Not Every Problem Calls for a Hammer
In the previous three articles on ARCHICAD Tools we covered the basic concepts of how to pick the ideal Tool to model various elements in ARCHICAD. If you are just joining us, here are links to those posts:
I now want to return to a quote from the previous post.
“If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail”. -Abraham Maslow
In the last post, we applied this analogy of the hammer and nail to Tool selection. But it really goes a lot deeper than that. It is about the elegance and finesse of the virtual model. You can just hammer every model element into place and call it good enough. You can look for the most flexible, parametric and useful solution. Or you can look for the solution that best meets your current and future needs. Too often time constraints make “the hammer solution” the most appealing. However, saving time up front will often cost you more time during later phases, especially when implementing design changes or adding layers of text-based data. I’m a pragmatist, so I realize this shift in time allocation is sometimes worth it: I only have an hour today, but will have ten hours in two weeks. Of course, this is typically a trap. A quick fix today might be even more time consuming to fix in the future than you realize. And all that time you think you’ll have in the future might be an illusion. Then again, sometimes you are about to send out a permit set, aren’t getting paid for construction administration, and can do a dirty fix in two minutes or a proper fix in two hours.
There are countless scenarios that explore this analogy of hammers in a world of nails, so let’s take a look at one: the intersection of three different Composite Walls. This common issue will be a good foil to illustrate the various ways we can solve a modeling challenge.
As you’ll see in the image below, we have a problem. The Walls aren’t joining correctly and there is ugliness. What to do?
The sledge hammer solution may be to leave the graphic issue as is and declare “it’s close enough”. At ¼” scale drawings, the contractor won’t notice or care that the connection is not exactly what you wanted to show. You will clean it up in the details anyway. Maybe there’s a detail bubble around the junction highlighting that there is more information on another sheet. Thus the solution is to do nothing (beyond maybe pointing to the correct answer elsewhere).
A more clean looking solution may be to patch it up with 2D drafting (Polylines and Fills). Definitely not the best answer, but sometimes it’s all you have time for. Much like trying to install finish molding and millwork with a framing hammer, you may find your virtual model a little “dinged up”. But then again, this is just a graphic error right? Sometimes it’s not cheating, it’s just being smart. So while I don’t recommend it in this case, there are times when a few Polylines and a Fill are the right answer. After all, the contractor looking at the printed drawings won’t care how you got the detail right. All that matters is what he sees is what should be built. Thus the solution is to fix the 2D graphics and ignore the model.
A more respectable method is the Custom Profile Column solution. This gives great graphic control in both 2D and 3D, but generates an additional element and Complex Profile to manage at every corner. I’d call this the “nail gun” for this task; flexible and diverse, but still only good at driving nails. Patrick May wrote a post highlighting a nice example of this here. But of course, the first time many of us came across this solution was on Onland.info: Fixing Wall Corners With Columns. I remember reading that post by James Murray back in 2010 soon after starting my career writing about ARCHICAD. It is a near perfect example of how to explain a clever misuse of an ARCHICAD Tool for all the right reasons. That post has definitely been a guiding light for me in my own explorations of ARCHICAD. But as I’ve noted countless times, great ideas don’t stay great forever (see track 6). Reading James’ post in 2010 about using Columns to fix ugly models opened my eyes to a whole new realm of ARCHICAD mastery. But in the intervening six years, we have all progressed. While sometimes the Column trick is still the right answer, in our heightened BIM world, it’s often not the best solution anymore. While the 2D option described above is uglier than the Custom Profile Column solution in 3D, it actually might be more accurate in a BIM sense because it doesn’t have added 3D elements that could mess up quantities or other BIG BIM needs… But then again, it’s a beautiful, elegant solution that is tried and true. It will rarely fail you. And higher order BIM doesn’t always matter. This solution will give you great 2D and 3D views, which is just want the contractor and client need to see. Thus the solution is to simultaneously fix the 2D and 3D and not worry about the grander BIM implications.
Fixing the problem with more 2D or 3D elements is not ideal.
In certain circumstances, all the above answers are good enough. But the ideal answer is to add no new elements. The best (and in fact easiest) solution is to fix the problem at it’s most basic level. The key is to look at the global issue rather than the local issue, to step back and look at both Tools and Attributes. The problem with the previous solutions is that they all approach this particular wall intersection in the same way, with an assumption that the problem is focused on a specific point in space and that the Wall Tool by itself can not easily represent the goals and design intent of the condition. They all look at the initial representation like a nail, when in fact what we have is more of a pan head screw. You need to get a drill and screwdriver; pre-drill a hole and screw the fastener in. No hammering needed. You need to plan ahead (which thanks to working in a digital world, we can fix by making changes after the fact).**
Don’t Look at the Wall. Look at the Attributes. The “screwdriver” solution is to simply adjust your Building Materials and Composites until you get the desired intersection. Ignore the three Walls. Adjust the Building Materials so that the Building Materials are in the correct order of strength and the problem will vanish. The best part about this solution is that it fixes all instances of this condition (and related conditions). It’s a global, not a local, answer. It does require more care because you have to make sure the fix doesn’t cause damage elsewhere. For some projects making drastic changes to Building Material priorities can cause a domino effect to other intersection conditions. And sometimes one Building Material may need to be a higher priority in one situation than in other conditions. But if you tailor your Building Materials for the most common conditions, then the exceptions to those conditions may simply need a “nail gun” to clean up (which might mean another Building Material or an extra element) or an even more delicate “jeweler’s screwdriver” solution where you carefully build up the junction from multiple elements to get it just so… Okay I think I’ve worn out my analogy.
I might also get some flack for this, but if you adjust your Building Materials such that the junctions work 99% of the time, maybe that 1% is a bad detail. Maybe if you can get your model to work everywhere but one or two locations, maybe you need to redesign those areas because ARCHICAD is pointing to a larger real world issue. If Concrete is always stronger than wood, expect for one spot, maybe that’s ARCHICAD alerting you to bad design. Maybe not. But maybe.
There is no such thing as a Sonic Screwdriver.
The next time you find something tedious to model or manage, or you simply are not getting the expected output, take a step back. Ask yourself, “am I using the correct Tool? Am I using the Tools correctly? Is this an Attribute problem?” Most of the time, the problem is just being approached with a hammer and nail mentality, when really it calls for something requiring a bit more finesse. There is no magical, universal answer to all your modeling problem in ARCHICAD. Well that’s not exactly true. There is one ultimate answer to all things related to ARCHICAD: Skill over Power.
If only 1990’s me knew that all those times I lost at Street Fighter II were actually making me a better architect. Are you following Graphisoft North America on Twitter? Click Here to keep track of all the latest ARCHICAD News in North America (and beyond).
**I love this comment about planning ahead by fixing things later. Working in a digital environment allows us to stretch and bend, though not completely break, the fourth dimension: time. Altering Attributes in the future to fix elements modeled in the past and the time travel capabilities of undo/redo are but two examples of how we need to think in a non-linear manner about how data is created and controlled in ARCHICAD.