The Evolution of an Elevation

The Evolution of an Elevation

A few recent BIM-related encounters all pointed to a similar question/want: why can’t ArchiCAD handle element edges in elevation to mimic the heavy air lines of a hand-drawn elevation? It’s a good question, but not something I’m going to answer directly at the moment. Instead, let’s look deeper into the question. What are these concerns really pointing at? To me, the true crux is this: why is a pencil better at producing the aesthetic developed by and for hand drafting than ArchiCAD?

When we were all doing hardline drawings with pencil or ink, it was easy to produce drawings that met that aesthetic (obviously). Then when we jumped to flatCAD, it was still simple. Why? Because fundamentally there’s not much difference between 2D production, regardless of the medium (I’ll save defending that for a future post). But when we moved to 3D with printed 2D drawings as the final output things became more complicated. Now instead of drawing a heavy line, pointing to it, and telling everyone that’s a roof, we now model a roof and point to the 2D representation of that roof. The thickness of that roof’s line is an abstraction of a 3D element. It’s added data that might enhance the clarity of the printed document, but it’s not Information; it’s not really helping make the building better. And I am not convinced that many of the graphic conventions like thick air lines around elevations are even really that useful for contractors in the field or clients sitting around tables.

In the BIM world we have Two Routes

Option 1: The way we did things in the olden days was the best. Let’s do everything in our power to replicate those classic looks. That’s doable: it is without a doubt possible to create beautiful drawings using computers that imitate the old ways. The question then becomes how efficient is it? AND is it a valuable way to spend your time? Furthermore whether you can automate much of the process or not, your efforts start to focus on a specific aesthetic output of the documentation rather than the look of the final built product. To me this is a distraction. Every minute and hour you spend fussing about line weights is less time you spend developing a better design. Regardless of that sticking point, to the degree you go down this path you need a good process and solution. The answer is of course a better template. Isn’t that always the answer for everything? Figure out what you want and embed it in your template. ESPECIALLY for graphic issues.

Option 2: Instead of spending time and effort on mimicking previous methods of production, lets think about the possibilities that BIM provides. What if we free ourselves from old conventions? How can other forms of communication, document clarity, and representation support the BIM process, help the client understand their project, and keep the focus on the final built product? This is a huge topic and

ArchiCAD Elevation

Elevation with just 3D

not something I can cover in just one post. In fact I could easily spend 90 minutes talking about it. For instance at Architecture Boston Expo on November 14th, 2012 and at Eco Build in Washington, D.C. on December 4th, 2012. (Oh and as an aside, the talk I’m giving at both conventions is going to cover WAY more than just this one graphic issue).

I stopped mimicking Hand-drawn Elevations and the World Didn’t End

How about a quick example to mull over? Here’s an Elevation that’s 100% 3D.

ArchiCAD Elevation

Elevation with 3D & 2D

Here’s that same Elevation with notes, detail calls, and two or three graphic corrections w/ 2D fills (I was just being lazy). This is the view that showed up in the construction documents and approximates the old ways (although I’m already forgoing most line weights, such as heavy air lines).

ArchiCAD Elevation

Elevation with Materials

And finally, here is something that points towards the future. This elevation has uniform line weights for all elements (full disclosure: I accidentally left the line weight on for the groundline). All the material color and shadows are part of the model. I merely turned on some options. In other words, I just let additional information already embedded in the model show through into the 2D drawings. I did also add a Linear Gradient Fill for the background (5 seconds of work, less if you save it as a favorite). Is this final image in the Construction Documents, or is this just what the Client sees? It could be either. Because the third image only took a few moments to setup (and if I save the settings in my template, the setup time goes to ZERO), you have the option to show the client a drawing with more information that tells a better story AND is easier to understand. ArchiCAD and BIM allows you to tailor your documentation so that the intended viewer sees the information they need and not the stuff that would be distracting. Sure we’ve been able to show clients and contractors different images since the dawn of time. But now we are just parsing one data stream. Neither is a

Elevation Selection Settings

detour from the other. The best part? If you’re doing good models in ArchiCAD, this opportunity already exists in all your projects.

One final image: to the left are the settings I used to create the colored elevation.


  1. Jonnel Mamauag

    awesome! awesome! awesome! there was a previous post that you did about not really learning everything about BIM and the process for it, but learning something specific and you’re interested in.

    I forgot the whole title but that was a great insight ’cause right now I’m concerned about modeling well and drawing less. I think in 3D in terms of architectural design and that rang true for me. And with this it kinda helps me feel better about my chosen path ’cause I was a bit apprehensive on what I was doing.

    Although I’ve been experiencing the difference, both design and completion time wise.


  2. Scott Newland

    Jared, this makes good sense, and thank you for posting it. I tried your elevation settings, however, and have a question. Getting the gradated background is something I’m stuck on. I get the “As in 3D Window” option under Sun and Shadows, and have set View>3D View Options>3D Window Settings to Internal Engine (shading), with the background set to “As in PhotoRendering”. in PhotoRendering Settings, using the Internal Rendering Engine, I set the background to colors, with a sky and ground color appropriate to what I want to see. Regenerating the elevation, the background remains white but the building is nicely shaded and shadowed. What’s the missing link, do you think?

  3. Jared Banks

    Scott, I was hoping to just see you at convention today… sorry for the slow reply. The background is just a gradient fill (it needs to be a drafting fill for you to see the gradient fill option). Also note that what you’re seeing is not the 3D window, but just an elevation view (so that’s how I’m using a 2D fill as the background). If you were using the 3D window, you’d need to use an image that is a gradient. Which you could create by saving a jpg of a gradient fill you create in ArchiCAD.

  4. Chris


    This looks very interesting and certainly a step forward in the evolution of construction documents which can also be used for presentation. Realistically however, even though the software has these capabilities, how does this translate to running a large number of black and white drawings for the contractors though? Much of the printing world is still lagging behind in that companies with large format printers are still black and white- do you find these colored elevations translate well without line weights to grayscale, or do the fills become counter-productiove in terms of readability?

  5. Brett Wawn

    Hi Jared,

    Well written and explained. This is a topic many users seem to have not come across, which always surprises me, as there is much to gain from such easy to achieve outputs.

    I am sure you already know this, but it may be worth adding the below topics to your list of upcoming posts. They both should of course link back to this post though.

    1. I often use and train people how to produce both a colour and black & white elevation from the one elevation marker. Many seem to think you need two separate elevation markers to achieve this. I always get people to think about what they are trying to achieve. In this instance the question is “how can I adjust the way my elevation appears visually?”. Next step is to now think what aspects of ArchiCAD have the ability to control how something appears? Layers are generally used to completely hide or show an element, whereas, as you know, model view options simply change how a visible element appears.

    Anyway moving on to the tip. You can set up a colour elevation by using your above mentioned elevation settings, but change it back to black & white via model view option settings, specifically ‘override fill display’ options.

    – Override Fill background colour and set to ‘transparent background’ to remove the materials colour.

    – Override cover fills and set to ‘no fill’ to remove any vectorial hatching.

    – Override drafting fills and set to ‘no fill’ to remove any shadows… strangely.

    Next… save these as model view option combinations (Elevation B&W vs Elevation Colour). Therefore one view is saved and linked to the Elevation Colour model view option combination, which does not overide these fill types, and shows as colour. Whereas another view which links to the same view point (source elevation) is set to use the Elevation B&W model view option combination, which changes your elevation back to black and white. Note: there may be a third which changes to B&W but leaves vectorial hatching on (does not override cover fills). Many options!

    2. I think it would be well worth mentioning or writing a post on marked distant area, as this will of course give depth to your elevations, which is something I believe is missing from your above examples.

    Anyway, as I said… great post Jared. A very worthwhile topic bringing up. I trust you are well?

    Take care


    • Benjamin Meyer

      Hi there,

      I’ve been using this technique for some time. Tweaking MVOs for elevation views. Very useful.

      Except now the office shifted to AC20, I can’t seem to get the same results using graphical overrides. Any ideas here?

      • Jared Banks

        Ben, I’m actually in the process of writing a follow up to this post for AC20. I’m just waiting on one thing, which might be a few more weeks.

        When using Graphic Overrides, make sure you are checking the correct boxes for which fills are being affected by the override. There are boxes for drafting, cover, and cut fills.

        • Benjamin Meyer


          I’m lingering to read this new post of yours. They’re always so good. Graphic overrides, being so new, is still a field lacking some articles from people like you.

          I had noticed those boxes filtering fill types but still can’t figure which combination controls the shadows. It feels like I’ve explored every single possibility… but apparently not!

          • Jared Banks

            Ben, right now shadows are considered Cover Fills. If you hide Cover Fills (to hide the color of the Surfaces), the shadows disappear as well. This is a bug that’s been submitted to GS. And that’s exactly what I’m waiting to be fixed before I write the post. Shadows need to be classified as drafting fills so that they can be turned on/off separately from color.

  6. Brett Wawn

    Also a response to Chris regarding printing.

    This is a great point and something, as you said, is not easy to escape. Hopefully my above tip will help, as this will allow you to produce both options (colour and black & white) every easily, especially if setup and automated within your template… as Jared mentioned.

  7. Jared Banks

    Brett, yes all is well. I’ve been meaning to catch up with you. Hopefully sometime later in December.

    Chris… like Brett discusses there are a lot of ways to get one elevation to look great in both color and black and white. The other route is what I discuss here:

    Basically pen sets can turn an elevation from color to black and white and line weights to no line weights. There are a lot of issues here, but one easy one is that we don’t need so many line weights for elevations.

    I know I only skim the surface with these two posts, so I agree with Brett that I’ll aim to do some more in depth follow ups. Maybe a video.

    The big idea hear though is that one elevation (with MVO, pen sets, etc) can be beautiful both in color and B&W. So depending on our audience and output we can have everything. And be ready for when the printing world either catches up or disappears because we stop printing!

  8. Chris

    Brett and Jared:

    Great points, I hadn’t even thought about using the display options in that way- i can see how, with a properly set up template, it would be relatively easy to do both colored elevations and black and white, using the right pen sets and display options…

    Of course, taking the time to set these up is the real hindrance here. We’ve been using slightly modified office “templates” that are throwbacks in many ways to Archicad 9- finding the time to stop and update the way we do things is critical every now and again- I had to be dragged kicking and screaming into using AC 11 with the “integrated plotmaker”, but once we had it set up, it made life SO much easier. I guess the trick is knowing when a big feature has come along and integrating it into your process. This might be one worth considering.

    I hope you do spend some time going more in depth with this- knowing how you set your pens and display options up would give me a better starting point. But regardless, great post; and thanks!



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