Did you survive my recent post on the differences between Attributes and Parameters? Now that I’ve exhaustively described how Attributes, parameters, and non-parameter based data relate, I want to look more closely at Attributes. In ArchiCAD there are twelve Element Attributes. I’ve listed them below and categorized them using two different methodologies.
Two Ways to Understand Your Global Data
On the left I’ve organized the twelve Attributes via focus. Each Attribute can be listed as relating primarily to one major aspect of the program: elements or views. Some Attributes describe your elements, others describe how your amalgamation of elements are viewed. This is important because it suggests a division between Things and Describers. Element-focused Attributes affect elements directly. A wall has a Complex Profile, Composite Structure, or Building Material assigned to it. A slab has an Uncut Lines parameter and parameters for Cover Fills. View-focused Attributes deal more with how elements appear based on other project settings. These Attributes can have different appearances based on how Views are saved. Think of them as indirect, or conditional Attributes. Layers are really sub-Attributes to Layer Combinations and control how elements interact, whether they are visible, shown in wireframe, etc. Layer Combinations are connected to Views, not elements. Pens are the same way. They are really sub-Attributes of Pen Sets which, depending on the View, affect how all elements are perceived. Mark-Up Styles, while more about team communication, similarly link data more to Views than elements. These Attributes focus on how elements are perceived rather than on their essence. If you look at these View Focused Attributes in this macro-sense, you’ll use them better. You won’t be thinking about a specific Layer or Pen in isolation, but as part of a bigger whole. You’ll see that what matters is the larger context of one Layer Combination or Pen Set in relation to another. It might feel like a minor mental shift, but it’s yet another gateway into a deeper understanding of your models (and thus BIM).
Attributes can also be broken into three categories that fall along the continuum of Cartoon to Digital Approximation (more on that another day). Some Attributes (Fills, Lines, Pens & Colors) are primarily about graphics. These Attributes provide unified visual consistency across elements. But these characteristics don’t have any real-world analog. They are an evolution of graphic conventions that trace their origins to CAD and hand drafting. There is value to these Attributes and they can suggest higher-order data, but that is not their main function. In short they help make your drawings legible and pretty. Metadata Attributes on the other hand contain information that is often more relevant to the structure of the data within the BIM rather than either the real-world or final documentation (though they of course can and do affect both). It is data about the data. Layers, Mark-Up Styles, Renovation Override Styles, and Zone Categories all fall under this category. They represent non-dimensional data that is extremely useful for parsing the work in various ways. I like to think of their data as extra-dimensional, as beyond normal reality. The final grouping of Attributes are digital approximations. These Attributes—Surfaces, Operation Profiles, Composite Structures, Complex Profiles, and especially Building Materials—are electronic representations of physical objects. Each attempts to act as a placeholder or a digital proxy for something to be built. A Composite Structure stands for a to-be-built floor or wall construction system, Operation Profiles represent how spaces are used, Surfaces are digital proxies for the appearance of materials, etc. And this finally brings us to Building Materials.
Building Materials: Your Favorite New Attribute
Building Materials are a clarification of the graphic/meta/digital approximation split. In ArchiCAD 16, Materials were representations of real-world things, but not really. They only concerned themselves with outward appearances. Fills were a graphic convention, but also contained thermal properties of real-world elements. It worked, but was messy. Now in ArchiCAD 17, Fills are only graphics, Surfaces (the Attribute formally known as Materials) are only about external appearance, and Building Materials are a new Attribute that claims the delineated space of Digital Approximation of real-world stuff. Everything that’s a real world aspect of a material becomes part of Building Materials (and also the graphic representation of those real world materials become a part of this new Attribute). Currently that means how elements of that Building Material interact with other elements (Intersection Priority), Thermal Properties, and—via linked Surfaces—the Building Materials standard physical appearance. If you notice Thermal Properties are actually listed as Physical Properties. I think that’s a subtle, yet intentional distinction. I have no secret knowledge of the direction Building Materials will go, but it’s not hard to imagine that future iterations of Building Materials could incorporate other physical properties of various materials such as weight, cost, etc. (concrete and its long list of properties and variables also comes to mind).
There are two other subtle changes to ArchiCAD 17 that support this view of graphic/meta/digital approximation among Attributes, and by extension the way we view our work within ArchiCAD. Fills created with the Fill Tool (so we are talking about elements not the Fill Type Attribute) can now be assigned as Drafting, Cover, Cut, or Building Material. I’ll write a future post on all the differences, but for now it’s interesting to note that ArchiCAD allows you to create 2D versions of Building Materials; 2D representations of digital approximations; thin slices of theoretical reality. We’ve seen a hint of why this is useful before. The other thing to note isn’t so much a change, but a quark of Building Materials. Their surfaces can be overridden for individual elements. This means you can assign a Building Material to an element, keeping everything the same but how the Building Material/element is viewed in 3D and in elevation. Why does this matter? Think about Type ‘X’ gyp. board. You want it to be the same everywhere for purposes of section cuts, thermal modeling, quantity take-offs, cost analysis, etc. But you also want to be able to show each room painted uniquely as required. Fifty square feet of gyp. board painted pink and fifty square feet of gyp. board painted baby blue are one hundred square feet of gyp. board the builder needs to order. The paint is something different.
I’m very excited about Building Materials because it marks a clear direction for the future of ArchiCAD. It shows that the developers must understand the splits I describe above (or they do now!). This also answers a major question I regularly get about modeling in general: what and why should I be modeling? Graphisoft, and other industry players and pressures, are moving us towards digital approximations for our models. If you’ve read my more wild musings over on Shoegnome, you know I believe that at some point BIM and buildings will merge; we will live in a world of augmented reality. With those two points of reference, the answer to what and why should I be modeling is this: you should be modeling in a way that supports those two eventualities. You should model in a manner that will support you taking advantage of future developments of ArchiCAD, developments that will presumably move the program more and more in the direction of digital approximations. And you should also be modeling in this way because you will soon have the potential to connect your digital models directly to the built structures. This doesn’t mean you have to do everything today. But it does mean you need to be on that path. The other path leads towards obsolesce.
One More Thing:
For the record, this direction I see for ArchiCAD’s future is 100% my own conception. I have no idea how these concepts are being furthered by the developers of ArchiCAD. I could be completely wrong. I’ve got no one from HQ feeding me secret knowledge. But that said, the signs are all over the recent versions.
What about Stories, Project Location, Project Information, Model View Options, etc. Why aren’t they listed as Attributes? Don’t all of those fall into the two categorization methodologies? This is a good question. My hunch is that it comes from the origins of each feature, or that the information can’t be directly linked to individual elements. Maybe they should be linkable. Or at least viewed as part of the same concept. Once we see that Pens & Colors are View Focused Graphic Data Attributes, how is that any different from Model View Options? I’m not so sure they are different. Some of these others though aren’t about elements or views; they are about environment. Either digital approximations of the real world site or graphic and metadata aspects of the ether that one models within. Project Information is just Environment Focused Metadata similar to Renovation Override Styles. And Project Location is Environment Focused Digital Approximation. Maybe it’s time for Graphisoft to start reorganizing some menus?