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ARCHICAD: looking back 20 years

News Central Innovation 25 January 2016

ARCHICAD: looking back 20 years

Twenty years after my first review of ArchiCAD, I am looking back, reading my latest review of ARCHICAD, and wondering what has changed, and what has not.

The years

It is 20 years since October 1995, when my first review of the then current ArchiCAD 4.55 was published in the Računari magazine. I have been reminded of that by my colleague Igor Svetel, who had found that issue in a pile of old magazines while cleaning up, scanned and sent me the cover page and the article! Thank you again, Igor! Reading the article of 20 years ago about the same software that I still use and write about inevitably kicked off the comparisons: then and now, there and here… A lot has changed, but incredibly, what is the most important has stayed the same!

ARCHICAD 4.5 and 19 boxes

The Changes

The first change is obvious when you check the date…we are all 20 years older, some are even smarter, and there are quite a few who use ArchiCAD since then. There are those who have used it even longer. We all smile at the excitement of some of our colleagues “discoveries,” as they have just heard about BIM. It was called Virtual Building at the time in GraphisoftSpeak, a term that I still think is better in describing the concept when applied to the construction industry than BIM. We can safely say that we had “BIM there, done that!”

The list of the new features by version is meticulously listed on the GRAPHISOFT website. The obvious change is in the hardware platform, as well as in the hardware requirements table. It is an order of magnitude change. If we compare then and now, we exchanged gigabytes from megabytes, gigahertz from megahertz. Interestingly enough, the numbers are the same – then 16MB, today 16GB or RAM, is enough for working comfortably. Then, the OS was 32bit, while it is 64bit now, and the list of the processors is shorter. Alpha and PowerMac retired. ArchiCAD 4.55 was the first one to work on Windows and Mac OS.

The packaging and its contents are also different. 20 years ago, the box contained A LOT of books, and 11 3.5” floppy disks. Ten of them contained the software installation, while the 11th contained the Mac to Windows converter. In fact, installing the software at that time did not take much longer than today, despite much less software to install (about 25MB compared to almost 3GB today), as you had to exchange the disks, and when one of them could not be read, the fun really started … The hard disk capacity has also gone from megabytes to giga, or terabytes, and we consider that normal. I am old enough to ask: is it?

ArchiCAD 4.55 that I had reviewed in 1995 had four separate modules, including the software itself. StairMaker has been integrated for a long time now, and some say that it has not changed a lot since then, and the integration of PlotMaker in version 10 caused a minor revolution, because PlotMaker used to be an incredibly clever package; a real little DTP package with the technical documentation in mind. PlayBack retired in the onslaught of the various media players included in the operating systems and the independent ones.

ArchiCAD 4.55 was much simpler and in a way less demanding to use than the current version 19. All the new features that came in the meantime increased the ease of use and the power of the software, while making the package more complex. Today, much less time is required to do anything, but, you need more time to learn how, simply because there is much more to learn. Also, it is not spelled ArchiCAD any more… as we have finished with CAD, have we not?

The list of the competing packages of that time, in which for whatever reason I had missed TriForma, that has survived in the form of AECoSIM, unlike the then Autodesk offerings, is completely different today. From the Autodesk stable there is Revit, from Bentley AECoSIM, and we could also mention Digital Project, although it is a package on a different complexity and cost level. At the time I did not mention the then Macintosh-only software like Vectorworks.

ARCHICAD is today the leader of the construction BIM packages in multiprocessor support, teamwork support, the only one with the predictive background processing, and the support of the fastest BIMServer and BIMcloud in existence. The scene has changed, as has the world. BIM is becoming the base of the construction industry, and after Scandinavia and to a certain degree the US, the UK already has a set of mandatory BIM standards and procedures that will also soon be the base of the ISO standard. ARCHICAD supports all the principles and requirements listed.

A significant change can be noticed in the out-of-the-box object libraries that are now connected with the BIM object storage in the clouds. In 1995, there was no Internet as we know it today. At best, we had dialup!

The same

The most important mainstay of ARCHICAD (yes, now it is spelled like this) is the legendary ease of use and learning, and that it is still, despite the complexity that exponentially grows, fun! I don’t mean finding the current Easter Egg, but everyday work, that is rarely torturous and tiring, and always easy and fast. ARCHICAD has always denied that the medicine only works if it is bitter, and proves that “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down,” as Mary Poppins sang.

Although it is still very obvious that ArchiCAD, as well as ARCHICAD, is a product meant primarily for architectural work, its use in other fields of the construction industry, and the open communication to many other packages, are making it universally applicable.
Regretfully, it is still the case that ARCHICAD is undeservedly unnoticed and passed over in many markets, and that the decisions on software purchases and implementation are not made based on the quality and the performance, but the existing contracts, relationships and habits. Wherever this is not so, it is thanks to the constant work of the local and regional distributors.

The ARCHICAD development in the last 20 years (it turned 30 in 2014) is the best proof that a well-founded software whose basic idea, approach and philosophy stay the same, while the contents changes, does not grow old and has no limits on usability. We do. I often get upset or angry at GRAPHISOFT because they have changed something, as old habits die hard. But, in these 20 years, and on three continents, I have yet to find something that I could not do with ArchiCAD or ARCHICAD!

In another 20 years? Let’s see!

Djordje Grujic
In Dubai, October 2015

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