A few weeks ago, Graphisoft held a virtual AEC industry summit, which brought together experts from around the world to share their knowledge and best practices on topics including sustainable architecture, digital workflows, immersive visualization, and empowering future architects and engineers. While this three-day “Building Together” event was packed with insightful presentations which can be seen in their entirety at https://events.graphisoft.com/event/building-together-2022, an overview of some of the sessions is captured in this article, providing a window into how some of Graphisoft’s global customers are using BIM and other advanced technologies in their firms.
Enzyme is a global architectural firm headquartered in Hong Kong that has not only implemented advanced AEC technologies in its own design work but also provides digital consulting services to other firms in the creation and implementation of smarter workflows. At the Building Together event, Jorge Beneitez, Enzyme’s Founding Partner, shared some of the cutting-edge technology work the firm has been doing, all of which is centered around their use of Archicad which Enzyme has been using since it was founded. The BIM methodology is used by the firm on all of its projects, ranging in scale from city planning to interior design. Some of these are shown in Figure 1.
In addition to Archicad, which has always been the backbone of their workflow, Enzyme uses several other applications that work very well with Archicad such as Rhino/Grasshopper, Twinmotion, Solibri, and others, that are shown in Figure 2. The firm is also able to easily connect with other partner companies that may be using different applications through OpenBIM. For team collaboration, Enzyme uses Graphisoft BIMcloud — a natural choice given its use of Archicad —and commonly used applications like DropBox, Slack, and G-Suite. It also uses an application called Airtable for cloud-based project management.
Enzyme has been using the live connection between Archicad and Rhino/Grasshopper since it was first introduced. Initially, this was used primarily to help with the creation of complex geometry (Figure 3), and subsequently, Enzyme found many more uses for it including automating documentation, optimizing geometry, energy analysis (Figure 4), and bringing in genetic algorithms to quickly explore multiple design iterations (Figure 5).
More recently, Enzyme has started focusing on project data using technologies such as Python, JSON, databases, and APIs to connect software. It uses the Grasshopper plugin, Elefront, that allows for the creation of data in tandem with parametric models, and it is also developing custom GDL libraries (GDL is the language for creating parametric objects in Archicad) for its Archicad-Grasshopper interaction. A good example of the kind of advanced technology work that Enzyme is doing is shown in Figure 6, where the colors of the building façade are changing gradually from more earthy tones at the bottom to more white reflected tones at the upper levels that can better reflect the sky. This was achieved by not just generating the geometry of each element of the façade by a Grasshopper script, but by also simultaneously changing its color attribute, using a gradient, based on its height.
Enzyme also develops custom add-ons for Archicad using its C++ connector, a good example of which is quantity take-off in Archicad, shown in Figure 7.
The story of Archicad’s implementation at Farkasvölgyi Architects in Brazil, one of the country’s leading firms (Figure 8), was shared by Bernardo Farkasvölgyi, its Director. There is a personal connection here — the firm was founded by his father, originally from Hungary, who emigrated to Brazil in 1957, and when Bernardo Farkasvölgyi started looking at BIM and Archicad, he was delighted to find that it was developed by a Hungarian company, Graphisoft. This marked the start of a warm, steadfast, and productive relationship between vendor and customer, with Farkasvölgyi Architects being the first architectural firm to implement BIM in Latin America, thus becoming a poster child for Archicad. On its part, Graphisoft continues to incorporate features requested by the firm in the software, the most recent being mapping properties of components and individually classifying the layers of an object, both of which were included in the latest version, Archicad 26. It allows their work of exporting IFC with complex information at the component level to now be done within Archicad without the need for macros and editing of IFC file code.
Farkasvölgyi Architects started using Archicad in 1996, setting themselves apart with 3D modeling and visualization of their projects at a time when their contemporaries were still using 2D drawings and blueprints (Figure 9). Over time, they have gone further in their use of Archicad by using it for structural and MEP engineering as well as for construction modeling, for which they are the pioneers in Brazil. Since 2010, the firm has executed over 370 projects using Archicad, which were fully developed using the BIM methodology, all the way from design conception to construction modeling. They also now routinely use BIMx for visualizing and presenting their design proposals to clients (Figure 10).
One of the firm’s most recent and high-profile projects in which Archicad was used is the brand-new stadium of Atlético Mineiro, Brazil’s largest professional football club (Figure 11). The new stadium is located in the city of Belo Horizonte, the capital city of the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, and is currently in the construction stage, with the opening scheduled for March 2023. The magnitude of the project, which needed to accommodate 46,000 people and had over 185,000 square meters of built area, made it extremely challenging, but the use of Archicad – which allowed the entire project to be built in detail virtually prior to construction — allowed the firm to successfully design the project, even though it had not worked on a project of this scale before. The BIM process was also invaluable in coordinating the design and construction of the project between the 30+ disciplines and 700+ professionals that were involved in the project.
Mostostal Warszawa SA is one of the largest construction companies in Poland and has been operating there for over 77 years. It is a strong advocate of interoperability in the AEC industry to reduce the reliance on proprietary software and the resulting high cost of BIM implementation, which results in low usage and limited involvement of project participants. At the Building Together event, Dawid Fedko and Christopher Kowal, BIM specialists from the firm shared how it was using a suite of applications connected using OpenBIM for its everyday work as a general contracting company, particularly in the tendering process and on the construction site.
For tendering, it is important to be able to get quick and accurate quantity take-offs from the models of the project. Mostostal Warszawa creates the models themselves or uses external models that are provided to them by the designers, modifying them if needed to meet their standards for quantity take-off. Figure 12 shows a simplified diagram of their tendering process and the applications that are used. The creation and editing of models is done in Archicad, and the firm has created detailed guidelines in Archicad to show the modeling standards that should be used, the data that should be included, and the properties and classifications that are necessary for its work (Figure 13).
Mostostal Warszawa has found that Archicad, in comparison to other BIM applications, is perfectly suited for obtaining quantitative data such as the number of elements, gross versus net areas, area of openings, etc., which allows the firm to create multiple variants for cost estimates. It also allows the data to be easily and accurately communicated to other applications by setting up the IFC export as required. One of the applications that Mostostal Warszawa uses intensively is Solibri for checking the quality of the models (Figure 14), and this is facilitated as well with the OpenBIM-enabled close connection between Archicad and Solibri.
In addition to tendering, Mostostal Warszawa showed how they are using models on the construction site. In many cases, these do not even have to be advanced BIM models — they use simple solid models, which allows them to structure the data and read the location, zones, and other information needed by the construction team. An example is the use of zones within the model to automatically upload data from the site to the digital platform used for issue management, resulting in faster resolution of issues, overall time and cost savings in construction, and improved subcontractor engagement (Figure 15).
Another perspective on BIM and Archicad at the Building Together event came from the Turkish design firm, TeCe Architects, presented by Cem Ilhan and Tünde Tülin Hadi, principals at the firm. TeCe Architects was established in 1992 and has worked on a wide variety of project types ranging from urban to interior design, winning several prestigious awards in Turkey for its projects (Figure 16). The firm invested in Archicad as early as in 1995, when it came to their attention as a specialized software for architects. Since then, they have used Archicad in all their projects. This has not only brought internal benefits to the way they work but has also garnered them awards for professional practice in addition to design awards.
The journey of the firm from hand-drawing to BIM, with stops on the way for CAD and Parametric CAD, has not been without its share of challenges. For the first transition — from hand-drawing to CAD — while the firm had started using Archicad, it was using it primarily as a CAD application, reproducing the same drawings that they were earlier doing by hand, but now on a computer. It was not much of a revolution, as the underlying process logic was not that different from hand-drawing. But, of course, the ease of making revisions and the overall efficiency of digital tools leading to cleaner layouts was welcomed.
Subsequently, as versions of Archicad developed, the firm’s capacity and competence to use it also increased in parallel, enabling it to transition from 2D CAD to Parametric CAD. It was a period in which building elements such as walls, doors, windows, slabs, etc., were modeled as they are in real life (Figure 17). The advantage of Parametric CAD was that it was closely aligned to design logic, where the elements reflected their real-world properties. Also, it was thrilling to have automatically generated plans, sections, and elevations that instantly reflected the changes that were made to the design and were consequently always up-to-date, saving the team lots of time and tedium.
For the current phase where the firm is transitioning from Parametric CAD to BIM, while the new versions of Archicad provide full BIM capabilities, TeCe Architects is finding that it is, so far, not using them fully. Cem Ilhan described the firm as “moving forward like a ship on vast BIM waters,” and estimates that they are using only about 30-40% of the BIM capability of the application so far. From that perspective, the 2+ years slowdown necessitated by the pandemic gave them some time to build up their expertise on how to use Archicad properly, to better understand its BIM methodology, and to establish a workflow that is in accordance with the logic of the software. It involved improving the BIM standards that were used in the office and making use of the critical template file in Archicad, so that all the teams could adapt to the BIM workflow more easily. Continuing with the analogy of the ship, this has allowed the firm to “sail into wider waters” with regard to BIM.
TeCe Architects sees multi-disciplinary coordination and collaboration as a critical part of the BIM workflow, and it is now ramping up on this phase of its BIM journey. In addition to its architectural design, it is using Archicad to focus on issues such as clash detection and quality control. It is making use of IFC to exchange BIM data with other disciplines and finds Archicad very competent in doing this. Cem Ilhan hopes that more applications can break out of their closed boxes and adapt as soon as possible to the IFC format standard, so they can be compatible with each other and be part of an interoperable workflow.
Some of the other presentations from AEC firms at the Building Together event included a case study on an off-grid and CO2-neutral office building, the Floating Office Rotterdam, by Powerhouse Company, a Rotterdam-based architectural firm. In addition to the building being built on water, it was designed so that all its systems like climate control, plumbing, etc. were closely integrated with the structure, using holes cut out in beams to accommodate them. This is where Archicad proved to be extremely useful early on in the design process (Figure 19), as the design had to be developed in close collaboration with the structural and MEP engineers from the beginning. Powerhouse Company has been pretty much using Archicad since it was founded in 2005.
We also heard from Bond Bryan, a leading architectural practice in the UK, which focused its presentation on data science in architecture. As the use of software applications proliferates in the design and construction of buildings, so does the amount of information that is generated and stored in the models, and the challenge for AEC professionals is to make sense of this data, extracting from it the key insights that they need for their work. While data analytics software such as PowerBI are extremely helpful in culling the data and presenting it in the form of visual dashboards, many AEC applications also have data aggregation and visualization capabilities, which are extremely helpful. Some of those used at Bond Bryan include graphic overrides in Archicad, Smart Views in BIMcollab, and usage stats of the CDE (common data environment) in Asite (Figure 20).
And finally, we also learned about how, Pita, a leading interior architecture firm in Brazil, is using BIMx for visualization and client presentations. BIMx is Graphisoft’s mobile and web app for viewing and navigating design projects — including both the 3D models and hyperlinked 2D drawings — in an interactive interface, and Pita is using it for most of its projects. It has been using Archicad for design and visualization and greatly appreciates Archicad’s versatility in allowing them to test design concepts with different finishes, furniture, textures, etc. While it makes use of Archicad’s built-in rendering capabilities to quickly communicate or test an idea, BIMx allows its designs to be instantly accessed and shared between all team members as well as presented to clients on their mobile devices, who are thrilled to be able to visualize their spaces realistically and walk through them (Figure 21). The increased client engagement allows the firm to be more creative and assertive with their design solutions and go deeper into the project.
There were several more presentations at the Building Together event on topics such as socially responsible architecture, sustainable design, and visualization and digital transformation, which unfortunately could not be covered in this article. Together, however, they provided a very engaging and informative learning course on building design and construction processes in a wide array of firms all over the world. I also greatly enjoyed learning about the different kinds of projects these firms were working on. It made me feel like I had traveled all over the world in three days, all from the comfort and safety of my home.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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