ArchiCAD BIM for Architects

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ArchiCAD BIM for Architects

This week we have a guest post from Robert Mann of ArchiEd.

Robert is a registered Architect from Sydney, Australia with over 20 years’ experience in numerous CAD software, specialising in ArchiCAD.

Robert has a wide range of professional experience from small scale residential to high-rise commercial design, and many typologies in between. He is the Director of Robert Mann Architecture and Design Pty Ltd. 

Robert has been lecturing in various architectural capacities for the last 10 years. His educational approach is from a professional and practical viewpoint, enriching his students learning with industry knowledge, in order to become industry ready.


What is ArchiCAD?

ArchiCAD was first released in 1987, and was the first in architecture Building Information Modelling (BIM) software available for personal computing. Many years on, and upgraded annually, ArchiCAD version 23 enables design professionals and construction consultants to create and collaborate on detailed digital architectural models, resolving aesthetic, sustainability, engineering and construction challenges in a virtual environment. Built by architects for architects, ArchiCAD is purpose built with elements and objects for the easy BIM production of architecture.


Is ArchiCAD a design tool?

Many industry professionals and academic professors alike still question whether any CAD & BIM software supports (or rather undermines) the architectural design process. As an architect and academic, I recommend ArchiCAD’s use for testing design concepts alongside more traditional design tools like sketching and physical modelling.


The enormity of ArchiCAD’s functionality can leave new users (and even experienced architects) at a loss for where to start. Most people work best in an uncluttered environment, and unfortunately ArchiCAD’s standard interface is often anything but. However, with an adapted (simplified & enhanced) template and workspace, ArchiCAD can offer an uncluttered environment with all of the tools necessary for digital design exploration.


All too often I find my initial sketches are a little too optimistic, and until I test the concept’s viability in ArchiCAD, it is easy to miss contextual opportunities, as well as oversights in setbacks, site slope, building height, or similar. A massed 3D model developed in ArchiCAD will soon show up these errors and allow for fast adaptation or experimentation, pushing & pulling architectural elements until they fit. Occasionally this will result in an awkward software derived solution, and must be exported (back to the drawing board) to be resolved more intuitively.


Now that ArchiCAD’s workflow allows for a virtual (VR) design interface with Unreal Engine’s Twin Motion, we are creeping closer to a world where we could eventually leave our pens and paper behind in order to design architecture. Personally, I’m hoping for an Iron Man-esk holographic interface for organic manipulation of the digital model.

Design using ArchiCAD course from Archi-Ed is coming soon.

Can ArchiCAD replace the need for CAD?

Like all CAD software, ArchiCAD’s model is primarily used to produce orthographically projected (flat) plans, sections, elevations, details & schedules. This type of documentation is generally divided into deliverable stages for collaboration, approval, pricing, and construction. As each of these paper-based flat drawings are single slices of a much larger picture, copious amounts of information are lost or potentially miscommunicated in the process. This is by no means a new problem and has resulted in the thoughtful development of technical drafting standards that ensure consistency of representation, and a common language for industry professionals to communicate. Yet the fact that this methodology has hardly advanced in hundreds of years suggests that it is time to embrace a fundamentally new way or working.


ArchiCAD offers pre-set and customisable ‘Model View Options’ and ‘Graphic Overrides’ and ‘Layer Combination’ filters to fine-tune the graphic representation of drawings to meet client, consultant, certifier, and contractor expectations and requirements. Documentation can be derived directly from the 3D model, can reference dimensions and annotations directly from the BIM, and can also be enhanced with overlaid 2D drafted elements as required.


BIM software solutions like ArchiCAD promise the potential of a paperless digital workflow where all the design consultants and construction contractors freely share and collaborate on the development of an information-rich virtual architectural model. While we are starting to see in-roads to this type of tablet-based accessibility onsite, the abolishment of all printed plans seems yet far-off. Yet out of adversity comes opportunity. As we all have been forced to adopt more home-based work solutions, powered, meeting even more frequently via digital devices, paper-based collaboration is quickly become less viable.



ArchiCAD Documentation course from Archi-Ed is available for enrolment.

Does ArchiCAD support file sharing & collaboration?

To take full advantage of the BIM potential, the ArchiCAD file can be accessed and edited simultaneously by numerous members of the design team using ‘Teamwork’, and can distributed to various project consultants as an IFC file, or many other 2D and 3D file types (including DWG and DXF). Ideally, the collaboration on an ArchiCAD file (pln or pla) or an IFC (BIM compatible) exchange file will allow for optimal enhancement of the shared digital model without the need for re-modelling.


Ultimately, project management during construction, and ongoing building management during occupation, will reap the largest rewards from true collaboration of the original architectural model. As contractors and developers increasingly value the investment of BIM resources for on-site activities, greater opportunities arise to financially offset the additional time invested in accurate modelling during the design and documentation phases, and discourage the reversion towards 2D drafting used to hide BIM inaccuracies.


This all sounds good in theory, but how commonly does this type of mutual collaboration occur? Many top tier architectural firms, and developers are already implementing these collaborative processes to great advantage. Conversely, many architects and engineers stop modelling (and start drafting) beyond the scale of 1:100. With adequate attention given to the development of complex profiles in the ‘Profile manager’, it is possible to develop a model that represents accurately at scale 1:1. Personally, when I manage a project through construction, I am much more likely to utilise more of ArchiCAD’s BIM potential than if I am only engaged to produce an architectural solution for design approval.


ArchiCAD Collaboration course from Archi-Ed coming soon.

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Can I create 3D Visualisations in ArchiCAD?

As ArchiCAD uses a 3D workflow to produce a Building Information Model, most the of 3D modelling is already done. What is left to add? Most high quality 3D renderings rely on:

  1. A detailed model

  2. Entourage & contextual scenery / photomontage

  3. Seamless textures,

  4. Appropriate lighting

  5. Artistic camera angle.


ArchiCAD’s rendering engines allow for all of these, coupled with your creative flare.

Whether you require photo-rendered animations, sketch perspectives, or something more artistic, ArchiCAD provides a variety of visualisation solutions.

Most recently, ArchiCAD encourages the use of Twinmotion’s exceptional photo-realistic rendering with real-time radiosity, and interactive asset library (linked to ArchiCAD via a ‘Direct Link’ add-on).

Alternatively, while a little out-dated, ArchiCAD’s in-house engine CineRender from Maxon is also useful if you want to maximise the functionality within the program itself.

The Sketch render engine and 3D document functions are great ways to create simple sketch renders for when your model is not yet resolved, or you are after a more hand-drawn look.

Finally, export 3D document views into Photoshop to create unique artist renders with a watercolour, inked, or painted effect.


Visualisation is an important aspect of any architectural process, as many people struggle to envision the architect’s vision, even when presented with plans. In order to walk clients through the process of design, it may be helpful for them to virtually walk-through the conceptual architectural model. Some designs find this too intrusive; others embrace the close collaboration and cherish the richer feedback that it provides. Visualisation can also be understood as a quality assurance tool, allowing managers to review their team’s work. As the 2D representation of a Building Information Model is only as good as its 3D accuracy, visualising the model from inside and out will allow the identification of errors that might otherwise go unnoticed.
ArchiCAD Visualisation course from Archi-Ed coming soon

Why did I choose ArchiCAD?

I chose to use ArchiCAD, not because it is the best program at any one function, but rather it is quite good at performing all of the functions I require.


ArchiCAD is very good at 3D modelling (for true organic modelling I recommend a workflow out of Rhino 3D). For photo-quality visualisation and landscaping ArchiCAD links to Unreal Engine’s TwinMotion. 2D documentation remains an essential part of my architectural services, and ArchiCAD is great at blending its 3D and 2D functionality.


Quantifying and scheduling are areas where ArchiCAD has enormous potential, but a lot of these functions are not preset, and therefore need to be created or imported. Finally, many would argue that ArchiCAD is simply too complex to be used as a design tool and would rather use SketchUp. I would suggest that ArchiCAD could do anything SketchUp can and can produce a similar ‘simple’ design experience with an adapted workspace and template.


Is ArchiCAD worth trying?

I am not paid by Graphisoft, but rather pay for the privilege of using their software. Therefore, my only bias is based on years of professional experience using and teaching architectural software.


I recommend ArchiCAD and provide resources to students and professionals because I believe it to be the best all-round CAD / BIM program for architecture and allied fields.


Let’s not forget, CAD and BIM are tools, just like a hammer. A tool is only as useful as the person wielding it. Like a nail gun, BIM is designed to automate the process. At the end of the day, the nail still needs to end up in the right place. ArchiCAD (or any other BIM program) has the capability to automate most of our design and documentation. The quality of the architecture remains dictated by the designer, not the machine.


Developing proficiency (or expertise) in the use of BIM software should be the priority in order to represent the design accurately, efficiently and cost effectively. Therefore, the accurate education of architects is more fundamentally important than which software option you choose.


ArchiCAD offers a free trial period for 30 days, and as a student you can access a free annual educational licence for as long as you are studying. So, give it a go and decide for yourself.


My favourite Tools and Resources

I have curated a list of some of the tools and resources I would strongly recommend for anyone studying or working in Architecture.