ArchiCAD has been around for a long time now. With the release of Version 6.0 this month, Graphisoft has produced one of the best all- round packages available. ArchiCAD has never received the press of AutoCAD and MicroStation which, to be fair, both boast much greater third-party support. This said, ArchiCAD was not designed as a generic CAD engine but with architectural design in mind. The release of ArchiCAD Teamwork last year removed many of the perceived drawbacks as it provided users with network functionality, allowing the software to be used throughout the enterprise.
With Version 6.0, Graphisoft has gone back to the drawing board and improved both the look and feel of the application and its functionality. The first thing users of previous versions will notice is the new-look interface. ArchiCAD 6.0 now has a modern '3D' look, the flat black and white interface replaced with the platinum appearance of standard Windows applications. Floating palettes have also been added for easier access to settings and shortcuts. Palette organisation is very logical with tools and preferences placed where you would expect. Custom shortcuts can be assigned to any menu command and the toolbar can also be customised. One very cool feature is the ability for interface settings to be saved by different users. This means that several users of the same application on the same machine can all have their own settings. The main menus have been amended to accommodate new functions and options. The edit menu has been restructured to accommodate new commands, which have been grouped into logical sections making the vast number of items less intimidating.
The main toolbar has been simplified, with pop-out tool bars providing access to additional options. Grouping tools in this way is common practice as it reduces on-screen clutter. A small arrow in the lower left-hand corner of tool icons indicates that a pop-out is available. It is possible to display all the tools at once by altering the 'floating palette shapes' preferences. Unlike some applications, pop-out toolbars can't be torn off to create their own floating palette, which would be a useful halfway house.
The main toolbar can now also be used when working in the 3D Window for creating and editing elements. QuickViews now provides direct access to any storey, section or elevation. In large projects this can save an age as views can be saved and very quickly accessed.
Other floating palettes have been updated to contain additional control buttons. The 'co-ordinate' palette now displays all the information relating to your location on the worksheet. A new user origin button allows you to relocate simply your origin to anywhere within a drawing. This is a vast improvement on previous versions which only allowed the origin to be placed on an existing node. Another excellent addition is the skewed grid option. Grid placement can be defined from the co-ordinate box and toggled with the normal grid. In complex designs, this new option can greatly speed up work. A running 'z' co-ordinate is now displayed in the palette along with 'x', 'y', 'r' and 'a' settings. The vertical position of the cursor can be calculated from either the datum level (project zero) or can be based on the current story.
ArchiCAD has always been a true 3D design tool, and a number of new features have now been added. The new 'gravity' tools allow newly created objects to be placed relative to existing surfaces. This comes into its own when working on multi-storey buildings since walls etc can be 'dropped' on to floor slabs without worrying about their exact 'z' value. Direct editing in the 3D window is now possible as is placing elements. This is one of the major steps forward in this version. Elements can be selected and dragged within the window, library parts stretched, and wall and slabs resized. While most work still takes place in plan view, the opportunity to amend your design while looking at it in 3D is far more intuitive and saves a considerable amount of time. A new 3D navigation palette contains tools for quickly finding your way around your design in three dimensions.
Two new wall types have also been added - the trapezoid and polygon - which allow non-parallel wall surfaces and walls defined by their corner points to be created. In a trapezoid wall the surfaces are defined by a starting and ending point of a reference line with a starting and finishing thickness. Both types of wall are useful when defining complex mass structures such as concrete. Anchor points have been added to the column tool making accurate placement much easier. Other additions to the tool set include a new mesh tool. This type of functionality is common in 3D modelling software, allowing users to create an irregular polygonal mesh and deform it in 3D. Vertices can be pushed and pulled to form organic shapes. This tool replaces the 'hip roof' tool in previous versions and is much more flexible. Holes can be formed in mesh elements and a skirt option allows a vertical edge to be placed around the element. Composite structures can now be defined as roofs as well as wall and slab elements.
Many of the improvements in Version 6 have been designed to make everyday working much easier. Drag-and-drop is fully supported both within ArchiCAD and across supporting applications. Dynamic zone updating is a boon to space planners as zone areas can be updated automatically if walls are moved. All construction elements can now be exploded into their constituent lines and arcs. Exploded elements can be grouped so they still act like a single object but can still be modified using the standard set of 2D tools. Improvements in the multiplying selection dialogue allow a two- stroke matrix to be defined as well as adding options for the range in which copies will be created with distribute-1 and spread.
ArchiCAD 6.0 is an excellent upgrade to a very capable product. Graphisoft not only provides a comprehensive design tool but also includes excellent software for creating presentation material. The 'meander' application can be used to combine 2D images, VR scenes and text information for client presentations. While ArchiCAD does not yet attract the number of third party developers other applications do, it is an open environment that can be programmed. Graphisoft is committed to developing ArchiCAD for both MacOS and Windows platforms giving users the option to stick with the hardware they prefer.
ArchiCAD 6.0 is available for £3995 with upgrades from version 5.0 at £465 and 5.1 at £245. For more information contact Graphisoft on 0171 700 9930 or check out www.graphisoft.com.