Good BIM practices require us to include as much information as we know, as early as possible. Often this results in educated guesses, placeholders, and an avalanche of specificity that frightens anyone without the understanding of why we work this way. It is not creativity limiting to show gyp board or insulation when first creating a Wall; nor is it stifling to place a Window as an awning or casement or some other specific type when sketching a plan in ARCHICAD. But that doesn’t stop people from panicking when they see these decisions in a drawing “too early”. They see these choices and think that aspects of the design are set in stone, or that the designer is wasting time. They don’t realize that showing insulation takes no more time than not showing it, that a hatch pattern can be swapped out with a few clicks, or that a roof slope is simple to alter; they are stuck in a pre-digital mindset where all these choices require extreme effort. While detail is useful to the designer for the development of an idea, it often distracts anyone removed from the process—whether that’s the client, a firm principal engaging only at the higher levels of project planning, a prospect, etc. For anyone not deeply enmeshed in the design process, a high degree of filtering is required.


The image above is a digital relic; it’s not something we would have seen pre-computers (don’t call me on that, I know that’s technically not true). It is the mess that underlies our work. It is something we filter whenever we switch Views. We would never show this to anyone, not even to another person working on the project with us. The set of information described in this image is unreadable. We would always limit it to make it legible, to highlight what we wanted to talk about, and to hide what we want to ignore. Typically we think of this filtering just by Layer through Layer Combinations, and primarily only for setting up different types of drawings (plans vs sections, electrical vs structural). But there’s no reason to limit ourselves to that. In fact, that’s a very pre-digital view of filtering. With ARCHICAD, we have many more options than just on/off. In March 2014, I wrote a post about how to hide all this information so as not to scare clients or bosses; I called it Intelligent Dumbing. It’s time to revisit that article and update the techniques now that we have Graphic Overrides. In ARCHICAD 20, we can create a greater diversity of output through a mixture of Layer Combinations, Model View Options, and Graphic Override Combinations. The combination of these three global settings makes creating and altering different types of graphic display extremely easy and fluid.

For the Client


During the design process, I typically show clients one of two types of images: pochéd, low-detail plans and sections or renderings. Both are crafted to require minimal knowledge of architectural conventions. And both are produced in a way to minimize distractions. The above plan is typical of what my clients see. Doors and windows are simple lines (produced through MVO settings), walls are monolithic (produced through GO settings), the majority of the Layers are turned off, and dimensions are reduced to room sizes that are part of the Zone Stamp (unfortunately manually done). When discussing this plan, I don’t need to argue with the client about whether the stair should be 3′-0″ clear or 3′-2″ clear. Or whether the windows should be wider. I want to be able to talk about alignments of elements and relationships of spaces. By simplifying the graphics, what remains becomes more legible.


Critical settings for this type of view:

  • Layer Combination – I have a schematic design Layer Combination that turns off most of the annotation Layers and secondary model Layers (things other than walls, stairs, millwork, appliances, equipment and plumbing), and turns on furniture—which helps the client better judge scale and room usage.
  • Model View Options – The name of my MVO says it all: detail of Objects (specifically Windows and Doors) is set to low and markers are hidden. Clients don’t need to see every in and out of a window frame, and they don’t need to know which window is W10 and which is W09. Those are distractions.
  • Graphic Overrides – The key features are Cut Fills are set to a uniform black and the Zone colors are turned off. If the project has a more complex program, I would turn the Zone colors on to better distinguish the spaces. Other things happening with the Graphic Overrides are the Cover Fills are set to Empty (we don’t need to be distracted by floor patterns just yet) and the furniture Layer is set to grayscale. For more on Color by Layer, read my Pen Sets post on Graphic Overrides.

For the Permit Documents


The permit documents require a lot more information than drawings shared with the client. With ARCHICAD 20, it is easy to maintain both the client side and the construction side of the drawings throughout the life of a project. By switching between saved views, we can easily jump between the first plan and this second plan. Because the graphic changes are all automated and non-destructive, we can continue to use both types of visuals from project initiation through construction. Since both types of drawings are just different GO, MVO, and Layer Combinations, each can be included in your template and be available from the moment a project is started.quick-options-contractor

Critical settings for this type of view:

  • Layer Combination – The most classic of Layer Combinations, the floor plan combination. But there’s a twist. By having a schematic Layer Combination that is referenced throughout the life of the project, the floor plan combination can be of singular purpose. It isn’t for client communication. It is just the set of Layers needed for the floor plan sheets that will be used to permit and build the project. There is nothing like furniture or other unpermitted/unbuilt elements showing. And it means this Layer state represents how close you are to having a completed floor plan. Placeholder text can be added to your template and visible from day one. This text might be about ventilation, clearance requirements, or other things that are needed later on in the process, but might as well be there from the beginning. Again, since the client doesn’t need to see this view until much later in the process (if at all), there’s no need to hide this information.
  • Model View Options – The name of my MVO says it all: detail of Objects (specifically Windows and Doors) is set to high and markers are showing. This is the type of drawing that needs high detail for clarity and for elements to all be properly labeled. And all of that might as well be shown and labeled from the beginning of design.
  • Graphic Overrides – The Graphic Override Combination here is both my default setting and the most simple one. Zone colors are hidden and both furniture and trees are set by Layer to be grayscale. That’s it. Everything else is set to display “normally”.

For the Permit Documents, By Trade

for-the-electricianThis is a drawing that we have all done for years, but historically it was a kludge. We cobbled everything together to create the graphics we needed through a mixture of element based settings, View based settings, and project based settings. Before ARCHICAD 20, I would create the above image with special pens, a different Pen Set, carefully saved Favorites that paid extra special attention to graphics, manual checking, and of course Model View Options. In ARCHICAD 20, it is greatly simplified. For instance, the only difference between annotation that shows up black on an electrical plan and annotation that shows up gray on an electrical plan is the Layer—previously it was both Pen (for the color) and Layer (for visibility). I now have a Graphic Override Combination for all grayscale plans that changes all but a few layers to a uniform gray pen. I continue to work with the non-grayscale layers as normal and let the automation of Graphic Overrides handle everything else. Creating a grayscale plan becomes a subtractive process, rather than an additive process; we subtract color (and detail if required) from all the elements we want gray. Because there are only two features of ARCHICAD controlling the primary display changes, one global (Graphic Overrides) and one local (an element’s Layer), I know that if the display of an element is wrong, it must be on the wrong Layer. This is doubly beneficial because if an element is on the wrong Layer for a grayscale plan, it’s probably on the wrong Layer for other things as well. The grayscale plan becomes another way to visually audit the file.


Critical settings for this type of view:

  • Layer Combination – The electrical plan Layer Combination shows electrical information and furniture (which can affect electrical placement) while hiding unnecessary information. There’s another Layer Combination for a structural plan, which also requires a grayscale background. For more on Layer Combinations and Layer names, check out my series of ARCHICAD Layer Theory, particularly part 5: The Tyranny of Alphabetical Order.
  • Model View Options – The name of my MVO says it all: detail of Objects (specifically Windows and Doors) is set to low and markers are hidden. This is the same MVO as used for the schematic plan. With the introduction of Graphic Overrides, Model View Options can be simplified and unified. We no longer need MVO for every drawing type. Instead we only need MVO for different groups of settings (for me it’s low detail/markers off, high detail/markers on, high detail/markers off, minimal space, show openings, and hide openings). This simplification of MVO transforms it into a slider from low to high information.
  • Graphic Overrides – I described my grayscale Graphic Override solution in my Pen Sets post on Graphic Overrides. By using Graphic Overrides rather than Pen Sets to create Grayscale, we not only remove unnecessary Pen Sets, we also make the ARCHICAD file easier to manage. In ARCHICAD 19, I produced virtually the same graphics, but used a different Pen Set for each of the three Views. In this article I have shown three drastically different plans using the same Pen Set and created by changing three settings. Only Layer Combination is specific to the View type; the remaining two settings (MVO and GO) are generic display changes that are used with multiple view types.

By Viewer, not by View

An earlier draft of this post had each graphic style listed by the intended recipient; each drawing was about a person, rather than a product. The first plan was for the client, the second was for the contractor, the third was for the electrician. There was a purity to that alignment that I loved, but it was slightly forced. The second and third drawings are actually for a lot of different people—contractors, sub-contractors, permit reviewers, architects… And even the first type of drawing is (more or less) for a type of person, not a specific person: for non-professionals. Nonetheless, I like the idea and want to shoehorn it into the conclusion of the post. Below is a view of the ARCHICAD model that is just for the model author:


This image has all the Layers needed to view the model in 3D turned on, the MVO is set to the highest detail, and the Graphic Override Combination shows the minimum overrides necessary (though of course it could just as easily be set to a model checking GO that highlights egress, structural function, position, etc.). The majority of the annotation is hidden to maximize the clarity of the individual elements. This plan is extremely legible and useful for someone who knows how to access the deeper data (via element settings, the Measure Tool, Temporary User Origin, switching to 3D, turning on a Layer…), but frustratingly lacking in detail for others. It’s a nice reminder of why we filter data for different people.

If you want more specifics on how each of these Views were set up, download my template (it’s free), and look at the pre-defined views for Architectural Plans, Electrical Plans, and Schematic Plans. That’ll be easier than me pointing out how I crafted each Graphic Override and Graphic Override Combination. Are you following Graphisoft North America on Twitter? Click Here to keep track of all the latest ArchiCAD News in North America (and beyond).

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