On the Record, ArchiCAD Over Revit – Says Zawrotny

On the Record, ArchiCAD Over Revit – Says Zawrotny

Florida architect uses ArchiCAD to create BIM for high end residential, church, commercial offices and international bridge design.

DodStone_Website_logo3Karin Zawrotny is an architect with Dodstone Group Architects, based in Tallahassee, Florida. The firm has both ArchiCAD and Revit in house and uses both products to create BIMs for high end residential, ecclesiastic, commercial office and international bridge design.  ArchiCAD is their product of choice due to its smaller file sizes, ease of transitioning from modelling to construction documents, and ability to fly through the model in 3D.  Dodstone Group keeps Revit in the office to facilitate working with some clients who require an RVT deliverable.

Zawrotny tells us she came to Dodstone from another firm that had been using Revit exclusively to complete their projects.  There was a transition period in which she acclimated to using ArchiCAD when she switched firms. “With any new software, there are aspects of transitioning that are going to take some time, no matter what project you’re working on at the time. That goes with the territory. However, when I switched, it didn’t take me long to find the strengths of ArchiCAD.”

ArchiCAD’s strengths are numerous, according to Zawrotny – and she explains it in a way architects can relate.

St. Peter's View From Thomasville Road

Image by Dodstone Group Architects, Inc. and Touchstone Architecture

“The first item that jumped out was how ArchiCAD allowed me to organize my details and drawings.  I could create custom folders and drag details into logical places.  I was also able to relocate entire folders as the project grew and became more complicated.  In Revit, the organization was much less intuitive and very difficult to reorganize mid-stream during a project.  The time savings in being able to get to a given detail, by anyone in the office, is tremendous.  You don’t have to remember exactly what a detail was named.  The benefit to ArchiCAD’s file structure was even more evident in projects with multiple users.

“I have never understood the reluctance of some architects to leverage their building models during the preparation of construction documents.  You hear time and time again how a firm will model a building in 3D, but switch to 2D when detailing.  In my mind, this is where you get the return from the time spent modeling.  ArchiCAD facilitates this design phase transition.  After having worked with ArchiCAD for several years, it was surprising to me how much more labor intensive it was to make that same design to CD phase transition using Revit.  Simple tasks like using the same detail on multiple pages was much more difficult to achieve.  After working on my first Revit project in several years, I could understand the temptation to revert to 2D.”

St. Peter's

Image by Dodstone Group Architects, Inc. and Touchstone Architecture

Zawrotny has been tasked with projects ranging from the St. Peter’s Anglican Church, to a collaborative bridge project.

The 35,300 square foot church, located in Tallahassee, FL consists of an undercroft housing office, classrooms, and the parish hall.  On the main floor there is the sanctuary and chapel.  The church also has a choir loft.  The new Cathedral – which broke ground in December of 2012 and is on track to open in spring of 2014 will become the only church like it in the area. The building follows a simplified gothic design. Zawrotny says she found it helpful to use custom objects with ArchiCAD. She also enjoyed the way she could fly through the model live in order to show her client the way things were laid out (because the client didn’t know how to read architectural drawings). Even now as changes come up in meetings with the church and planning committees, they can be enacted on the fly, with no time wasted waiting for the model to catch up with changes.

“The real payoff and biggest advantage comes when I have to create construction documents.”

Her current firm does occasionally need to work with Revit and it is at those instances that she says she realizes how much more difficult some tasks are. “When I was getting used to ArchiCAD, there was of course a learning curve – you expect that with a new software. I now compare that initial experience to using Revit and I can say that the difficulty using Revit goes beyond that beginning awkward stage all users have with new software. In addition, the real payoff and biggest advantage comes when I have to create construction documents. ArchiCAD does this more efficiently than any other BIM software I have used.”

Zawrotny is also working on a moveable-span bridge project in which her portion of the workload is comprised of four small building structures nestled within the steel structure of the bridge itself. The vehicular bridge is 730 feet long, carries four lanes of traffic, and crosses over a bridge near a major U.S. city (the owner has requested that the project not be identified until after construction has begun).

time-is-moneyWhile going through changes on this project, set in Revit, she says she has experienced delays when changes are made even on a much simpler model – especially with regard to the “re-gen” time (how long it takes to incorporate it into the model when a change is made in the custom profile). “The details and complexity of the cathedral far outweigh those of the bridge, but in the bridge, the construction documentation is a real hassle.”

“Basically we’re talking about a fundamental difference in the way ArchiCAD and Revit work. The three rooms on my bridge project take me longer to adjust than when I’m carrying out a similar task on my much more complex Cathedral project in ArchiCAD. I have significantly less lag time when working in ArchiCAD.”

St. Peter's Side View

Image by Dodstone Group Architects, Inc. and Touchstone Architecture

Speaking of time savings, Zawrotny says ArchiCAD is a huge help. “The ability for me to generate detail on top of the model and add information while getting results is faster using ArchiCAD. Even more important given my current project, when changes do happen, I can update the model and link details by a section mark, detail bubble, or even a linked text reference. I have set up our title block with a grid system.  If I drop in a detail, it automatically numbers itself based upon this grid.  The detail references will automatically update as well.  Revit (release 12) has some of these features, but not the grid naming system or the linked text reference to a detail – at least not that I was able to track down.”

Custom objects took Zawrotny a bit of time to become adept at using in ArchiCAD, but once she created two or three objects, she considered the process very simple. “All the custom trim work we created in the Cathedral was never turned off. So when I spin the model and cut a section, there is never a moment where I am waiting for the model to catch up to me – it is instantaneous.  I could easily control how the custom objects looked in plan, section, or model view and even change what was included depending upon the scale of the drawing.”

ArchiCAD vs. Revit: IFC Compatibility

IFC Revit ArchiCADA year and a half ago, Zawrotny decided to put her observations to the test in terms of creating a comparison of ArchiCAD and Revit on their usability and IFC compatibility. She created identical models in ArchiCAD and in Revit, and embedded similar data into the different smart objects. Then she converted both to an IFC format and then took the file back into Revit. Surprisingly, there was more data lost from the native Revit file than from the ArchiCAD model.  “When I pulled it into Revit after it was converted to an IFC compatible format, I found I had to make a choice between retaining the geometric objects’ integrity or to retain the data embedded in the objects. I found success in one or the other, but not both. Either it looked pretty or it gave me valid information, rarely both.”

This test was done as a client was trying to decide if they could accept IFC format as a deliverable.  Advances in IFC translations have been made in both programs since this test was run, “I need to find the time to take another look at this to see if the latest updates preserve the data and the model integrity better than before.”

Visualization Wins Business

Overall, Zawrotny considers the live fly-through ability of ArchiCAD a selling point. “There is a distinct advantage when we work with clients who cannot read drawings – which is most of the general public. I know we have won jobs directly because of this feature.  We could show them a model, fly through it, and stop and make changes.  They could understand exactly what they were going to get after the project was built. In Revit, you have to set up a pre-scripted pathway or open the project in a second software application – but I lose the ability to make live changes. With ArchiCAD, I can have a conversation and show my client views and react to their questions as we go along. I can literally turn the mouse over to them and they can pick and choose what they want to examine in the model. It’s empowering for them – it gives them confidence about what they’re getting as opposed to just showing them a 2D drawing or a static 3D rendering.”