BIM Conference 2017: 56 hours in Las Vegas – Part 2

This is part 2 of my GRAPHISOFT North America 2017 BIM Conference recap, if you haven’t already read it, here’s part 1. Parts 3 and 4 are mostly written. I’ll have them completed and shared as soon as I can. There’s so much to share from the conference, and not enough time in the week for me to get everything done that I need to. Enough lamentations. Let’s jump right in…

Ken Huggins is always a joy to listen to. Maybe it’s his awesome South Carolinian accent. Maybe it’s because he’s a really smart guy. Maybe it’s his passion. Maybe it’s because he’s one of those people who I instantly became friends with. Or maybe it’s because of his wild ideas. Even if you don’t agree with him, Ken is going to make you think.

In Las Vegas, Ken spoke about building enclosure science and how that informs the way he uses ARCHICAD. Ken has his files (.PLN and BIMx) along with his presentation on his website. Check them out. Whenever you have the opportunity to look at someone else’s ARCHICAD file, ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS say yes. Always download and explore. ARCHICAD file show-and-tell is always enlightening, whether the file is from a seasoned pro or a brand new user. If you’ve looked at my template or read a lot of my writing over the past few years, you’ll see a number of similarities between how Ken and I view ARCHICAD. For instance, you’ll notice that Ken uses a lot of color in his drawings, just like me. If you saw both our presentations you might remember we both had a slide about Rapidographs. That’s no coincidence. A long time ago, both those things came up in conversation and the ideas stuck—albeit in different ways. This is one of the reasons I love talking with other passionate ARCHICAD users. We all find different solutions to similar problems. Or similar solutions to different problems.

Rethinking Building Materials

Ken has his Insulation Building Material(s) set to be slightly transparent. This allows him to see through the insulation to things beyond when he’s cutting his model in 3D (and especially when he’s hidden sheathing via Partial Structural Display). I like that. I haven’t decided if I’m going to steal borrow that to be part of my template, but I’m exploring the idea. His black background in 3D on the other hand? Nope. I know Ken has his reasons for doing that, but I much prefer my pale blue background that simulates the sky.

Ken talked about a Cavity Building Material. I am appropriating this idea. And you should too. Early on when using Building Materials it became evident that one air space Building Material wasn’t enough. Typically you want air space to have a very low priority (0 in my template). Typically you want air space to be cut by structure, trim, etc. Typically you want it to lose out to everything else that might cross it. But sometimes you need air space with a very high priority (950 in my template). Sometimes you need STRONG air. Sometimes you need your air Building Material to cut away gyp board and studs. Sometimes you need it to beat out steel and insulation. In my template I call this other air BMat Air Space (override). The naming convention works because it puts the two Building Materials next to each other in the list, but Air Space (override) or Air Space (strong) aren’t real things. There is only one type of air. BUT… cavities are real. Cavities are empty spaces in a building or building assembly that are intentionally created. Cavities are things you might want to schedule or have labeled in a detail.

Back in December of 2015, I wrote about and recorded a video on Control Joints and Strong Air. Revisit that blog post and video, but think about naming. I talk about cavities, control joints, air space, etc. At the time of that video, it seemed silly to have Air Space, Air Space (override), Air Space (medium)…. But now, a multitude of invisible Building Materials makes obvious sense: Air Space, Cavity, Control Joints, Vent Space. Each Building Material would have a different purpose and a different priority. With proper and purposeful naming it doesn’t feel strange to have so many air Building Materials. We don’t balk at having multiple wood, concrete, metal, or stone Building Materials. Air is no different.

Having strong and weak air is an important technique for improving your models. Having better naming (air space and cavity) is an important technique for improving your data. A better name for a Building Material is of course just the start. Ken’s views on Building Materials have me rethinking a lot of assumptions I’ve made—or haven’t made.

There is so much to unpack in the image above. On the left is Ken’s logic for how he groups Building Materials and what priorities he gives them. On the right is his Building Materials. At the top of the list is all of the information on the left created as dummy building materials. This allows Ken to easily check his logic and know how to add more Building Materials as need be. I haven’t looked close enough at his groupings and numbers to know if his exact breakdown would work for me. And Ken admitted in his lecture that he wasn’t sure if he was satisfied with the groups either.

Ken’s system for grouping Building Materials by type and Priority number not only supports Priority Based Junctions, it also improves data organization and usage. A system built on those ideas could do all that and more. We just need to explore the idea further (and if you look at Ken’s sample files, you’ll see he already has). Using Building Material IDs is the logical next step. Building Material IDs are great for sorting, adding additional structure, and providing one more layer of information to be used with Find and Select, Graphic Overrides, and Schedules. I’m not sure what the best way to use them is, but I can imagine having an ID that groups all nature Building Materials (earth, air, water) or all wood Building Materials (framing lumber, wood trim…). Perhaps grouping them by CSI number is the right path.

If we update Ken’s list we could move the CSI numbers to be the ID. And we could add IDs to the headers at the top of his list. By moving the numbers out of the Building Material name, the names become plain English, making them more useful in Labels and Schedules. By adding IDs to the headers, we could sort the list by Building Material ID and the data at the top of the list—which Ken includes to aid him when he’s creating new Building Materials—which become section headers to help separate groups of Building Materials. Using IDs and including them in these dummy Building Materials frees us from the Tyranny of Alphabetical Order. This is a solution that should have been obvious to me for over a year, but I never realized it until listening to Ken’s lecture. And if my experience with Layers is anything to go by, this organization will greatly improve my understanding and usage of Building Materials. This wasn’t something I figured out during Ken’s talk. But it came out of attending the conference and reflecting on what I saw. And in fact, if we look at how his Building Materials look in his sample files, Ken has already made similar changes.

Ken’s talk got me thinking about how I need to revamp my template. Seeing how our work aligned, and misaligned, helped me find holes in my own template. The next iteration of my ARCHICAD template will be greatly improved because I listened to Ken talk about building enclosures for 90 minutes. Some of the improvements will be directly lifted from his methods, others will just be inspired by things he is—or isn’t—doing. I’ll wrap up this recap blog post by returning to one other lecture that made me rethink how I work: my own.

Listening to Myself

Sometimes random things come out of discussions and, as I mentioned in part 1 of my BIM Conference 2017 recap, I try to make my lectures, discussions. I talked a lot about Layers in my Automatic Beauty talk, as smart Layers are extremely useful when setting up Criteria for Graphic Overrides. In my talk I lamented that we can’t use Layer Extension as a Criteria. The whole room (both times) agreed with me; a quarter to a third of all the attendees at the conference attended one of my talks and agreed. I even went so far as to say I was going to rework my Layer names in the next version of ARCHICAD, probably getting rid of Layer Extension because my system was convoluted and not of much value. But I was wrong. We were all wrong. While chatting with Patrick May after the conference, we realized we can set up criteria that only look at Layer Extension. There’s no option to pick Layer Extension when selecting Criteria (for Find & Select, Graphic Overrides, Schedules….), just Layer. But in text format, Layer Extension is signified by a period. For the Layer 1 | Floor.finish, the Layer name is 1 | Floor and the Extension is .Finish. If we want to select all the Layers with the Layer Extension Finish, the Criteria would be Layer name contains/ends with .Finish. Simple as that. Simple but not obvious. Realizing this, I now need to rework my Layers, but to take MORE advantage of Layer Extension. Layer Extension must now be viewed as a secondary grouping system for isolating and highlighting Layers. And it should be developed in a way that doesn’t duplicate other ways of selecting elements (for instance I don’t need .2D and .3D as Layer Extensions).

Are you following GRAPHISOFT North America on Twitter? Click Here to keep track of all the latest ARCHICAD News in North America (and beyond). In Part 3, we’re going to talk about Zoltan Toth’s fantastic lecture on Cinerender.


  1. pht

    nice work
    can’t wait for next parts!

  2. Damian

    This is way above my level of understanding, but looks fascinating 🙂

  3. Jason Smith

    Hey Jared

    In NZ we have the CBI (Coordinated Building Information) system which is similar it CSI. I use a CBI two number ID for Layers and four number ID for Building Materials. Building Materials are similar to what Ken has.

    On Air Building materials, I have 6 types, with different strengths, some strong and some weak. The strongest I have is 990 which is the air space (I call steel voids) in a Steel SHS or RHS post where I want the steel section to cut through concrete structure.

    It’s very interesting how different users can come up with similar resolutions to the same problems.

    • Jared Banks

      Thanks for sharing. I’d love to see a list of what your 6 different airs are, and what their strengths are. I hadn’t thought about steel voids before. Very interesting! And I agree, it’s great to see so many of us circling around similar solutions.


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