ArchiCAD Layer Theory, Part 4: Different Types of Models
This post is part 4 in my series on ArchiCAD Layers. If you’re just joining us, here are the links to the first three posts (make sure to read the comments as well!):
Bonus Posts that I don’t think are coincidental:
- Layers and Layer Combinations (from ArchiCAD SADC blog)
- Filter Your Layers (from the Cadimage blog)
- Deleting Attributes and the One Layer Model (from Shoegnome…more on that at the end)
We all have our preferences as to how many Layers and Layer Combinations we need to work efficiently. Our predilections come with associated views on naming conventions (seriously, if you haven’t checked in recently on the comments here, you need to) and also depend on what the project type is and what your collaboration environment looks like. But there is another major factor that will determine the details. To me, the primary defining characteristic of what determines the quantity and quality of your Layer and Layer Combination system is the goal of your model.
Who Are You Modeling With?
If you remember my blog posts from 2013 about the Primary Benefits of BIM, you might recall I have some pretty strong and clear views on the potentials of BIM. But just because the long term goal of BIM might be to connect our virtual model to the physical built world, in the short term each of our current projects probably has some very specific needs. Depending on if you are using ArchiCAD primarily to enhance production, coordination, design, or integration, you should be looking at your work in a specific manner. While we often tackle a mix of these aspects of BIM on each project, there are times when the model is all about one thing, or about one thing above all else. Let’s look at a few examples.
If you are interested in integrating IFC data deeper into your model, you should consider turning Layers into an Attribute that supports the whole world of IFC data. I’m not going to try to explain it further here. Rob Jackson has written about this (check out point 7). And more recently, Nathan Hildebrandt has also written a post about this. Not everyone is doing IFC exchange right now (though this is quickly changing), so this Layering system isn’t for everyone. BUT…if collaboration and coordination of models between authoring tools is the fundamental reason you are modeling, then a layering system that ties into IFC data is worth checking out. Just as importantly, if OpenBIM collaboration is a direction you want your work to head, then aligning your Layers in a way that supports this is of high value.
It pains me to even write that. But it’s true. There is definitely a segment of users who deal with this everyday: consultants or clients that require CAD. For those ArchiCAD users it might be very legitimate to build a layering system that looks like it came out of AutoCAD release 12. If having layers like A-wall-new and ANNO-dims-Int means data flow between ArchiCAD and ancientCAD is improved, then go for it. But if that’s not your top requirement, don’t show me a file with that sort of terminology. I will yell at you and tell you you are wrong. Because you will be wrong. Unless clarity between your advanced work and those using ancient methods is the hinge upon which your world revolves.
There are a few ways to look at collaboration between ArchiCAD users— though they can be simplified to serial teams and parallel teams.
- Multiple users accessing the model independently (serial teams). This could be a file being handed off between team members within a firm or a file being sent from a firm to an outside designer/freelancer and back. In this case, you want your Layers and Layer Combinations to be something that can be easily adhered to as different people of different skill levels and knowledge control the file at different times. That probably means clear names and minimizing the complexity of the layering system.
- Multiple members of the architecture team working in the same file via Teamwork 2 and the BIM Server or BIMcloud (parallel teams). If having lots of ArchiCAD users in the same file at the same time will be the overarching theme of your model, then you should think about reserving elements by Layers and how the model might be parsed via Layers to better accommodate so many people. The details are beyond the scope of this article, but think about how your layering system relates to the number of people in the file. It’s worth noting that some other strategy discussed here (IFC Layering, CAD Layering, etc.) might support this—or not.
- Multiple disciplines in the same file via Teamwork 2, etc. (parallel teams). Once the file has more than one discipline (architects, structural engineers, MEP engineers, landscape architects, etc.) actively working in it, you’ll find your layering system shift. Do you want architectural and structural Layers to be clearly defined (yes)? Do you want architectural and structural Layers to be equal in quantity (probably not)? Do you want to micromanage the other disciplines (maybe)? How will you segregate out the Layers? Will you handle that with extensions? Do architectural Layers start with A or Arch or 0 or ??? Will it be A Anno Text or A.Text or A – Text or Text.Arch? How will you arrange Layers and handle Layer Combinations so that each others’ Layers don’t pollute and distract? Needless to say, as the make up of the collaborators change, so too will the Layers and Layer Combinations. By the way, if you don’t believe non-architects are using ArchiCAD to do their work, think again. Here’s one example. And here’s another.
Beyond collaboration and production of traditional documentation, there are a number of other reasons you might be modeling. Your layering system should support those reasons. And in fact unique layering systems can help you see all the interesting ways one can use ArchiCAD. I want to spend the remainder of this post just listing some interesting goals of an ArchiCAD model and how, if these are the main focus, Layers might support those goals. At a later date, I hope to revisit some of these modeling types to dig deeper, as each has further implications that go well beyond just using different Layers.
- Energy Modeling. Imagine if your primary purpose is energy modeling. If that’s the case, then your model should be done in such a way that it supports how Energy Evaluation, EcoDesigner Star, and/or 3rd party energy models see the model. Is there some way to structure the Layers so that it makes exporting to gbXML easier? Or is there a way that your Layers can be grouped by “affects energy model” and “doesn’t affect energy model”. What would that do to your modeling and design methodologies?
- Rendering Modeling. Of course all our models can be easily rendered, especially with the awesomeness of the built-in CineRender engine. But if the primary purpose of your model is for rendering, what does that mean? What should you model? What shouldn’t you model? How can your Layers support all that? What if you are exporting your model to a 3rd party rendering software? How could you use Layers to enhance that exchange?
- Cost Estimating Model. Imagine you are doing an early design and just need basic cost at the end. Could your layering system support segregating the model by some criteria that supports who assigns dollars to what? Yes, there are other ways to handle this. But if you are modeling fast, what if your model and Layers made costing easier within ArchiCAD, or when the data is exported to some other program? Imagine if you assigned elements to Layers according to dollars per square or linear foot, per unit, etc. So you might have a $100 Layer, a $10/ square foot Layer, a $1/linear foot Layer, etc. Maybe that’s crazy. But maybe it’s not.
- Schematic Model. If you are doing a schematic model, one that will get thrown out later, what does that mean for Layers? How many do you really need? Maybe just one. Maybe just a few. If the model is only used for screen captures and quick explorations, how might Layers be simplified to support that?
- Iterative Model. Imagine you have a base model. Then you want to test design options to show a client. Imagine if the base model is one Layer and each design option is another single Layer. Then switching between Options is as simple as switching Layers/Layer Combinations. You want to show ten schemes plus the existing conditions? That’s eleven Layers to manage and eleven Layer Combinations. Or do you want to show Scheme A and Scheme G together? Turn on those two Layers. Simple. Done.
- Zone Only Model. We don’t always need all our tools. What if you are building an early model with just Zones. How could a simplified layering system add complexity and detail to that model?
- Time Based Model. Perhaps you’ve download the Construction Simulation Add-On. Maybe you haven’t. Either way, you want to explore how the model can be used to talk about when different elements need to be built. Modeled and Layered correctly, this could be done quite easily. Perhaps your Layers are Step 1, Step 2, Step 3, etc; or week 1, week 2, week 3; or perhaps January, February, March…
- Detailing Model. Exploded axons, intricate 3d details, etc. Could a series of details just be the same view with different Layers turned on or off? Absolutely. If your layering system is designed to handle that. In this case maybe Layers are by CSI number or just something like Flashing, Air Barrier, Brick…
- Competition Model. What if you are doing a training exercise or a competition or some other atypical collaborative event. How might you structure the Layers differently?
- Atypical Schedule Model. I am working with a client who needs to schedule elements by elevation (it’s a framing model and each elevation’s lumber needs to be listed separately). My solution was to create a Layer for each elevation. In fact, I have a layer for each View, as this allows me to schedule each view separately via Layers. It’s not your average layering system or model, but by thinking about Layers differently I was able to do something that one can’t otherwise do (schedule elements based on their appearance in a particular view).
I’m sure I could go on and on. Perhaps some of these potential models are foolish. ArchiCAD can probably handle many of these models in other ways using different tools and Attributes. But maybe not. Perhaps a combination of atypical Layers and other functionality within ArchiCAD makes these concepts even more detailed and versatile. More importantly, hopefully you are now thinking of an 11th and a 12th model type—and are inspired to dig deeper into alternative Layer methodologies.
To make many of these modeling types work, especially if you need to temporarily create one, you need to quickly create a One Layer Model (or a model with a limited number of Layers). I recorded a video on how to do this and wrote an accompanying blog post on Shoegnome with more information about creating a One Layer Model. In the blog post I also talk about the larger concept of creating models with simplified Attributes. As that post ties into the discussion above, it’s definitely worth reading. Here’s a link to the blog post. I’ve included the video below.
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