exciting new features in the upcoming version of ARCHICAD.

Keynote Presentations

The conference opened with a keynote by Kai-Uwe Bergmann, a partner at Bjarke Ingels Group (commonly referred to as BIG), a Danish architectural firm that was founded in 2005 and has expanded to over 400 employees, with offices in New York and London in addition to Copenhagen, with projects all over the world. While the firm is an advanced user of AEC technology solutions, the focus of Bergmann's presentation was on demonstrating some of the most representative projects of the firm and the rationale for their unique designs. It was a fascinating glimpse into the inside workings of an innovative design firm, and how that innovation has been recognized and translated into success with a growing number of projects, including the prestigious commission of Google's new headquarters in Mountain View, California (Figure 1), which is currently under construction.

Figure 1. Design of Google's new headquarters in Mountain View, CA, a joint project by BIG and the London-based architectural firm, Heatherwick Studio. (Courtesy: Bjarke Ingels Group and Heatherwick Studio)

Some of the projects that were showcased in the presentation included the VM residential project (the name comes from its shape as a V and an M when seen from Google Earth) in Copenhagen, characterized by zip-zagging, stepping, and sloping forms that maximize views and sunlight for all the apartments, and have wedge-shaped balconies designed to promote connections between neighbors (Figure 2, top left); the Mountain, another residential project located next to the VM project which made the required parking area a foundation shaped like a mountain and covered with cladding, over which the residential units were built (Figure 2, top right); a tetrahedron-shaped apartment tower in Manhattan that combines the typologies of the courtyard concept from Denmark and the skyscraper concept of Manhattan into what BIG calls a “courtscraper” (Figure 2, lower left); and a pair of high-rise luxury condominium towers in Miami that have twisted forms so that they appear to be side by side rather one being in the front and the other at the back (Figure 2, lower right).

Figure 2. Additional projects by Bjarke Ingels Group that were presented by Kai-Uwe Bergmann in his keynote. (Courtesy: Bjarke Ingels Group)

Bjarke Ingels Group almost exclusively uses Rhino and its Grasshopper algorithmic design functionality for conceptual design—which should come as no surprise given the kind of architecture it creates—and in 2013, it decided to move its Rhino-Grasshopper-2D AutoCAD workflow to BIM. After evaluating a number of BIM tools, it chose ARCHICAD primarily of its close bidirectional integration with Rhino/Grasshopper, providing the firm with the level of flexibility necessary to cater to its unique architectural designs. The ARCHICAD models are also now being used for analysis and simulation, the results of which drive the forms of its projects and ensure that all the design criteria, including space habitability, are satisfied.

The closing keynote of the conference was presented by Marc Kushner, partner at the architectural firm, Hollwich Kushner, and co-founder and CEO of the digital media platform, Architizer. The focus of his presentation was on how technology is changing the media landscape of architecture—architectural discourse is no longer limited to books and magazines but has a large, diverse, and increasingly more influential platform in social media. A good example of this is the fact that when Facebook opened its new Frank Gehry-designed campus in Silicon Valley, it first invited 50 Instagrammers to the opening event to take photographs rather than traditional architectural media. In a similar way, architects are getting the word out about their projects on social media, and it was to enable this that Architizer was launched. When it started in 2008, it was primarily a digital platform to help architects promote their firms’ work, but it has grown to become one of the largest platforms for architecture online, aggregating projects, products, brands, and news (Figure 3). It now also has a dedicated marketplace for building products called Architizer Source, which is being used by leading architectural firms like ShoP and Bjarke Ingels Group to find and specify products and materials for their designs more easily.

Figure 3. Projects shared by architecutral firms in Architizer.

Kushner also showed some of the work that his architectural firm is doing, which seems to be inspired, naturally, by the same thinking about social behavior that drives Architizer. This includes a temporary installation called Wendy that was born out of a competition entry in Long Island City, New York, by MoMA. It is constructed from a new material that cleans the air and therefore is designed to maximize its surface area. As shown in Figure 4 (top), it was a big hit with visitors as well and was subsequently bought and installed in Abu Dhabi. Another project that showed the focus of the firm on maximizing social interactions is the Pennovation Center at the University of Pennsylvania, which is the centerpiece of a new campus dedicated to entrepreneurship and innovation. While most of the building is occupied by labs and co-working areas, key social spaces are provided within a new angular facade that reaches outward towards the nearby river, including a bar, a board room, and bleacher seating, encouraging occupants to leave their desks and engage with their colleagues (Figure 4, bottom), fostering cooperation and discussion of ideas in a group setting.

Figure 4. Some architectural projects by Kushner's firm presented at the closing keynote. (Courtesy: Hollwich Kushner)

Updates from Graphisoft

While the conference had a dedicated session devoted to technology updates from Graphisoft, much of what was shared, in the forms of actual product demos, was confidential as it included features in the upcoming version of ARCHICAD, expected to be released in May. Therefore, I can’t say much except that I was extremely gratified to see some intelligent design tools along the lines of what I had written about in my 2015 article, Why Isn't There a Smarter BIM Tool for Building Design, Yet? However, I do have to mentionthat the demos of these features drew the most applause from the audience, showing how much professionals appreciate tools that can provide any kind of modeling shortcuts to reduce the tedium of creating a full-fledged BIM model.

Other technology updates that were shared include an overview of the latest enhancements in the real-time bi-directional Rhino/Grasshopper integration that was introduced in ARCHICAD 20 last year and was described in detail in my review of that release. The integration, which started off at the geometry level has now been expanded to the property level as well (Figure 5). This means that the design scripting capability of Grasshopper can be used to not only create the more free-form designs that are typically associated with Rhino, but also to drive data-dependent aspects of buildings such as seating configurations, layout of structural elements, configuration of facades, location of curtain walls, spatial layouts, etc.—anything that is driven by calculations. Once these are captured in the Grasshopper script tied to an ARCHICAD design, changing any of the parameters instantly changes the design, allowing it to be tweaked until the desired configuration is achieved.

Figure 5. The Rhino/Grasshopper-ARCHICAD integration being used to algorithmically design a facade. (Courtesy: GRAPHISOFT)

GRAPHISOFT also showed the latest version of its BIMx mobile app, which allows the complete BIM data, including both 3D views and 2D drawings, of an ARCHICAD project to be accessed through an iPad or Android tablet. Using this app, all project stakeholders can quickly access the complete construction documentation of a building, including at the job site. The BIMx model can also be used for operations and maintenance, as demonstrated by the integration of BIMx with the FM application, ArchiFM, which allows the elements scheduled for maintenance to be seen in the model. The new version of BIMx includes a Measure tool for getting precise dimensions off a model or a drawing, allows push notifications, allows projects to be stored on services such as DropBox and Google Drive, and supports the Split View feature of Apple’s new iPad Pro (Figure 6). BIMx also now supports VR (virtual reality) functionality through the Google Cardboard viewer, allowing users to load their phones with the BIMx app into Google Cardboard and subsequently navigate a project in the 3D space simply by turning their heads in the desired direction. And finally, a key new feature is the ability to publish a BIMx model as an interactive, panoramic 360 degree view on Facebook, where it can be shared even with those who don’t have the BIMx app.

Figure 6. A screenshot from an iPad Pro showing the BIMx app and a product page (linked from the 3D model directly) in Safari next to each other using the iOS Split Views feature. (Courtesy: GRAPHISOFT)

User Sessions

A critical component of the conference was the opportunity to learn from power users and experts about the finer details of ARCHICAD and how it was being implemented. I was able to get a feel for both aspects from the three sessions I attended. In the session, “Beyond Design: How to Manage Construction with ARCHICAD,” John Hallgarth of 3DCONSTRUCTOR showed how ARCHICAD could be used as the central platform for managing documents, models, data and workflows, providing an effective solution to the many challenges facing contractors today in the AEC industry. Chief among these is how to leverage common BIM data, given the fact that the different players involved—designers, sub-contractors, and general contractors—each use a variety of different applications resulting in isolated workflows and lack of coordination. With its high level of interoperability, all of these models can be brought into ARCHICAD and put together to get a consolidated model of the project and be able to perform design coordination and clash detection. The Virtual Trace feature in ARCHICAD (introduced many years ago in ARCHICAD 11 and described in this Tips and Tricks article) makes it possible to quickly compare model revisions, both in 2D and 3D. In addition to ARCHICAD, two additional applications that indispensable for construction management are Excel and Bluebeam Revu for tasks such as estimating, scheduling, drawing management, team sharing, and project archiving. Once the project is ready for construction, the model—assuming it has been kept updated—can be used to create 3d XYZ points to export to handheld controllers for robotic field layout.

In another session I attended, “Creating Your Technology Toolkit for Sustainable Design,” a team from Orcutt | Winslow comprising Ashley Mulhall, Chuck Kottka, Matt Johnson, and Amy Kim, providing a fascinating look at how their firm has compiled a toolkit of applications to address different aspects of sustainable building design and meet the ever-increasing requirements of certification programs like LEED v4 and The Living Building Challenge. A long-time user of ARCHICAD, Orcutt | Winslow’s toolkit includes ARCHICAD, of course, and several additional solutions that are complimentary to it, including Sefaira, SketchUp, and Velux. ArchiCAD itself is used extensively, not just for creating the main BIM model that is used as the basis for analysis, but also for tasks critical to sustainable design such as sun studies and thermal bridging (Figure 7). The toolkit also includes applications for cost estimating and carbon footprint and lifecycle analysis, looking at the sustainability impact of design designs in the long term. The presentation was so informative and relevant to sustainable design—which is rapidly emerging as the most critical design issue today—that I will be covering it in a dedicated article in a month or two.

Figure 7. The use of ArchiCAD by Orcutt | Winslow for sun studies and thermal bridging. (Courtesy: Orcutt | Winslow)

And finally, I was able to attend the session, “It's All About Objects: How to Expand ARCHICAD's Content,” by Tom Simmons of ARCHVISTA Consulting, who provided a comprehensive overview of how to get content into ArchiCAD, particularly high-quality objects that reflect real products. He reviewed online resources such as BIMcomponents.com, which is exclusively for ARCHICAD objects; SketchUp’s 3D Warehouse, which carries a huge repository of 3D models that can be simply dropped and dropped into ArchiCAD; Modlar, which provides free access to manufacturers’ component models, many of which are in the ArchiCAD format; bimobject.com, which has the largest content of BIM objects (as opposed to just geometry models like the 3D Warehouse); DesignConnected, which primarily has content for interior design and also controls the creation of the content, resulting in higher quality models; TurboSquid, which is a large resource of content for all 3D artists and is not AEC-specific; and 3Dsky, which also provides more controlled, and therefore higher-quality content, but includes free objects as well. The presentation also discussed the different object file formats, the difference between BIM and non-BIM objects, and how to reduce the polygon count of the objects to make them less “heavy” and more usable in the model.

Conclusions

This was my first visit to an ARCHICAD user conference, and I was impressed by the quality of the presentations, both the keynotes as well as the learning sessions. And, of course, it was exciting to get a sneak peak of ARCHICAD 21 in advance of its release. GRAPHISOFT may not have the implementation numbers (yet) to compete with industry leaders Autodesk and Bentley, but it has a reputation for being a solid technology company that is constantly innovating and goes out of its way to work with its users. This was very much in evidence at its user conference, and it’s great that the AEC industry has a nimble technology company that can keep the other vendors on their toes.

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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