Process vs Happening: Templates are Not Optional

Process vs Happening: Templates are Not Optional

Hand Sketching and Watercolors

ArchiCADWe all love to see architectural images that cross the line into art, and are typically jealous of anyone with strong enough skills to use their handwork professionally.* But how long does a watercolor take? How valuable is a sketch beyond an initial feeling? How much is it lying to you? Are the perspectives real or fabrications? When you can’t get the right view from your BIM, it probably means that view won’t exist in the built project. So you either need to find a different view or redesign your project. For me that’s exciting and liberating.

Implementing BIM and ArchiCAD is not as simple as switching computer programs. Often, firms are moving from an undocumented, free-for-all method of production to a more codified standard. Or perhaps they have best practices, but they aren’t typically followed. In CAD you can get away with sloppy drafting; with BIM, lazy habits and bad usage become apparent. That laziness will propagate throughout the model, infiltrating every plan, section, schedule, etc. Because remember, it’s all linked.

Process vs Happening

If you’ve also been reading my blog, you might have heard me mention Pat Moore. I took two courses that Pat Moore taught in the civil engineering department while I was at Rice University. One of the greatest things he explained to us was the difference between a Process and a Happening in the business world. In short, a Process is definable and repeatable. A Happening is a one-off event, lacking definition and documentation. If past successes are based on Processes, then the future can aim to repeat or build on those successes. If past success is based on a Happening, then the future is a crap shoot. Too much of architectural production is a Happening, not a Process. This is bad in flat CAD. It is disastrous in BIM.

Your work is not as unique as you think (but that’s okay)

ArchiCAD ElevationIn my 4 1/2 years at SALA Architects, I worked on over 40 projects, all modeled in ArchiCAD. The basic construction for about 90% of those projects was near identical, from a modeling perspective. I found a basic composite wood frame wall I liked and used that over and over again. It evolved, got prettier, smarter, more useful. But each project was an evolution of the previous or from the identical template (not every project triggered an update to the template). And everyone else at the firm using ArchiCAD benefited and built off of my work and templates.

Can you image starting a new project and saying “okay, so how am I going to represent this stud wall? What pen should I use? What’s the line weight and type? Which fills…” Take a step up in complexity. Wall becomes window. Window becomes Sheet Layout. Sheet Layout becomes Pen Sets and Line Types. The more time you spend developing these for your typical project, the less time you spend working on them as a whole. Five hours of template work will save hours on every project. If my template saved me 1 hour per project (horribly conservative), I saved myself a week of work in 4 1/2 years. If it saves me 4 hours, I saved myself a month. What if it’s more? A day’s worth of work or perhaps a week? BIM Templates can do this. Especially as you do similar work of a similar nature.

Are your projects part of a greater body of work or is each so unique and one-off that you can’t follow the basic tenants of template creation: Define, Execute, Refine. Repeat.

*Beautiful drawings and images directly from ArchiCAD is a personal passion. It’s something I continually work towards and I’m a firm believer that computer-based architects can produce images that equal the glory of the best hand-drafters. More on that later.


  1. Hey Jared -

    I am a big believer in the value of templates, having created MasterTemplate (, the most widely used independent ArchiCAD template, which has been in continuous development since 2007.

    I have written up several articles on the subject, explaining some of the practical steps that will help users create their own templates and refine them:

    One of the common ways to develop an ArchiCAD template for the first time is to save a copy of a current, well-developed project as a TPL file, then delete the actual building and other elements that are specific to the project. When using this approach, it can be very effective to leave in some of the markers (sections and elevations, primarily) for future re-use; by doing so, one only has to reposition them in the next project, and they will retain all the settings as well as already being pre-placed on appropriate layout sheets (they can be moved around, of course, if a particular project requires it).

    Some people even leave typical notes and labels “lying around” so that they can be moved into position for the next building. And of course, it is ideal to develop and maintain your preferred set of Favorites (both using the Favorites palette as well as perhaps a “kit of parts” that you can eye-drop, placed off to the side or in a worksheet), attributes (including wall composites) and even standard detail drawings (which can be left in the template as independent details that markers can link to in your actual project context).

    I love your impressive examples of complex profiles, Jared, that I saw in a recent blog post. These can really help speed production, and can easily be incorporated into a robust template.

    Thank you for your ongoing contributions to the ArchiCAD knowledge-base!


  2. Eric, thanks for the comments and appreciation. And thank YOU! Your MasterTemplate is a great asset for our community (and of course all the other things you do). My personal template took a great leap forward a few years ago after seeing a presentation of MasterTemplate at a user group I was running in Minnesota. Actually, it was after that user group that I started getting really serious about understanding the power of templates for ArchiCAD. And more importantly, implementing them.

    You are absolutely right. The amount of information you can imbed into a template goes so far beyond just Attributes. Sheet layouts, title blocks, project information, typical notes, standard views. So much of this is standard (or should be) from project to project.

    I have a feeling we’ll both be writing and sharing plenty more on templates! :)


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