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Here's What's New in ArchiCAD 18

By Scott MacKenzie, August 27, 2014  

With every new release of ArchiCAD, Graphisoft tends to put the majority of its effort on one new facet of the program. This time in ArchiCAD 18, the software firm spent the effort on rendering - also referred to as visualization. The other improvements are in the areas of modeling, revision management, workflow, Teamwork and BIM Server, OPEN BIM, and library enhancements. In this article, I will review the new features that I believe are most significant, based on my experience.

I don't proclaim to be much of a rendering expert, because it was never my job to create renderings. I have, however, a bachelor's degree in fine art and so I have played around with creating renderings for my own entertainment; in 20+ years of drawing production, I just never took on the role. To be successful in the visualization arena, we need to understand our software, the limitations of our hardware, and we should have an artistic eye. And, we need a lot of patience. This is why I looked forward to ArchiCAD 18's new rendering functions.

Rendering

The common belief in architectural design is that after we model our building in one software package, such as ArchiCAD, we need to export it to a program geared specifically to rendering. Then we spend hours in Photoshop tweaking the output to make the rendering look beautiful. This new release of ArchiCAD greatly lessens the need to export models to something else to get "professional grade" renderings. This is because it has the C4D physics engine built in that is friendly to camera users, and to those that don't want to deal with abstract rendering parameters. In other words, it's a lot more user friendly than before.

The Photo Rendering palette has a nice little thumbnail preview screen with which we test views before creating renderings (see figure 1). It is modeless, so that we can keep it up while we work on other things. For instance, we can make adjustments to settings while a rendering is running. We can even work on other ArchiCAD tasks while it is rendering.

Figure 1: Photo Rendering palette in ArchiCAD 18 previewing the rendering result

I explored the new rendering functions in ArchiCAD 18 as a new user would, and so began with the default settings, then playing with some options to get a better quality result. The palette illustrated above shows the standard options with all basic settings. The thumbnail preview image is generated at the Low Rendering Quality and Low Shadow Quality settings. When I did the full rendering at 800x600 pixels, it took 1:35 to complete (see figure 2).

Figure 2: Basic rendering generated at 800x600 resolution

For the next rendering, I changed the rendering and shadow quality settings to Medium, set the Illuminating Surfaces setting to 100%, and changed the background to show one of the sky scenes included with the package. This one took 7 minutes and 53 seconds to complete (see figure 3).

Figure 3: Higher quality rendering, with sky background

This new interface in ArchiCAD 18 gives beginners basic preset scenes (a.k.a. factory default scenes for various internal and external conditions) with which to work. But when we click the Detailed Setting box, the palette morphs into a multitude of setting options. There are way too many to discuss here, so let me say that it will take a while for you to master it all.

There are some fun graphic effect features there, such as the white model effect (see figure 4), along with graphite or crayon effects, and others (see figure 5).

Figure 4: Rendering made with white model effect

Figure 5: Rendering made with graphite crayon effect

The new rendering engine uses multiple processors at the same time. Figure 6 shows all four cores being fully utilized on my laptop's CPU. In contrast, most CAD operations can employ only a single core.

Figure 6: Rendering calculations take advantage of all cores in today's CPUs

Another improvement made by Graphisoft is to the new surface settings interface. It gives us several hundred ready-to-use surfaces in the standard library. Specifically, there are 300 on the CD, 500 more downloadable from the Web for customers on maintenance contracts, and several thousand available through C4D, which is compatible with ArchiCAD 18.

Modeling

The coolest new modeling feature that I found in this new release is known as "Edit Multiple Elements." Here, we can edit multiple floor slabs or even other types of elements simultaneously. For instance, we can create a rectangular shaft hole, and then modify the opening in each slab and in the roof and the grounds - all with one action.

There is a video of this in action on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjbnsPfzJyQ. I really like the push and pull modeling freedom it gave me. We can also get to the videos via the Help menu in ArchiCAD, which is a nice touch. ArchiCAD YouTube Videos are, however, listed twice in the menu (see figure 7). The first one opens the default Web browser, and then and goes to the ArchiCAD channel; the other one opens what appeared to me to be a proprietary video browser. It does not function like a traditional browser in that there are no buttons to go forward or backwards, and there appear to be fewer videos from which to choose.

Figure 7: Two ways to access online video from ArchiCAD's Help menu

PDF-based Collaboration Workflow

One great feature that has been in ArchiCAD for a while is its ability to embed PDF files in drawing views. You might think that this is pretty normal, but it turns out that not all BIM programs do it; in fact, I find it frustrating that this function is missing from that "other" BIM programs.

In ArchiCAD 18, the function is improved in that it now converts line work from the PDF file into ArchiCAD entities - lines, arcs, and circles. This is really awesome! So when we have cut sheets or PDFs of details that we want to put on our sheets, we can turn them into actual drawing entities, and then get rid of the PDF to lighten the load inside the model. Sure, the rendering improvements are quite advanced and comprehensive, but this new functionality will save production time for us common folk, and so is my favorite new feature.

When it comes to exporting drawings to PDFs, there is a new function, too. ArchiCAD 18 now had the ability to export project information data stored by the Project Info command. In addition, we can change the image resolution, compress images or retain lossless image compression, where possible through the user of PNG formats. And we can export layer information to PDFs, although it appears to me that the feature is disabled when saving layouts/sheets (see figure 8). Almost there, I guess.

Figure 8: Plans exported to PDF with layers

Attribute Handling

If you have ever worked on big projects with multiple models hotlinked in models, you may have dealt with composites or profiles that have the same name but a different index number. This can result in walls that should be identical in multiple models, but display differently. A new feature in the Attribute Manager gives us more control over how to import and export attributes between models, and should give more control to model managers.

Composite behavior in profiles and building materials has also been improved.

Teamwork and BIM Server

The BIM Cloud Manager interface is now a Web-based portal. This is nice especially when we work in an office or firm that is very strict about installing software. This means all we need is a Web browser; no special installation is needed.

(That other BIM program has always had the browser-based interface, but its functionality pales in comparison to ArchiCAD's Teamwork and BIM Server administration abilities.)

Hotlink Management

With ArchiCAD 18, we can relink single instances of modules easier than before. For instance, I have many different system furniture arrangement modules. When I need to change some from one module to another, instead of deleting and replacing them, I select the modules, right click, choose Hotlinked Module Settings, Change Hotlink button, and then select a different hotlink.

As an alternative, I can create a new module with the File Save As function: from the right-click context menu, I choose Edit this model in separate ArchiCAD and then make my changes to the new module. Granted, this is not ground breaking stuff, but it is sure to save us some production time, depending on the types of project workflows.

Interior Elevation Improvement

The new function in the interior elevation tool is nice. It provides us with better graphical feedback when sizing the depth. I found, however, that when I used the magic wand, I needed to be careful when working with rooms that had multiple facets.

Revision Management

I had seen the new revision management tool demonstrated, and it looked good. I have not, however, had to deal with revisions in an ArchiCAD project for a long time that I didn't even know it was lacking in earlier versions!

The new Layout Revision looks good, because it is a smart object that displays the revisions in the title block automatically. The revision tool is tightly integrated in the BIM project, and so revisions are automatically updated on layouts - both in the layout titles and the revision callout lists.

Mark-up Feature

The mark-up tool has been improved in ArchiCAD 18. It looks pretty comprehensive, but once again this is something I have never used (mark-up tools). So I cannot comment on it, other than to note its presence.

It's one of those functions that seems like a good idea, but it demands a certain skill level that more often than not is possessed by designers who are purported to be the ones using the tool.

Elevator Design Enhancement

I found that the interface and options for designing elevators is better in ArchiCAD 18. Configuring the direction of the second opening and the counterweight position is easy to understand, as are the story settings, the car, and the shaft (see figure 9).

Figure 9: Defining parameters for elevator design

Other library object improvements include expanded options in Zone Stamp 1, new 2D trees, two new types of ventilation frames, a new vent window sash, and new multi sash windows.

Model View Options

There is greater control over the way door openings are displayed via the Model View Options command (see figure 10).

Figure 10: Specifying door openings

Conclusion

From all the new functions added by Graphisoft, I would say that this ArchiCAD 18 is a good solid new release, especially when you are involved with visualization. The change in visualization is very impressive.

If you are not, however, concerned with rendering, then you will appreciate the finer points that lead to design efficiency, such as the new way we can edit multiple elements simultaneously, or take advantage of the new PDF integration, and even the improved attribute management.

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About the Author

Scott MacKenzie has been working in the architecture and engineering industry since 1988 when he started working as a manual draftsman. He was well trained in the art of creating great construction documents. Over the years, he worked his way up to a CAD manager role, then he was an IT manager and presently a BIM manager with Stantec Architecture.

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