What Is Archicad and How Can You Learn It?
In this first chapter, we will introduce you to the book and its main content. We will get some background information about the Archicad software and its development and how it is installed and licensed. We will also learn about the main objectives and approach of this book, setting expectations right from the start. This is not meant to be a cookbook with step-by-step recipes showing buttons to click but, instead, aims to give you a proper understanding of how the software fits into a professional workflow.
The main topics we’ll cover in this chapter are as follows:
- An introduction to Archicad
- A brief history of Archicad
- Setting up Archicad
- The approach of the book
By the end of this chapter, you will know what Archicad is, how you can install it, and what license types exist. You will also have a clear understanding of the approach toward learning Archicad in this book.
Introducing BIM and Archicad
This book introduces Graphisoft® Archicad®, advanced software for architects and other designers, which follows a methodology that is known as Building Information Modeling (BIM). It is an approach to developing digital models for buildings or other constructions that forms the basis for all kinds of documents and reports that are typically created by architects, such as drawings, renderings, and schedules, among many others.
BIM is gaining worldwide popularity and is quickly becoming the best practice in construction projects of all sizes. It helps you to better manage information and all related graphical documents, while at the same time avoiding mistakes, inconsistencies, or inefficient workflows.
You will use the Archicad software as one of the main tools in your BIM toolkit, not only to model and draft but also to develop a design, help you understand the spatial layout and qualities of your concepts, and help you in collaboration with other project partners, such as your client, other designers or engineers, the contractor, and manufacturers. The models you develop will become one of the main sources of information for a project, and ensuring they can be created efficiently is essential to become productive in a project where BIM is applied.
While we don’t expect you to already have experience with BIM, it would be helpful if you have an overall understanding of the construction process and, possibly, some experience with making drawings using general CAD software, such as AutoCAD®.
The objective of using software such as Archicad is not simply to create 2D drawings but to really develop a model, with 3D geometry and embedded information, that allows drawings to still be extracted from it. This is also what we will cover in this book.
About Graphisoft and Archicad – a short history
Graphisoft was founded in 1982 by Gábor Bojár and his business partner Ulrich Zimmer, with Archicad being the first program they developed, specifically for solving coordination issues in a project by the Hungarian government to construct a new nuclear power plant. More specifically, the coordination of the complex 3D geometry of the building’s structure and its piping didn’t go as well as it should have done.
Graphisoft was able to develop its software in time to win the bid for this project and used the earnings to further develop the company. It’s worth mentioning that Gábor Bojár and Steve Jobs met in 1984 at a trade show in Germany. Jobs saw opportunities in the software, to prove what his machines were capable of, and Bojár was at the time looking for good hardware to continue development. We should not forget that in the 1980s, the Iron Curtain was still in place, and allegedly, four Apple® Macintosh® machines were smuggled into Hungary, and Graphisoft was able to further develop Archicad. Although Apple’s Lisa was a commercial failure, reviews of the Archicad software at the Hannover Fair that year were excellent, and Bojár and his team managed to survive the next few years. Macintosh machines improved and became a success in their own right, along with Graphisoft steadily growing as a company and Archicad being developed into a more mature product.
The good relationship between the founders of Graphisoft and Apple is worth mentioning because it probably explains to a large extent their somewhat shared vision of how software should work for a user. Like Steve Jobs, Gábor Bojár believes in the benefits of “intuitive” software, a compact and “logical” user interface, and a focus on the user experience, rather than on the software itself and all of its marvelous capabilities.
It also explains why this Hungarian company was the first to unveil a statue of the late Steve Jobs – it was a commission by Bojár for his old friend, about whom he expressed that Graphisoft might not be around today if it weren’t for him.
Since 1993, Archicad has also been available for Microsoft® Windows®. The software has gradually expanded, including more advanced modeling and collaboration tools, high performance using multi-threading and hardware acceleration, and going beyond architecture with its structural and mechanical toolsets. One of its strong points, since the beginning, has been its Geometric Description Language (GDL), which is at the core of the parametric objects in the Archicad library, presenting highly efficient and flexible objects. Another point of note is the BIMcloud module, which allows multiple users to connect to the same Archicad model (stored in the cloud) and make (coordinated) edits simultaneously.
The Graphisoft Help Center (https://community.graphisoft.com) contains an overview of all versions of the software, giving you an insight into the evolution of it and the inclusion of major features and changes (https://community.graphisoft.com/t5/Let-s-get-started/Archicad-versions/ta-p/304207).
In 2007, Graphisoft was acquired by the German Nemetschek™ group, where it now is part of a large group, including the likes of Vectorworks®, Allplan®, Scia® Engineer®, Solibri®, and Cinema 4D®, all mainly targeted at 3D modeling or construction.
Archicad is currently one of the major BIM-authoring software tools, alongside competitors such as Autodesk® Revit®, Vectorworks, and Allplan. It has a good reputation for being user-friendly and supporting a wide variety of 2D and 3D file formats for collaboration with others. It is worth mentioning that Graphisoft is a strong supporter of the openBIM approach by supporting the exchange of data across BIM software, using open standards and related file formats.
While we assume that installing software should not be a problem in general, there are a few aspects of the Archicad installation that should be considered.
Archicad is multi-platform software, which can be used on Microsoft Windows and Apple macOS®. The exact requirements of the software are indicated on the Graphisoft website (https://graphisoft.com/resources-and-support/system-requirements), so for fully up-to-date specifications, you should check there first.
In general, Archicad supports the current iterations of both operating systems. However, when a major update of the platform is released, it is recommended to consult the Graphisoft site prior to upgrading. macOS users especially have encountered issues by jumping too soon when Apple releases an upgrade to its operating system, which is about every year around autumn. There are often large changes that impact graphically demanding software such as Archicad. Conversely, Graphisoft always tries to benefit as much as possible from software and hardware improvements, and not only fully takes advantage of multiple cores but also, more recently, embraced Apple’s M1® chipset.
In general, there are a few requirements that are of primary importance, which you can see in the following list. Archicad is demanding software, both in terms of storage and in terms of system requirements:
- Having a fast CPU is but one of the requirements. Archicad makes heavy use of multi-threading, so having a multi-core processor (four cores or more) is recommended for smooth operation. If your system is still 32-bit, it won’t work, but in that case, your computer is too old to run such intensive applications anyway.
- You need plenty of RAM available, both in the main memory and the video memory. As the software is graphics-intensive, if at all possible, use a system with a dedicated GPU or graphics adapter. This is often difficult with office laptops, which tend to have a limited GPU. This may limit navigation and 3D display. CAD and 3D software ideally would run on a workstation-class desktop or laptop. Some users also get good performance with gaming-oriented systems, since they tend to have powerful graphic cards.
- It is highly recommended to use solid-state drives (SSDs) for the fast loading of projects and library files with sufficient storage space. The installer is almost 2 GB, and when installed, the software uses several GB of storage. This is largely due to the object libraries, including the default plugins and textures.
- Depending on the size of the projects you develop, you also have to understand that Archicad projects tend to generate large files. Smaller projects may need less than 100 MB, but larger and more complex projects can go above 1 GB for a single project file.
- As with most professional applications, having a large monitor (or two or three) also helps with the setup of your workspace. Using a full HD or 4K screen resolution is recommended. Professional users typically select a dual-screen setup or a very large widescreen to get the best working environment, but if needed, you can use the software on a laptop and bring the whole authoring environment with you, on-site or to a client.
- Archicad is mainly controlled with a mouse and keyboard, so touchscreens do not provide any advantage, but an advanced 3D mouse can be beneficial.
And finally, as discussed in the following section, Archicad is commercial software that uses a protection system. This can be in the form of a hardware key, requiring a USB port, or a software key, in combination with your personal Graphisoft ID.
Older versions of the software
It is still possible to use older versions of the software, which remain available for download from the Graphisoft website. While your license entitles you to use any older version of the software, the actual version that will work depends on the operating system you use. Older versions are not further developed nor supported and may not work in current versions of your operating system.
For people using an older computer with an older operating system, this is sometimes a solution, as they can run a previous Archicad version, with lower hardware requirements.
Another reason to use older versions may be related to the project – when construction projects last several years, it is not always acceptable or advisable to upgrade software tools throughout the project, unless this is agreed upon with other people you collaborate with. In that case, offices sometimes tend to continue a project using the software version that was used when setting up the first models. In other cases, upgrading to a newer release has to be planned carefully to not disturb agreed workflows. It is not uncommon to wait a few months after a new release before upgrading.
A final reason for keeping the libraries of older installations available is related to the project and library management – although there is the option to save a project in an archive format (which contains any Library Part used in the project), occasionally some Library Parts are not correctly migrated or are even completely missing. In such a scenario, still having copies of older versions of the Library Container Files can be a lifesaver. You do not even need to have the software fully installed for this, and in any version of the software, Migration Libraries are included, but this does not always solve every migration issue that could arise...
By now, you have learned how Archicad came into existence, what it is meant for, and which hardware and software is required to use Archicad. Next, we will learn what license types are available and what type and version of Archicad is required for this book.
Archicad is developed and marketed as commercial software for professional users. As with most advanced and specialized software, this requires a user to select one of the different license models, depending on their activity.
The primary license model is a full commercial license. The user gets access to the full software using either a hardware lock (dongle) or a software key, to prevent abuse of the license or sharing a license. Graphisoft still offers this as a perpetual license, which never expires, but it also advises users to get a maintenance contract, which adds support and all future Archicad updates at a yearly cost.
For people not requiring the full feature set of the commercial license, a cutdown STAR(T) edition is also available. This comes at a lower license cost and is primarily targeted at smaller offices, where collaboration and integration features are not required.
Alternatively, a pay-per-use license is also available when you need one or more additional licenses for a limited time. This can also be of interest to users who use the software just occasionally, although you may need a full commercial license to qualify for a pay-per-use license. It should also be noted that this license type may not be available in your market.
If you intend to develop add-ins for Archicad, you can opt for a developer license, which is valid for 1 year and gives you full access to Archicad and support from the development team. Note that such a license cannot be used for commercial purposes, such as architectural or engineering services.
More recently, Graphisoft and its resellers have started to provide a subscription license, which, as the name implies, gives you access to the software and all updates for a fixed, monthly, or yearly fee.
For actual license pricing, you are advised to contact a local reseller, as there may be differences between not only markets but also the offered services and additional benefits, such as localized templates or libraries.
While you are still discovering the software, you can request a temporary trial license, which gives you full access to the software, including saving and printing, but with a fixed expiration date and locked to the computer where the trial was activated. If you decide after the trial to continue with a commercial license, Graphisoft can assist you with upgrading the files saved during the trial.
Finally, if you are a student or teacher, you have free access to the educational license. This has no functional limitations, but the output of documents and exports will be watermarked to avoid commercial use. You can access educational licenses at https://myarchicad.graphisoft.com. You can start immediately with a temporary 30-day license, which is extended for 1 year after approval by the regional reseller, upon proof of educational enrolment. This offer can be extended as long as you still comply with the educational requirements.
Figure 1.1: An example of the educational watermark in the Viewport
In all cases, you must activate the software using a (free) Graphisoft ID to ensure you are entitled to the license you use. This Graphisoft ID also gives you access to multiple Graphisoft products and services, such as the following:
- Graphisoft BIMcloud: This server technology lets you collaborate with several team members on one central model, using Teamwork technology. It is available in three license types, of which BIMcloud Basic is included with any commercial license.
- Graphisoft Learn: This online training platform can be a great accompaniment to this book. Tutorial videos are offered on a variety of topics, some of which are discounted or even free for certain license types.
- BIMx and BIMx Model Transfer: BIMx is available as a separate mobile app and as a desktop application (the free version is included with every Archicad installation – you can easily upgrade to the paid BIMx Pro for some extra features). The app combines fluent 3D navigation and visualization with interactive hyperlinks to 2D-derived documentation. This transfers a model and a full set of (chosen) data from your modeling tool to your mobile presentation device, making it well suited for client meetings and visits to a construction site.
- https://bimcomponents.com: Here, you can find additional Library Parts for Archicad, checked and approved by Graphisoft.
- Graphisoft Community: On these forums, Graphisoft employees, Archicad gurus, and BIM specialists discuss a variety of topics. They are a great place to ask a simple technical question, propose an improvement to the software, lose yourself in a discussion on a GDL parameter, or just make new friends.
For more on these resources and links, please refer to the Appendix.
Migrating between license types
Exchanging projects between Archicad versions with different license types is somewhat limited. You can perfectly exchange Archicad projects created with a full commercial license, a subscription license, or a pay-per-use license. A full version can open projects created with any STAR(T) edition, but that edition does not allow you to open files other than the ones created with this license type.
Should you decide to acquire a fully licensed version of Archicad, after your trial period has ended, you will be able to continue to work on the projects created within this trial version of the software, as long as you upgrade the trial and did not uninstall it.
Projects created with an educational license can be opened in a fully licensed version of Archicad, but Archicad will (temporarily) switch to Educational Mode and show the educational watermark. Opening a file made with a commercial version in an educationally licensed version of Archicad will transform the file irreversibly to an educational version. Copying from educational projects to commercial ones is also prevented.
Archicad is developed for a worldwide audience. However, to cater to the large difference in languages, terminology, and construction methods, it is distributed in different localized versions. This not only defines the language of the user interface but also gives Graphisoft, or the local reseller, the opportunity to adapt the content that is installed with the software.
Various countries or regions have a localized version available, and they can be discovered on the Archicad website. Be sure to select the region that is associated with your Graphisoft ID. Check with your reseller to see which of the more than 20 localized versions is available to you and whether your license gives you access to different localized versions. If your region is not available, you can use the INT version instead.
Requirements for this book
For this book, it doesn’t really matter which license you have access to. Considering the depth of the subject, a time-limited trial version may not last long enough to work through the whole book, but you can use any commercial or educational version without issue.
The book is written primarily using version 26 of the software, but as the software is quite mature, most of the content still applies to previous versions. However, we don’t recommend trying to follow along with versions older than 3 or 4 years, since the interface and the features have evolved considerably.
The approach in this book
This book is written with the assumption that you are starting from scratch, with only minor experience in architectural drafting and general IT skills. We don’t want to bother you with countless trivial details about software in general but, rather, focus on Archicad and where it can differ from other systems.
There is a logical order in the chapters, starting from the humble beginnings in Part 1, where you are introduced to the software and learn just enough so you can create a basic house, sufficiently developed for the preliminary design. This will help you at the start of a project.
In Part 2, we will increase the level to an intermediate stage, where we will learn about many of the tools we haven’t covered yet and dive deeper into the ones we already learned about. You may start to experience the sheer depth of Archicad and how flexible it is. It must be, because it is used worldwide, in a variety of countries with vastly different construction methods and materials.
After these two parts, you should be able to set up and complete your first few projects, at least if you are willing to practice and dive deeper into the documentation or the online communities when some details need more explanation.
While there is much more to Archicad, we had to leave out some of the more advanced and complex methods in it. The Appendix gives a brief overview of many of the additional features Archicad has to offer, such as collaborative BIM workflows, both with other Archicad users and with people running other software, by using openBIM methods and formats. There are also engineering-focused structural and MEP modules (used for modeling Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing elements). To cover all of this, we would probably need one or two additional books.
What to expect as a reader
This is not a cookbook of point-and-click recipes. We want to explain the different tools, but with a strong focus on methodology and the reasoning behind the different choices that are made. The aim is for you to understand what you are doing, rather than memorizing tricks that only work well in a fixed scenario.
Every project is different, and the many tools in Archicad can all be used in a variety of ways. It is a flexible system, but with that comes certain complexity. So, we are not able to cover every little detail, setting, or configuration. After all, the whole manual, which hasn’t been a printed book for a long time, is over 4,000 pages! It is digitally available from within the software, and properly searchable and indexed.
The Archicad reference guide is the full catalog of every tool and setting. This learning book is a guideline for using the software efficiently. They are complementary.
If you need more resources, the Appendix will give you more references to the various communities and other channels of information and knowledge related to Archicad.
Our experience, as users and teachers of Archicad, is that starting with core training (such as working through this book) before you properly get used to finding your way around the software and have a good grasp on the terminology and tools at your disposal works best. From that point on, it becomes much easier to look for answers, to search through the documentation, and, in general, to solve your problems yourself.
This workflow approach could have gone in different directions; one approach is going through all the tools, one by one, to ensure that you don’t miss a spot. That is not the approach we like to bring you, as a reader, since it takes a long time and is, frankly, very boring.
The opposite approach would be to take a single project from start to finish. There are many arguments for this, so we will follow this approach to a certain extent. We will move mostly in chronological order of what you would encounter in a project, but there are a couple of catches:
- Developing a full project works differently the first time around! Once you have completed a few projects, you know where you will end and, thus, can better prepare for it. You cannot do this when you first start. So, we must jump into a project with no assumptions about what we already know or understand. We will introduce tools that fit at that point in the process, but we may not cover them completely to not overwhelm you with details that don’t matter initially.
- We haven’t come across a single project, yet, that requires every tool in Archicad. Or, to put it another way, the architects in us are not too keen on arbitrary designs that don’t have any architectural value and are just a mixed bag of all the tools you may encounter. They tend to be more like Frankenstein designs.
So, we opted instead to work with a few basic reference projects to guide you through the process and introduce smaller, singular examples if needed, or if the tool that is discussed requires it.
Version and units in this book
There is another choice we had to make in this book. To cater to the widest possible audience, we don’t use one of the many splendid, localized versions of the software or one of the extensive specialized libraries available. We stick with the basic INT version and its default library and template. It was created by Graphisoft to be globally applicable for many project types. Since every localized version is derived from it, you could state that this version is at the core of every other version.
We understand your personal situation may differ from that, and you are strongly advised to adopt first and foremost the localized version and related templates and libraries for your language or region. This is especially advisable when your local reseller has prepared this generic template to better cater to local building practices, regulations, documentation habits, or anything else that Graphisoft could not prepare for you.
Another choice here is to stick with the metric system throughout the book, which is valid for all but a few countries in the world. We assume that those who prefer to work in imperial units can adapt easily, since the display of units is but a setting in the software. Since you will work at full scale, Archicad can display units as you see fit, using feet and inches or, rather, meters and their derived units.
A final note should be made about the screenshots included in this book. These are taken from projects opened with Archicad 25 or 26 INT, running on macOS. There are only a few differences with Archicad running on Windows, which will be mentioned throughout the book where applicable. Also, both the Mac and Windows variants of shortcut keys will be mentioned (e.g., Cmd + D/Ctrl + D).
So, with these explanations and disclaimers out of the way, we are ready to start our journey into Archicad.
In this chapter, we introduced you to Graphisoft Archicad, its variety of license types, and how you can select the applicable one for you. In the next chapter, we will learn a little bit more about the installation and explore the user interface of the software before we set up our first Archicad project!
If you are interested in the history of Graphisoft and Archicad, here are some interesting links we based our summary on: