Returning to the Days of Ancient ArchiCAD
A lot has happened since 2006
As of January 2016, I have been using ARCHICAD for ten years. I first used ARCHICAD while working for the Nelson Tremain Partnership in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Below is a rendering I did for them in 2006 using ARCHICAD 9’s brand new LightWorks rendering engine. I think this image might have been my first rendering in ARCHICAD.
The image brings back plenty of memories. So much is encapsulated in this image: the first time I used the Mesh Tool (to create the site), the first building I did all the documentation for (the HUD building), the first time I faced modeling challenges in ARCHICAD (pretty much everything), the first time I used live elevations and sections, the first time I became the model manager and defacto standards enforcer, the first time I shoegnomed a project, the first time I worked on a Teamwork project, the first time I hotlinked in multiple files into the same site model, the first time I had to coordinate a team of multiple all working in the same file at the same time…
Meanwhile, A Few Miles Away
While I was doing the above rendering, Jon Buerg was celebrating ten years at his job and talking to the local GRAPHISOFT rep about purchasing ARCHICAD. Jon and his coworkers eventually learned ARCHICAD 10 and spent the subsequent years happily conquering each new version. In late 2015, he left that job and took a hiatus to think about his future. Which means he is doing what so many architects do with their free time: designing a remodel to his home. This posed two challenges for Jon. He had spent the last 21 years of his career NOT doing residential. And after spending almost a decade using ARCHICAD, and occasionally begrudgingly using other software that his firm also dabbled in, he found himself with an architecture project but no ARCHICAD. Well, almost no ARCHICAD. While he didn’t have his own license (he always had access to the company’s), he did have an old Pay Per Use Key with a bunch of hours left on it. Unfortunately the key was for ARCHICAD 15. So Jon did the crazy thing and started working in ARCHICAD like it was 2011. It has been an eye opener for him. He e-mailed me and said I should write about what it feels like to travel back in time to use an old version of ARCHICAD. I told him in no uncertain terms “absolutely not.” There was no way I was going to subject myself to an old version of ARCHICAD. I’ve talked about this before, the moment when a new version of ARCHICAD clicks and one never wants to go back to an old version. For me, the desire to never use anything older than ARCHICAD 19 happened particularly fast. I wrote about it here. To save you some time, here’s a quote from that article:
Please don’t make me use an old version of ARCHICAD
-Jared Banks, AIA, after working with ARCHICAD 19 for about ten minutes
I said it then, and I still mean it now. I really like ARCHICAD 19. I even hate even using ARCHICAD 18. It feels like I’m wearing mittens. But I like Jon and he always gets me thinking; he has a knack for challenging me. After I sent him my e-mail stating that there was no way I was going to do his experiment, the idea started to rattle around my head. It was a good idea. A really good idea. And with this being my tenth year of ARCHICAD, it seemed fitting that I do a retrospective. A day passed and I realized I was doomed. I was going to have to open up an old version of ARCHICAD and try to work. Maybe I’d even open up an old file and see what it felt like.
I first used ARCHICAD 9, but ARCHICAD 9 won’t run on OSX 10.11. So I can’t relive the
horrors joys of Plotmaker. However, thanks to the continuously maintained ARCHICAD 10 File Converter, I can relive the second version of ARCHICAD I regularly used (I dabbled in ARCHICAD 8.1, but only to do minor work on existing projects). ARCHICAD 10 to ARCHICAD 19 is a big jump. So I decided to also look at the halfway point: ARCHICAD 15, which I happen to have on my machine, and which still sort-of runs on OSX 10.11.
I have ARCHICAD 15 on my laptop because that was the current version when I bought my laptop back in February 2012. It’s pretty amazing that I’ve used this machine to run ARCHICAD 15-19 on live projects. And odds are I’ll add at least one more version of ARCHICAD to that list. Since 2012 I’ve upgraded the machine as much as possible. I replaced the default 4 GB of RAM with first 8 GB and then 16 GB. More recently I swapped out the 750GB / 7200 rpm Serial ATA Drive with a 500 GB solid state SATA drive. I’ve also diligently upgraded my OS yearly from 10.7 to 10.11. Other than upgrading the OS again, there’s nothing else I can do to get more power and speed out of this four year old machine. In fact, I’ve already told myself that I’m going to replace it sometime this year with whatever wondermachine Apple releases next. Probably. I fear that when it actually comes time to buy a new machine this Summer or Fall, I’ll look at the price tag, think about how the current version of ARCHICAD works perfectly well on my Late 2011 MacBook Pro, and put off the purchase for another year. That’s essentially what I did with this machine when ARCHICAD 18 was released. And then again with ARCHICAD 19.
Each version gets faster, as GRAPHISOFT focuses on multi-core processing, background processing, and other behind-the-scenes magic. Over the past four years, each version of ARCHICAD has run better on the same machine. ARCHICAD 19 runs faster than 10 or 15. That is amazing. Yes my machine has been upgraded, but over four years ARCHICAD has improved in ways that continue to squeeze ever increasing performance out of this now ancient machine. Let’s pause and think about that for a moment. Wow.
The Goal Used To Be A 3D Model
When I started using ARCHICAD, BIM was not an acronym that everyone argued about. Most of us hadn’t even heard the term. Data was not yet something that mattered more than a 3D model. Back in 2006, the dream was just to have a model that generated some drawings. The 3D model wasn’t even for us to really look at or to show the client. If we were real rockstars, we might do a rendering. But probably only one. More than likely our models were too incomplete to even attempt a rendering.
I didn’t bother trying to do renderings with ARCHICAD 10, but I did look back to ARCHICAD 15 (the first image in this post is from ARCHICAD 9 and I’m sure I put a lot of effort into it). I found an ARCHICAD 15 file and rendered it. WHILE it was rendering, I opened up ARCHICAD 19 and rendered the same view with CineRender. The CineRender rendering finished first. (read that again: while ARCHICAD 15 was rendering, I opened ARCHICAD 19 and completed a rendering, on the same machine). By the way, this model was done as a background for a video—the building was never supposed to be real, it was just set dressing. It might be vaguely familiar from some very old posts I wrote.
- Fun with Slabs – AKA Archi-treeStump and Slab ramps. Yes. Slab ramps.
- TVs, Plotters, Computer Screens, Paintings, and Self Promotion
Here are the results:
Both are just opening the file and clicking render. There are no updates to the Surfaces or anything else. The Surfaces are whatever they were in ARCHICAD 15 (when they were still called Materials). The only change is the rendering engine and the ARCHICAD version. The difference is startling. Not only is the second better and brighter, it was faster. The second is something that could be easily improved in ARCHICAD or Photoshopped.
While CineRender has made the rendering process so much better (and more fun), the further and further back in time we go, other roadblocks appear that prevented frequent rendering. Years ago working in the 3D window was not as easy. In ARCHICAD 10, the 3D window was a bit of a wasteland. The 3D window was more of a visual aid than a place to do serious business. And by visual aid, I mean a place to view your work in axonometric or perspective, not understand the subtleties of materiality or shade and shadow (though to be fair, 3D Orbit and Explore modes were introduced in ARCHICAD 10—both indispensable 3D navigation aids). Shadows in Open GL didn’t appear until ARCHICAD 14. Checking sun angles in the 3D window is now such a fundamental design tool. I’m always changing the time of day and year to test how the building reacts. Working in a 3D environment without access to shadows is painful.
By ARCHICAD 15, working in 3D was okay. The editing planes existed but they were not fully formed. By ARCHICAD 19 working in 3D is a breeze. Various enhancements have made the 3D window equal to any other view. A major improvement occurred in ARCHICAD 16 when the cursor became aware of 3D space—we got this along with the Morph Tool. That is an interesting pairing. One might look back to ARCHICAD 16 and think the biggest revolution was the Morph Tool. But it wasn’t. It was the way the cursor became smarter in the 3D window. You probably don’t use the Morph Tool every day, or every hour. But you do work in the 3D window that often (hint: if you are thinking, “um… no I don’t,” it’s time to change your ways).
I can’t remember when the switch occurred—when working regularly in the 3D Window became the predominant/favorite view. I know it was sometime between ARCHICAD 14 and 16 (the improvements to the cursor in the 3D window was the inflection point, but not the beginning of the shift towards using the 3D window for work). I recall writing about it on my blog, stating something to the effect of “I was going to try harder to work directly in the 3D window.” Now it’s natural. Now it’s the default for so many actions. But once upon a time, creating new elements in 3D was only done rarely. In increments between ARCHICAD 10 and ARCHICAD 19, barriers disappeared that made designing in any view easy. And those same barriers increased the ease of making or preparing renderings. Again, shadows are a good example of this. We can review our shadows in Open GL before rendering. Most of the videos I share wouldn’t be possible without the little enhancements that made working in any view simple.
Of course changes to the 3D window are but one facet of the evolution of ARCHICAD. Now I’d like to spend the remainder of this article highlighting some other changes that popped out at me while jumping between ARCHICAD 10, 15, and 19.
There are 3 options in ARCHICAD 10. By ARCHICAD 15 there are the seven we know and expect. In ARCHICAD 19, those icons are also buttons. That’s a subtle change between 15 and 19, but it makes a world of difference. Being able to get from the Quick Options to all those View focused Attributes means their utility increases. They become something that is quick to change between and easy to update. In this evolution we see how the capabilities of ARCHICAD first expand and then get refined for better usability. This theme repeats as one looks at the changes of ARCHICAD. We get a good feature, but later it becomes great thanks to future tweaks (yes, yes, sometimes those tweaks take longer than we’d like). Quick Options in ARCHICAD 15 looks the same as ARCHICAD 19, but the addition of the buttons makes a huge difference. Now that I have the Quick Options of ARCHICAD 19, I find the Quick Options of 15 (or 18) frustrating to work with.
Remember when you had to select the direction of the dimension before creating it? And you couldn’t change part way through? The below image is from ARCHICAD 10. I’m sure in a few years (if not already), we will look at pre-ARCHICAD 19 dimensions and think “how did we ever work without multi-line text and leaders for dimensions.”
Sometimes tools make incremental improvements. Dimensions for the most part, fit that bill. Sometimes the changes are massive. Interior Elevations have been completely overhauled since ARCHICAD 10 (we got the tool we know now in ARCHICAD 11). I could create Interior Elevations with ARCHICAD 10, but didn’t know what to do once I did that. It’s weird and bad. I’m sure I once knew how to use them, but now I have no clue. I’m so glad we no longer have to deal with an awkward separate window showing all four elevations that need to be updated manually through a menu item.
ARCHICAD got more Attributes over time. As the number grew, our shift from local to global data increased. These two posts talk more about this change:
The lack of newer Attributes becomes very frustrating when using older versions of ARCHICAD. A few extra clicks to get the dimension placed right is annoying, but it just slows me down. It doesn’t destroy my processes. Not having Building Materials is a deal breaker.
Remember the days of losing data because ARCHICAD crashed? Yes, yes, ARCHICAD still occasionally crashes, but do you recall when that was more than an annoyance? When crashing actually set you back more than the time it took to relaunch? Back when you lost minutes or sometimes foolishly hours of work? We’ve come a long way. There are a lot of tools I could work around not having. But losing data because of a crash. Ugh. No thank you.
There are so many changes over the years. And even the little updates aggregate into some major differences. We could talk about when IFC appeared, or when OpenBIM was introduced, or when plugins appeared (or disappeared). I could continue endlessly pointing out all the differences (and I hope you’ll share your favorites in the comments). Aside from ARCHICAD 12 and 13 which I skipped, I successfully completed projects with ARCHICAD 9 through ARCHICAD 19. Whatever the software had to offer, it was more than enough to get my work done. So as I look back from 2016 at all the features I somehow lived without, it gets me excited for the future. I look forward to writing another post in 2021 or 2026, where I’ll reminisce on fifteen or twenty years of using ARCHICAD. What awesome features will become the new tools and functionality that we can’t imagine not having? I can’t wait to find out. And I’m sure when I write those posts, I will use this blog post to cover the first ten years of my ARCHICAD usage rather than put myself through the misery of using ancient versions of ARCHICAD.
We’ll Grind That Axe For A Long Time
There’s something about January which gets long-time users nostalgic. As I’ve been working on this article, two ARCHICAD using friends of mine have also been sharing their history with ARCHICAD. There’s a lot of unintentional overlap between these articles, but no matter how long you’ve been using ARCHICAD, you’ll enjoy these posts, too:
- Djordje Grujic – Reviewing ARCHICAD in 1995 and 2015.
- Vistasp Mehta – Rendering in ARCHICAD since version 9.
In addition to opening the versions of ARCHICAD I have on my computer, two great websites helped me remember the way things were. Applecore Designs continues to maintain the ARCHICAD Upgrade Calculator year after year—it covers as far back as ARCHICAD 10. Also the ARCHICAD versions list on the Help Center is one of my favor places for ARCHICAD memories. It lists every ARCHICAD version along with it’s release year, platform, and major new features. ARCHICAD 3.0 might have the most mind-blowing new feature: COLORS.
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