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.