GRAPHISOFT 2019 Key Client ConferenceAECbytes Newsletter #97 (June 20, 2019)
GRAPHISOFT’s 2019 KCC event was held earlier this month in Las Vegas, and similar to the 2017 event that was held in Tokyo (see AECbytes Newsletter #88) , it included updates from GRAPHISOFT, the global launch of ARCHICAD 23 (Figure 1), and presentations from several firms across the world on how they are using GRAPHISOFT solutions. Dubbed the “Reimagine” conference, this event was the first to also introduce GRAPHISOFT’s new CEO, Huw Roberts, an architect and AEC industry veteran who was with Bentley Systems for 18 years. (GRAPHISOFT’s former CEO, Viktor Várkonyi, has moved on to head the Planning and Design Division at GRAPHISOFT’s parent company, Nemetschek.)
The KCC is a small invitation-only event rather than a user conference as such—this year’s roster included about 400 attendees—and it provided me with the opportunity to learn in depth about GRAPHISOFT’s current outlook, upcoming releases, future plans, partner products, and implementation stories. The smaller setting also enabled me to get a better understanding of some of the more technical aspects underlying AEC technology solutions such as the APIs that are used to integrate different applications. I will cover this in a later article, as well as the customer implementations that were presented. For now, a broad overview of the event and the main updates from GRAPHISOFT are presented here.
GRAPHISOFT’s “State of the Union”
GRAPHISOFT continues to remain a strong and stable company that has cemented its position as one of the top brands of parent company Nemetschek, which is one of the very few large technology companies in the world that is entirely focused on AEC. GRAPHISOFT itself has not wavered from its focus on architectural design since it was founded in 1982, and it is this dedicated focus to architecture that is largely responsible for the strong commitment that it inspires in its user base. The company, in turn, is very dedicated to its customers, and this mutually supportive relationship along with, as the CEO put it at the KCC event, a “no BS” culture, has not only ensured the strength and stability of the company but also a very loyal customer base all over the world. To date, I have not met a single GRAPHISOFT customer who is not happy with the company.
While GRAPHISOFT is best known for its flagship architectural BIM application, ARCHICAD, its BIMx mobile app for viewing and navigating BIM models is continuing to gain momentum, not only for presenting design concepts to clients but also for team collaboration on the project extending all the way to the construction site. Both the free version as well as the paid version, BIMx PRO, package the complete project information, including the 3D views and 2D drawings, of an ARCHICAD project into an integrated “hyper-model,” enabling the design to be accessed and reviewed in detail from any device (Figure 2). The PRO version adds additional features for team coordination and collaboration. GRAPHISOFT also has a cloud application called BIMcloud for enabling extended design teams to work together in real-time on an ARCHICAD project. BIMcloud integrates with BIMx and it also includes a free version in addition to a paid version.
The unwavering focus of GRAPHISOFT on architectural design has been greatly facilitated, from a business perspective, by it being part of the strong ecosystem of the Nemetschek Group, whose products collectively cover all main disciplines of AEC, including architecture, structure, civil engineering, and construction coordination (Figure 3). Nemetschek is also starting to move towards covering the FM side of AEC with the acquisition last August of MCS Solutions group, a leading software provider for facility management, workplace management, and smart building solutions. All the applications from the different Nemetschek brands work together using OPEN BIM, which was pioneered by GRAPHISOFT and continues to be its the main guiding principle. In addition, tighter integration between some of the applications using their APIs is also underway. All in all, GRAPHISOFT is a robust company that is continuing to grow steadily, and by not spreading itself too thin, it can invest its time and resources on improving its products and supporting its customer base.
The global launch of the new version of ARCHICAD, which was streamed live, was held at the KCC event, giving us the opportunity to see it in person. There is no single over-riding theme to this year’s release; instead, it features a host of features for improved modeling, coordination, productivity, and performance. Topping the list are revamped Beam and Column tools that makes these elements faster to model and fine-tune for all types of structures—reinforced concrete, complex steel, timber, as well as composite beams and columns. For example, previously, beams in ARCHICAD could only be horizontally curved; now they can be curved in the vertical plane as well (Figure 4). Similarly, there is support for the modeling and documentation of more complex columns. In addition to more accurate construction details and quantity estimations, the enhancements also provide better support for prefabricated structures.
For improved coordination between architects and engineers, a new Opening tool has been introduced to model a mechanical void as a specific element type rather than something that has just been left over when modeling physical elements such as wall, slabs, beams, etc., or else, the intersection of two physical elements—such as a beam going through a wall—that is detected geometrically and deleted. These voids can now be modeled with the Opening tool. They can cut through multiple elements at the same time (Figure 5), can be labeled and scheduled just like any other building element, and are automatically shown in 2D drawings with the correct symbols. At more advanced design stages, you could also import the voids needed by the mechanical engineers in IFC format and cut all these openings from the model in one step. There is even the ability to specify a clearance for the openings, for example, 1 inch all around, which eliminates the tedious and painstaking task of creating each void manually based on the requirements of the mechanical engineer (Figure 6).
The other main enhancements in ARCHICAD 23 include improved performance, especially noticeable in operations such as file open, redraw, and refresh that are much faster; a new Startup dialog that shows slideshows of projects rather than just a single thumbnail image to help the user choose which project to open; the ability to open multiple projects at once; a new Action Center that collates all diagnostic data; and actual model previews in view tabs which makes it easier to choose a view to open when there are many tabs. We will take a more detailed look at ARCHICAD 23 when it is released in September.
There were some additional updates shared by GRAPHISOFT related to its BIMx mobile app. BIMx will soon use a new engine that opens models faster even on devices with low specs, such as the model of the project shown in Figure 7, which comprises 15 million polygons. The ability to open such large models has been achieved by changing BIMx’s underlying technology—the entire model is no longer loaded into memory, but is instead streamed on demand, loading into memory only what needs to be visible in the view at any time.
Other updates include a new Web Viewer for BIMx, allowing the models to be seen and reviewed on a platform-independent Web browser in addition to being available on the BIMx app on a phone or tablet. This opens up the sharing and collaboration capability of BIMx to a much wider audience as well as providing an alternative to those who would prefer to view models on their computer or those who have not downloaded the app. BIMx also now supports the use of an external gaming controller to navigate the model, and we saw a demo of this at the launch event with an Xbox controller.
The real-time bidirectional integration of ARCHICAD with Rhino and Grasshopper has been a key strength of ARCHICAD, incentivizing those architects who use Grasshopper’s powerful scripting technology to create conceptual designs to also use ARCHICAD as their BIM tool for further developing and detailing the design. Introduced three years ago in ARCHICAD 20, this live connection, which allows native ARCHICAD/BIM elements such as walls, doors, windows, slabs, and columns to be used to create a design script in Grasshopper and then brought back to ARCHICAD, has been expanded to include new ARCHICAD elements in every release. The latest one is surfaces. You can now access ARCHICAD surface geometry in Grasshopper, which allows different design surface iterations to be quickly explored as well as analyzed and optimized. Additionally, you can use some of Grasshopper’s plug-ins that allow sunlight and shading analysis of façade geometry. This can be used in conjunction with the ability to control parametric profiles with Grasshopper scripts and design shading devices that meet desired performance goals (Figure 8).
A new partnership that was announced at the KCC event between GRAPHISOFT and Epic Games comes in the wake of the recent acquisition of the powerful AEC-focused visualization solution, Twinmotion, by Epic Games. Developer of the Unreal Engine that is already used extensively by architectural firms for visualization (see Figure 9), Epic Games is venturing further into the AEC industry with its Twinmotion acquisition (see an overview of Twinmotion in AECbytes Newsletter #89). While Twinmotion already includes direct synchronization with ARCHICAD, Epic Games is working with GRAPHISOFT on developing the next generation of Twinmotion to include real-time raytracing, a cutting-edge rendering technology which can render scenes so realistically that they are virtually indistinguishable from actual photographs. (I wrote about real-time raytracing in my recent article on NVIDIA’s GTC Conference.) Epic Games will also be providing ARCHICAD 23 customers with free access to Twinmotion’s upcoming enhanced version, encouraging architects and designers to use real-time visualization solutions to help better design and communicate their design concepts.
In addition to current developments and product updates, GRAPHISOFT provided a sneak peak into some of the future ideas it is working on. These include direct integrations in ARCHICAD with some of the other Nemetschek applications including RISA for structural analysis, dRofus for BIM property management, and Solibri for model checking and coordination. With improved multi-disciplinary support, the use of ARCHICAD can be expected to extend further into the design and construction phase of a project, and with greater usage comes the need to manage more models and version control. This will be greatly facilitated by significantly enhanced model comparison capabilities in ARCHICAD, where even changes in parameters can be tracked. The integration of both ARCHICAD and BIMx with BIMcloud is being improved, allowing BIMcloud to be used more easily and extensively for project collaboration and model coordination. GRAPHISOFT has a new Labs initiative for incubating future innovations related to technologies such as IoT, AI, AR, and others.
Additionally, one of the most significant future developments is the expansion of the APIs for both ARCHICAD and BIMx, which will allow their capabilities to be extended in several ways by third-party solutions. In addition to ARCHICAD’s main C++ API, it will continue developing APIs for Python and JSON, which not only allows integration with established solutions like Rhino and Grasshopper, but also with newer solutions such as Digital Blue Foam, a web-based tool to support early-stage building design and automate feasibility analysis that presented its technology at the KCC event. We also saw a lot of scripts and widgets that can be written by customers themselves to automate different tasks in ARCHICAD. BIMx also has its own API, which will allow its core functionality to be extended in many ways with plugins and connections. We saw a fascinating technology preview developed by an Italian firm showing how they had extended BIMx for facilities management and operation.
GRAPHISOFT’s 2019 KCC event reaffirmed its strong and stable position in the AEC technology field. I find it heartening that a company that is so focused on its technology and its customers rather than on public perception and competition has not only survived but thrived, creating a solid niche for itself in the AEC technology marketplace. I was a little disappointed that were no “wow” enhancements in ARCHICAD 23 similar to the rule-based Stair and Railing tools in ARCHICAD 21, but I can appreciate the need to prioritize customer requirements and wish-lists, especially in light of the customer work that was showcased at the event.
However, while rule-based design may be “far out there,” I do hope that AEC technology developers continue to devote some of their developmental resources in every release to pushing the envelope and developing technologies that may not be immediately required by customers but will eventually further the state of the art in the field. Just as robots are being developed to do tedious and repetitive tasks in fields such as manufacturing, the AEC technology field could certainly do with smarter tools to reduce the tedium of modeling and documenting building designs. BIM has been a great improvement over CAD, for sure, but it is only the tip of the iceberg. Thanks to human ingenuity, computational technology is getting increasingly more powerful, and we can certainly do better on the AEC technology front than stopping with BIM.
GRAPHISOFT’s work on expanding the APIs to its products is extremely promising in that regard, and I am looking forward to seeing how they are developed and used, especially in increasing the “intelligent quotient” of technology application in AEC.