At a Glance
There are CAD (computer-aided design) programs to meet the needs of various people, from homeowners who are redesigning their kitchens to professional architects and designers. But make no mistake, ArchiCAD 8 -- the latest version of Graphisoft's architectural CAD program -- is for professionals only. Expensive and relatively difficult to master, ArchiCAD is just not designed for the hobbyist. Now Mac OS X-native, ArchiCAD 8 is faster than previous versions, and it offers improvements such as true solids modeling and streamlined control of elements and projects, through the new Info palette and Project Navigator features.
3-D Virtual Building Model
Architects think in three dimensions, so Graphisoft has designed ArchiCAD's project workflow accordingly. Instead of working with a series of 2-D drawings, you use ArchiCAD to create a virtual 3-D model that incorporates all the elements of a building, including floors, walls, windows, and doors. With the program's new Project Navigator, you can then control layers, visibility, attributes, and scales to create views. These views ultimately become the 2-D drawings and renderings that are needed throughout the design process -- conception, design development, working drawings, plan submission, and facilities management. With ArchiCAD, you can also create animations and QuickTimeVR, so you can view the designed spaces -- or any object or detail in the project -- from any angle.
Automation Improves Workflow
The updated Virtual Building model introduces a very organic way of working. To create a building section or cutaway view, you draw section lines on your floor plan with the Section tool, and ArchiCAD creates the section view in a separate window. When you make a change in the section view, that change is automatically incorporated in the floor plan, and vice versa.
In version 8, it's similarly quite easy to create details. Using the Detail tool, you draw a circle around a portion of a drawing, such as a wall-floor intersection or a doorjamb, and ArchiCAD creates the basic detail drawing for you. You can then add any necessary elements or notes to the detail with typical text and 2-D drafting tools. Throughout this process, the underlying Virtual Building model remains, so any edits you make to one view update all the other views. If you move a door in a perspective rendering or change its dimensions, for example, those changes occur automatically on the floor plans and elevations.
And automation doesn't stop at design changes. ArchiCAD also automates the creation of schedules, bills of materials, and quantities estimates. The database that drives the Virtual Building model contains and handles all this information.
For drawing management, ArchiCAD includes Plotmaker, a page-layout application. Plotmaker lets you establish the different sets of drawings you'll need during the project: for clients, for consultants, and for permit submissions. You can also export your drawings in PDF format, so people who are not using ArchiCAD can view them. And since the software updates all views with every change, Plotmaker can give you an updated set of drawings with a click of a button.
One of this version's best features is a boon to communication: You can publish and automatically upload project documents to the Web. Clients or consultants can then view, comment on, and mark up the documents online.
The Team Approach
Both the sole practitioner and the small design firm will benefit from ArchiCAD because the program can quickly and efficiently update all parts of a project. But ArchiCAD has other features that can enable large design firms to work more efficiently.
With ArchiCAD's Teamwork feature, designers can work on different parts of a project file simultaneously. Team members can check out drawings (as well as layers of a drawing or even parts of layers), make changes, and then check them back in to update the project file. The software prevents two people from working on the same part at the same time. This collaboration can also occur remotely, with designers in different locations working on parts of the model and updating the project file the next time they log in to the office network.
The High Price of Power
All this sophisticated power comes at a price. Graphisoft has made significant improvements to ArchiCAD's interface, but the result is quite complex and difficult to learn, compared with programs such as Engineered Software's PowerCADD and Nemetschek's VectorWorks (Reviews, February 2003), which place a heavier emphasis on 2-D drafting. ArchiCAD is a "use it or lose it" kind of application. Regular users will easily maintain proficiency, but occasional users will likely need to keep the user guide nearby.
As with any CAD program, the work that you put into preparing the file for a specific project will pay off in the long run: You'll spend less time and effort on building your virtual model. To speed the modeling process even more, ArchiCAD provides extensive templates and libraries of parametric symbols and objects, including furniture, structural elements, and textures.
Macworld's Buying Advice
At $3,950, ArchiCAD 8 seems expensive. But for that price, you get the most sophisticated top-of-the-line CAD program available for the Mac. Professionals who need it -- and can afford it -- won't be disappointed. For current users of ArchiCAD, the upgrade price is more than reasonable, at $595 from version 7 and $890 from any versions previous to that.
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