Graphisoft ended 2023 with another round of insightful customer stories presented at its Building Together Learn event held on Nov 17 and 18, along with sessions on different aspects of its various applications, their interoperability with other applications, and its different training programs including BIM Author Certification. It also provided further details on its AI-assisted inspiration capabilities, now formally introduced as the Archicad AI Visualizer, that it provided a teaser of at its 2023 Product Launch event in October.
This article captures the highlights of the customer presentations from the event that focused on three critical areas of AEC technology: data-driven design, design collaboration, and the use of VR (virtual reality) for design and visualization. The firms sharing their stories came from different parts of the world and were therefore able to provide a fascinating glimpse at what was being designed and built across the globe. In addition to getting a sense of the state of the art at their respective firms, which was by and large reflective of the state of the art in AEC technology in the country or region where they were located, it was also interesting to see how the primary issues that they are dealing with have evolved over the years.
Let’s start with the issue of “design data,” which seems to be ramping up quickly, given the emergence of a data-based platform like Speckle which I just wrote about two weeks ago. (See the article, “SpeckleCon 2023.”)
Enzyme is an international architectural firm headquartered in Hong Kong which works across a broad range of markets, typologies, and geographies (Figure 1). It is a long-time user of Archicad (see its presentation at last year’s Graphisoft Building Together 2022 event) and is well-known for its advanced implementation of AEC technology. At the Graphisoft Learn event last month, the focus of Enzyme’s presentation was on the role of data in architectural design, about how the way that data is managed and used not only impacts the design process but also the creative capabilities that generate the design ideas in the first place, which are at the heart of what architects do.
As shown in Figure 2, Enzyme’s digital journey, which started with 3D and progressively added BIM and computational design, also now encompasses programming and databases with data as the key currency. At the end of the day, it is the data that is paramount – how to get the data from one point to the other, how to use it, how to extract it, how to organize it, and how to find it when needed. At Enzyme, the core design data is created in Archicad, from where it is connected to all the applications that need to use it (Figure 3).
Enzyme provided several examples of how it was using data-driven design in its practice, including the use of data to drive automation; organizing the data into project dashboards to understand design metrics and provide immediate feedback on the data as it is being developed to compare it with the design brief (Figure 4); creating scripts that can read certain data and apply it to the design; using the data for the analysis of different aspects of the design; optimizing designs by creating genetic algorithms that work with data; and the use of the design data for visualization in applications like Twinmotion and Unreal Engine.
The criticality of data is paramount when it comes to multi-disciplinary collaboration. The key questions Enzyme always asks for every project are: What data do other stakeholders need? How is this shared? It makes sure that from Day One, all the data that is created is open, for which it uses the OpenBIM IFC format. In order to ensure that the data can be exported correctly and flow freely into any application that needs to work with it, aspects such as classifications, naming conventions, etc., are set up very early in the project.
A recent development in Enzyme’s data-centric design approach is exploring platforms like Speckle (Figure 5) and dRofus to host the design data, even during the actual design process. Perhaps the data does not need to reside within Archicad or any other modeling tool anymore. By opening up the data and putting it in a structured form where everyone can contribute from different platforms — which is exactly what Speckle does, as described in the SpeckleCon 2023 article — the data can be freed from individual silos and be created and used by all disciplines at any step of the Design/Construction/Operation process.
3LHD is an architectural firm in Zagreb, Croatia (Figure 6), and its presentation at the Building Together Learn event was focused on design collaboration in the context of one of its recent projects, the Rimac Campus. Rimac Automobili is a Croatian automotive manufacturer, with the unique distinction of its first model, the Concept One, being the world's fastest production electric vehicle. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rimac_Automobili). The new Rimac Campus that is being designed by 3LHD will combine a production facility for Rimac’s high-performance electric hyper-cars with an office building integrated into the landscape (Figure 7). Located on the outskirts of Zagreb, the Rimac Campus is currently one of the most talked-about architectural projects in Croatia. 3HLD won the competition for the project in 2019 and construction was started in 2021.
The three key applications used in this project were Archicad, BIMcollab Zoom, and VOLUM3, which is a leading AEC collaboration platform developed in Croatia. 3LHD has been using Archicad since 2007, and it was the main tool that was used for the design (Figure 8). The 3LHD design team used Archicad’s Teamwork capability to work simultaneously on different parts of the project. In addition to the architectural design, 3LHD also used Archicad for the interior design and landscape design of the project. In addition to the different design models, all of the drawings and details were created in Archicad, and special care was taken to assign an Element ID to each object, in order to keep track of the number of objects and their type.
The multiple Archicad models created by 3LHD for the project — including architecture, interior, and landscape — were published in the IFC format and combined with the models from other disciplines — including structure, plumbing, water, gas, heating, sprinklers, electric, etc., — in BIMcollab Zoom where they were coordinated and checked for clashes (Figure 9). This was particularly critical in the design of the production facility, which is a very complex building with lots of services, ducts, pipes, etc. In addition to facilitating design coordination and clash detection, the combined BIMcollab model includes all the object data about each of the elements in the product and will be handed over to the owner for facility management.
The third main application, VOLUM3, was used as the CDE (Common data environment) for all the project documents including plans, specifications, bill of quantities, task lists, meeting minutes, etc. (Figure 10). It provided a central communication platform for the entire team and the clients, and it was introduced right at the outset of the project. In addition to enabling collaboration throughout the design phase, it was also useful during construction as it allow the building plans to be viewed on tablets on the construction site, eliminating the need for paper and ensuring that the most recent versions of the drawings were being used. The VOLUM3 repository could also be used for ongoing facilities management since all the plans, all the materials, and all the specifications can be found in a single location.
Maber is a top architecture, interior and landscape design practice in the UK — it ranks in the AJ100, the definitive list of the biggest UK architectural practices — that provides a wide range of services across various types of projects from the public to the private sector (Figure 11).
Maber has always had a keen focus on using technology to benefit its teams and clients. Its journey with Archicad began in 1999, and the firm has been at the forefront of 3D and BIM modeling ever since (Figure 12). In addition to Archicad, it uses a variety of technologies to design and communicate its vision to clients including hand sketching, photorealistic renders, 3D printed models, AR (augmented reality) experiences, free roaming walkthroughs, and multi-user client reviews in VR (virtual reality). At the Graphisoft Learn event, the focus of its presentation was on how architects and designers can leverage VR simulations to better understand and resolve neurodivergent design challenges, helping to create environments that are friendlier to all users and more inclusive. It is estimated that 1 in 7 people are neurodivergent, so it is important to create spaces for everyone that are pleasing and calming to be in.
Maber uses Archicad in combination with Unreal Engine to create immersive virtual reality experiences. It creates two different types of VR experiences at different stages of the design. The first type is Design Review VR, created at the design phase for internal reviews (Figure 13). It allows designers to get a better understanding of aspects such as spatial coordination and materiality in their proposed design concepts. This way of communication is also preferred by clients. For creating this kind of VR, Archicad can export optimized low polygon versions of objects so as to avoid a complex and lengthy postprocessing process.
At the other end of the spectrum, Maber produces fully immersive experiences with high-quality materials, complex objects, and a high degree of interactivity for the clients, stakeholders, and users (Figure 14). This involves a detailed level of post-processing when the Archicad models are exported to Unreal Engine. These detailed VR environments can simulate a much wider range of conditions including trying to emulate how different users could experience and use a space. Here again, the geometry comes from the Archicad model, but the objects have a higher polygon count. In addition to the object geometry, the materials, lighting, and interaction also need to be defined in this type of VR experience.
For Maber, the advances in VR are blurring the boundaries between architecture and computer gaming design, and VR will continue to be the key design and visualization solution in its technology toolset.
As always, it was fascinating to learn about the work being done in different parts of the world and the kinds of technologies that are currently being used. It provides a kind of global barometer for AEC technology, letting us know where we are at the moment and how we got here. It should also be a useful marker for the AEC industry in the future to look back at this time and see how things were done in 2023.
The presentations captured in this article and other sessions at the Graphisoft Building Together Learn event can be seen on the event website: https://events.graphisoft.com/event/building-together-or-learn.
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 email@example.com.
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