ARCHICAD 22 AECbytes Review (July 12, 2018)
As with each new release of ARCHICAD, the new version that was released a few weeks ago also revolves around a theme named after a breakthrough improvement (see my reviews of ARCHICAD 21 released last year as well as reviews of earlier releases). For ARCHICAD 22, the theme is “BIM Inside and Out.” The “inside” in this case refers to the many enhancements for modeling and managing the information within the BIM model, while the “out” refers to the dramatic improvements in the Curtain Wall tool which greatly speed up and simplify the design of building façades, whether they are composed of straight lines or irregular shapes (Figure 1). Let’s explore these two key features in more detail, along with the many additional improvements related to productivity, workflow, and performance in ARCHICAD 22.
Radically Improved Façade Design
Façades of any kind are modeled in ARCHICAD with the Curtain Wall tool, and they have typically been one of the most complex architectural components to design—and one of the most critical, given that they almost entirely define the “look” of the building. Prior to ARCHICAD 22, the Curtain Wall tool was like any other modeling tool—you could use to model a façade if you knew exactly what you wanted to do. But it did not really support an iterative, experimental, form-finding design process easily—in other words, it was really a modeling tool than a design tool per se.
In ARCHICAD 22, façade design is still done with the Curtain Wall tool. The most common workflow is where you detail out the main pattern of the curtain wall in the Settings dialog and it is then created by repeating the pattern across the surface of the façade (Figure 2). There are now several enhancements in this dialog that make it much easier and faster to experiment with different design ideas. For example, you can very easily edit the pattern by adding or merging panels, adding or deleting frames, adding diagonal frames, changing whether a panel is solid or glazed, changing the dimensions of any of the components, specifying their material properties, and so on. As shown in Figure 3, even quick edits to the pattern completely change the façade design and the ensuing look of the building.
Additional enhancements in the dialog include the ability to control the divisions to determine not only how the pattern will be tiled across a surface but also wrap around adjoining surfaces, and the ability to create free-standing facades for aesthetics and/or shading by simply deleting the panels, both of which are demonstrated in Figure 4.
In addition to editing the repeating pattern for façade design in the Curtain Wall Settings dialog, you can also edit the façade directly in an Edit Mode where you can make changes to specific parts of it without changing the repeating pattern that defines the entire façade. This is shown in Figure 5, where some frames have been added, others deleted, and the material of one of the panels has been changed from the other panels. You could also use this Edit mode to directly create the repeating pattern for the façade which was not possible in earlier versions (Figure 6), or even create the entire façade if there is no repeating pattern.
Another new feature which will be greatly appreciated by façade designers is the ability to import a sketch of a pattern, draw over it, and then using that pattern for the curtain wall, leading to some fascinating façade designs as shown in Figure 7.
ARCHICAD’s bidirectional integration with Rhino-Grasshopper adds an additional layer of sophistication to its new façade design capabilities. You can not only create a curtain wall using a Grasshopper script, you can also algorithmically change aspects such as the panel distribution, panel type, frame density, frame type, and so on in gradations over the surface of the façade, leading to instantaneous pattern variations in a curtain wall (see Figure 8) that could not have been achieved with ARCHICAD alone.
Parametric Profiles and Expressions
In addition to the dramatically improved capabilities for exterior building design, ARCHICAD 22 also turns inward—making it easier to model the individual building elements as well as manage the information within the BIM model. The former has been achieved by the ability to create smart parametric profiles for the cross-sections of elements such as columns, beams, and walls. What this does is allow a single profile for an element to be defined and subsequently be used for multiple elements of that type that might vary only slightly from each other. Earlier, separate profiles would have to be created for each type, even if there were only minor differences in geometry, but now only a single profile can be created with multiple modifiers, and it can be automatically adjusted to accommodate slight changes by changing the appropriate modifiers. An example is shown in Figure 9, where a single parametric profile created with multiple modifiers is used in different partition walls in a model which vary slightly from each other.
The improvement in the information management capability in ARCHICAD 22 comes from the ability to include user-defined expressions in the Property Manager to calculate new values for element properties based on its existing properties. An example is shown in Figure 10, where the building with the hand-drawn façade from Figure 7 needs to be evaluated for natural lighting. The Property Manager shows several properties that are calculated by expressions. These expressions, in turn, can be defined using other properties of the element, mathematical formulas, logical operations, etc. The expressions can also include text, as shown in the example, where the “Evaluation result” property performs a calculation and then displays a text message based on the calculation. If you now create a schedule that includes the “Evaluation result” property for the building, the expression will be calculated for each room and the corresponding text will be displayed based on the result of the calculation.
Along with the major enhancements supporting its “BIM Inside and Out” theme, ARCHICAD 22 has many additional improvements related to performance and productivity. Continued improvements to its multi-processing capabilities have increased the responsiveness of the application, with smoother navigation for all model views, including 2D and 3D, even in large and complex projects. Generation of complex element fills, cut- and cover surfaces are "GPU-accelerated" (performed by the computer graphics processing unit) and therefore faster. There is also some use of machine learning in the background processing—it anticipates future user actions and prepares for them in the background, offering further improvements in overall responsiveness.
On the productivity front, there are several design, documentation and collaboration workflow improvements. The rule-based Stair and Railing tools introduced in ARCHICAD 21 have been enhanced so that you now visualize and use stair headroom for collision detection (Figure 11) and model sloped railings and railing panels more accurately. There are new connection types for stairs of different types. In addition, there are now country-specific representation standards for stairs to improve their documentation.
The bi-directional integration with Rhino-Grasshopper, in addition to working with the new façade design elements, has been enhanced with a "De-Constructor" function that allows you to use a reversed data workflow and channel ARCHICAD element data to the Rhino-Grasshopper platform (Figure 12). As a result, architects can perform design optimization and validation using the vast set of Grasshopper and Rhino extensions.
For documentation, the new façade design capabilities have been matched with the ability to create customizable, scale-sensitive representation of the façade elements at any level of detail. Schedules can be created that provide very accurate lists of all details of the created panels, frames, mullions, and even accessories of a façade. Another key documentation enhancement is the ability to create custom graphical labels with any combination of drawing primitives (lines, arcs, polylines, etc.) and text blocks (including element-related Autotexts).
Additional improvements include automatic element reservation in ARCHICAD’s Teamwork collaboration module, improved IFC import export, and high-resolution support on Windows 10.
ARCHICAD continues to have a “wow” factor in every release and for ARCHICAD 22, it is undoubtedly the revamped Curtain Wall tool, which has been so dramatically improved from previous versions that it seems brand-new even though it is not. Not only does it make façade design a lot easier, it also makes it much more fun, which is significant because in this age of BIM and VDC, the fun factor in practicing architecture seems to have all but disappeared. Thus, while the revamped Curtain Wall tool is a far cry from the rule-based Stair and Railing tools of ARCHICAD 21 from a technology perspective—it is (very) clever engineering but not “smart” in the sense of being driven by rules and standards—it goes a long way towards strengthening ARCHICAD’s positioning as being, first and foremost, a tool for architectural design that can nurture the creativity which attracts architects to the profession in the first place.