Here’s a quick test. Which is correct:

A) “Hi boss, check out this BIM model I’ve been working on!” or B) “Hey boss, here’s that BIM you were asking for.”

The answer is B. It’s not a Building Information Model Model, it’s just a Building Information Model.

Teaching and writing about ArchiCAD has taught me the importance of clarity in speech. When explaining how to use a complex program like ArchiCAD, it’s very important to use the correct nomenclature. If I tell you to turn on the Quick Options, I’d better tell you to use the Quick Options Palette and not the Quick Options Toolbar (which doesn’t exist). Otherwise you might be pulling your hair out looking in the wrong place. This is equally important when you’re asking for help. It’s much easier to answer questions when the problem isn’t about “that button with the x and the arrow and the lines going at 45°” but instead the “Fill Handles button in the On Screen View Options toolbar.” Furthermore, the search and help functions in any program work better if you use the correct words.

ArchiCAD Options Toolbar

What’s the difference between an Element & an Object?

Let’s just go straight to the ArchiCAD help menu (I’m guessing you don’t read this in your spare time):

Objects can be placed in the Project:

  •  using one of ArchiCAD’s dedicated tools (Object, Lamp, Door, Window, Skylight, Corner Window, Stair, Wall End, Curtain Wall Accessory or Junction)
  • automatically by specific commands or Add-Ons (Markers, Labels, RoofMaker and TrussMaker elements)

 Objects are parametric. This means that you can freely configure the placed instance, using the Object Settings dialog box, or the dialog boxes associated with the object-type tools, without actually modifying the source file for the object. When you place an Object (as opposed to other elements in ArchiCAD), you are placing an instance of an external file located in an object library.

In contrast, an Element is anything created by a tool in ArchiCAD. So all Objects in ArchiCAD are Elements. Not all Elements in ArchiCAD are Objects.

Why this matters:

Okay so now we all know the major difference between Objects and Elements. So what? Well I want to hear why you think this is valuable to know. But I’ll give you three big reasons.

  1. Training and Exploration: When learning about a new tool, the GRAPHISOFT employees writing the instructions, tutorials, and help menus understand the distinction between Elements and Objects. And they assume that you understand it too. So all the literature out there will make more sense if you understand the subtly of their language. Do yourself a favor and read about terms in ArchiCAD that you come across and might not be completely familiar with. As I mentioned above, this will make asking for help much clearer and easier.
  2. ArchiCAD ObjectsTroubleshooting: If things are acting weird in your file, it’s good to know what’s an Object (i.e., a placed instance of an external parametric file) and what’s just an Element. If Objects are acting strange then your problem solving goes down one path. Most of these issues are probably pointing issues: the placed instance is referencing something that is wrong (a missing library part, a missing attribute, or some line of script that’s dividing by zero). If Elements are the ones not looking or acting right, then you’ve probably got different issues (maybe it’s a MVO or Layer Combination issue, the wrong scale, or a bug that’s been corrected in a Hotfix you haven’t yet downloaded). Knowing more about the basics of Element vs. Object will make you a better detective. And of course this sleuthing expands beyond just Element vs. Object.
  3. Collateral Damage and Freedom: New users are often afraid to make big changes within an ArchiCAD file. They won’t change the default materials, delete the generic composites, or really get dirty with all the options within a Window or Door. They worry about ruining another project. It’s okay. Go wild. If you’re changing the parameters of anything within ArchiCAD, you’re either changing an isolated element (e.g., a wall), a project specific attribute (e.g., a composite type), or a placed instance of an external file (e.g., an Object). Unless you go to File\Libraries and Objects\Open Object, you’re not effecting the source file. This means it’ll take extra effort to make a big change that effects something outside of your file.

Let’s put your new knowledge to use:

Any element can be turned into a Morph. And then any Morph can be saved as an Object. So can you turn a Morph into a wall? No. A wall is just an element, not something that references an external source file. Can a Morph be turned into a window. Most definitely. And here’s something to think about. A window is just an object that is placed into a wall. What sort of Objects could you create using the Morph tool that take advantage of this? Exhaust vents or electrical outlets maybe? What about Skylight Objects and roofs? Same thing. What sort of plumbing stack or roof penetration objects could you easily create using this knowledge?


  1. Odd Goderstad

    I like this, it makes me think 🙂
    And I will sharpen my use of these two words.
    I do however run into a small problem… when other people talk about BIM, they call everything objects….
    Cheers fom Norway! Keep up the good work

    • marymosc

      Good point – words are so powerful.


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