What is in a Name?

A common difficulty for new users is figuring out how to model the desired geometry in ARCHICAD; and make it look correct in section, elevation, plan and 3D, while avoiding unnecessary drafting or redundant model elements. This struggle is often exacerbated by a misunderstanding of ARCHICAD’s tool names. Some tools, such as the Morph, Mesh and Shell tools, have relatively ambiguous names, suggesting flexibility (though sometimes that lack of a physical analog can be a stumbling block). Tools with explicit names are often overlooked because the geometry doesn’t match the tool name (why would you use the Wall Tool to model a cabinet?). The Wall, Column, Beam, Slab and Roof Tools are all named by their most common use, but certainly not their only use. Looking past tool and feature naming is key to making ARCHICAD flexible and versatile. These tools can be used for a wide range of functions, and in many cases are more flexible than even the Morph Tool.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” -W. Shakespeare

Case Study 1: The Roof Tool

Let’s take a look at the Roof Tool and some of its features, as well as some of the alternative uses for it. The obvious use of the Roof Tool is to model roofs. Putting the actual name aside, and exploring the function and geometry of the Roof Tool, we see a shape that can be a simple Fill or a Composite, can have a single plane or multiple connected planes, parallel top and bottom surfaces and slope-able sides (vertical/perpendicular/Δº). It can also host Skylight Objects. What else could leverage these features? I regularly use the Roof Tool for a wide range of functions, such as a shower pan in the example below. The Roof Tool is also perfect for slopping floors: parking garages, patios, and pools. In fact I know a few ARCHICAD users who use the Roof Tool for all floors and ceilings, regardless of slope. That way if (for instance) a ceiling goes from flat to sloped, the placed element doesn’t have to be recreated—which would be the case if you modeled the ceiling with the Slab Tool and then needed it sloped. The Slab Tool can’t have a slope, where as the Roof Tool can. Using the Roof Tool to do all floors and ceilings thus offers additional flexibility and is an example of future proofing your model against design changes.



Case Study 2: The Slab, Wall, and Morph Tools

Using tools in combination is often critical for creating complex geometry. Cabinets are a classic example (here’s a post from 2010 talking about how I used the Tools available then to create some complex kitchen detailing). Slabs for counter tops, Beams for horizontal cabinet rails and trim, and Columns for vertical elements. Combining these tools with Complex Profiles provides flexibility and adaptability through design and documentation. And of course, once the geometry is created, groups of these elements can be saved as Objects to make scheduling and duplication easier.

Often when faced with complex modeling, the key is to break the geometry down into discrete parts that are easily modeled by a given tool. Is it a continuous horizontal or sloped profile, where the profile is perpendicular to the length of the element? That’s a Complex Profile Beam. Is the element vertical rather than horizontal? That’s a Column. Is it a one off shape? A Morph or Shell might be better. Will you use it on many projects to come? Perhaps it should be an Object. If it’s a lattice work of horizontal and vertical elements, should it be a combination of Columns and Beams, or one extruded Complex Profile (which could be a Beam or a Wall)? There are often many answers to each modeling question and often more than one right answer.



“Names are not always what they seem.”-Mark Twain

A Breakdown of Each Tool’s Possible Uses

This is all to say, open your mind to uses for each Tool beyond the preconceived notion that its name invokes. Here is a brief list of what each of the 3D design tools in the Toolbox could be used for:


This is by no means a comprehensive list of everything you may need to model for your design project, but it should give an idea of what each Tool is capable of. Take a few moments and question my choices in the graphic above. Think about why certain Tools are listed and others are not. I only list the Beam Tool and the Object Tool for rafter tails. Why? What are your thoughts on doing rafter tails with the Morph Tool or the Shell Tool? What would the advantages or disadvantages be? What about using the Roof Tool for rafter tails? When we compare different Tools tasked with creating the same geometry, we can start to unpack why certain Tool choices are better than others. Or why the seemingly “wrong” choice is actually correct for the given challenge.

roof vs Roof

In my writing I try very hard to distinguish between common and proper nouns as it pertains to ARCHICAD. I’m not perfect, but I do my best to refer to the correct names of things in ARCHICAD (see these two posts for more: Speaking ARCHICAD and Colloquial BIM). If you read the helpcenter, you’ll see that it is littered with proper nouns—specific names created by the developers of ARCHICAD to refer to specific aspects of the software. Attributes are probably my favorite example, but the tools are a better example. The Roof Tool is not a tool for making roofs. It’s just a tool with a specific name (Roof Tool) and a specific set of parameters. The same goes for the Wall Tool, the Slab Tool, etc. They are just names—and to be honest historical names that probably could be made more generic. We know that the Slab Tool isn’t just for slabs, and it’s often treated as the flooring tool (though as we’ve discussed, that’s not necessarily the right choice). In the next post we’ll look more closely at a number of Tools and see how their parameters, not their names, determine what they should be used for.

Are you following Graphisoft North America on Twitter? Click Here to keep track of all the latest ARCHICAD News in North America (and beyond). What’s your favorite example of using a tool for something other than it’s name implies?


  1. Cheikh T. Sylla


    Thanks. Another good plogpost. Recently I have used the Trussmaker tool a lot and discovered that you can use it for any lattice work, aside from making trusses. In fact, I even used it as a mortar joint pattern on large glass tile surface, and it worked out well. I wanted to upload an image of a glass wall panel to show an example but there is no way to attached that image with my comment. Thanks again

    • Jared Banks

      Using the Trussmaker for non-trusses is a great idea. It’s a nice mis-use of an ARCHICAD feature and fits so perfectly with this series of posts. Share the image with me via e-mail or facebook. And then I’ll link back to it here. Looking forward to seeing what you do.

  2. Joe Messier

    The graphic/chart breaking down the possible uses of each tool is great. I’m going to be sharing it with the other users in our office.


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