Can ARCHICAD and/or Revit justify the effectiveness of designing in BIM?

Without looking too closely, can you tell which application is used to build these two models? (Models recreated by THE BIM FACTORY of Singapore Sentosa Cove)

This article is a follow up to the presentation “When BIM Meets Design” which I gave for the Vietnam BIM Community Talkshow this past weekend at the Nest Cafe in Ho Chi Minh City. My intention is to elaborate further on the contents of my talk and hope to broaden as well as align everyone’s perspectives on this important topic.


This has been an on-going debate for as long as I can remember from the first moment I learned of the BIM process. Which is better for BIM as a tool and which is more beneficial when it comes to modeling in BIM? I recently wrote an article about “What I learned from learning Revit” which I realized that there are many ways for me or anyone to learn the most effective strategy of mastering various BIM applications, in this case, Revit. As it turns out, the best ways to learn any BIM applications — or Revit — are to learn it from the experienced experts or the source (vendor) and learn how to use it properly for their intended purposes. Such as looking at the strengths of the applications and use them to maximize those specific benefits.

Ability vs. Capability

When it comes to maximizing the potential of pretty much anything, we know that this depends heavily on the “ability” of the source. If this source has the ability to be good at a specific task, then it has a very high probability for success. However, if this source is not able to be good at anything or the thing it is trying to accomplish, then success obviously will be much harder to achieve. This is where “capability” comes in. If this source is capable or has the potential of achieving its goal without the abilities, then the level of success will be much harder but possible nonetheless.

So why are we talking about ability and capability? Because by understanding the competency and potential of the source — or in our case — the usefulness of an intended application, the ability of the application is certainly more important than what it is capable of. This conclusion can help us determine the shortest path to success in selecting the right BIM application.

A good example of this is the comparison of Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps. Since the Rio Olympics just ended a couple of days ago, the comparisons of these highly decorated Olympians are more than appropriate for us at this moment. Both of course are insane athletes, freaks of nature as most of us like to describe them. Together they have combined for 57 medals — Olympics and World Championships, mostly golds or first place in their respective sport and both holds multiple world records. One is considered as the fastest man on earth, while the other is referred to as the fastest human in the water. Their abilities have carried them to the very top of their games.

There is no doubt that they are very good at what they do and with those abilities, their level of success is almost guaranteed. However, take them out of their elements and put them in situations where they are only capable of competing, because after all, they are freaks of nature, their level of success is possibly there, but certainly will much harder to achieve. Can you imagine Michael Phelps running the 4x100 relay or Usain Bolt swimming the 4x100 medley relay? Of course it would be ridiculous, but because they are superior athletes, we can certainly argue that they have the probability to succeed.

Maximization of BIM Applications

When using the right abilities of the source, the level of success is almost guaranteed. But if we look at only the capabilities, then our chance of success is still there but definitely all but guaranteed. Many of us in the industry look at BIM applications the exact same way. We look at the potential of the applications instead of what it was originally created for and who created it. Take Revit for example, the application was founded by key developers of a mechanical software. So we know that this was created under the intention and possibly of it being a “mechanical-friendly” tool.

From the beginning, Revit has always been intended to be a parametric application not only for architects, but also for other building professionals to design and document buildings. Revit’s ability as it is determined by its developer to become the most diverse building information modeling application for the entire building industry. We have no doubt that Revit is excellent at what it does and at times, very effective when used properly. However, if we are talking about design, more specifically architectural design, perhaps Revit only has the capability to support Architects. Sure you can succeed with Revit for architectural designs and many have proven this, but as we’ve determined, when it comes to only capabilities, the level of success is much harder to come by.

If we are looking at applications that have the abilities to help Architects succeed, then we should look at specific applications intended for this specific purpose.

Developed by the Hungarian company GRAPHISOFT, ARCHICAD is an architectural BIM software developed specifically for Architects. Recognized as the first 3D CAD application on the market, ARCHICAD is regarded by many as the first implementer of BIM. Even though ARCHICAD also offers computer aided solutions for handling all common aspects of aesthetics and engineering during the whole design process of the built environment, it’s primary intent was dedicated to achieving optimal results for Architects. Its ability to support architectural designs to succeed and easily convey architectural design intents is unquestionable.

Confusion with BIM

Let’s shift for a moment to discuss why it’s not as simple as it seems to determine abilities and capabilities of BIM applications. In our BIM universe, the differences between “Real-world BIM” and “Conceptual BIM” have always been confusing and challenging. When anyone who first’s attempt to describe BIM often includes many variations of “Conceptual BIM”. This is referred to the idealization of what BIM can do and often, unrealistic opinions or observations of BIM in general. We have tendencies to exaggerate the utopian potentials and benefits of BIM along with all the game-changing aspects of its uses and functions. Often, these exaggerations are based on the half-baked, theoretical and unverified abilities of BIM. There is even a common terminology in the industry to describe this type of illusion, it’s call “BIM-washing”. Conceptual BIM is a perfect recipe for unrealistic expectations of BIM without any purposes or supporting technologies.

Screen capture of Autodesk Construction BIM City Video concept (Autodesk 2012) — Example of “Conceptual BIM”

“Real-world BIM” on the other hand is exactly what it describes. This refers to the actual, realistic and achievable approaches of using BIM supported with solid application abilities, diverse knowledge and applicable technologies. Even though “real-world BIM” does not have the wow-factor of “conceptual BIM”, it provides us with facts, metrics and data that we can use in order to achieve our BIM goals.

BIM Ecosystem (parametricmonkey.com)

More Confusion of BIM

When it comes to the number of applications available for BIM use, according to buildingSMART, there are over 200 applications or tools with various BIM functionalities. This number alone is enough to discourage and intimidate the newly BIM adopters or even veteran BIM users. But by utilizing these supporting technologies, we can confidently conclude that every functions described in these plus 200 applications are in fact can be categorized as “Real-world BIM”. However, because there are too many options available for various uses and functions, understanding the effectiveness of the BIM process can be a daunting task for any type of BIM users.

Along with dozens of different BIM definitions worldwide, from the US National Building Information Model Standard Committee (NBIMS) to the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the definitions of what BIM really means varies all over the globe. Since there are no single definitive or consensus definition of BIM, anyone anywhere has the opportunity to define BIM based on their own unique or specific uses. This flexibility is another added layer of complexity and confusion of BIM for our entire industry.

Therefore, deciphering the “Real-world BIM” from the “Conceptual BIM” is often times an impossible feat. Just because there are supporting technologies available for various BIM functions, this does not mean that their effectiveness is predetermined nor can we classify it as “Real-world BIM”.

Determine Effectiveness

Let us move on to the path of determining the effectiveness of the two applications we started this article with (Revit and ARCHICAD) in order to at least help us to categorize them appropriately.

Can you tell the differences between these two models? (Models recreated by THE BIM FACTORY of Singapore Sentosa Cove)

One way for us to determine the usefulness of a BIM application is by dissecting the various advantages and measures of what a BIM application can achieve. Since we are talking about Revit and ARCHICAD, we are referring only to “Authoring” applications. An authoring application is defined as the primary tool that generates and builds the 3-dimensional model for BIM use.

The “i” in BIM

Created by THE BIM FACTORY, we often gauge the effectiveness of the Authoring application by the 5-i’s. As we know, the “i” or better known as the “information” in BIM is arguable the most important part of BIM. Using this approach, we have determined the other 5 meanings of “i” for assessing the effectiveness of various BIM applications:

1. Initiation: This measures the effectiveness of engagement of the application for various approaches at different phases of the project.

2. Intuition: The natural integration of the user along with the intuitiveness of the application’s functions and usage.

3. Iteration: The creation of multi-models, design options or multi-disciplines for collaboration, sharing and study.

4. Innovation: Advanced and forward thinking of the vendor along with added technology and the open-source approaches embedded in the application.

5. Involvement: The collaboration and work sharing methodologies with other disciplines, stakeholders and other team members.

Each of these criteria can support the selection of the appropriate authoring tools. The one statement that we always stand by is “BIM starts at the end”. Determining the outcomes and purposes of BIM not only help to focus on achieving the BIM goals, but this approach can also support the selection of the most effective BIM applications.

Final Thoughts

The purposes and functionality of the BIM application can be established by filtering it through the 5-i’s approach as described above. This process can alter the perception of an application and can change the way it is used. Therefore, I believe instead of asking whether to choose Revit or ARCHICAD, perhaps we need to look at it as Revit and ARCHICAD. By filtering the effectiveness of the 5-i’s for both applications, we see that both Revit and ARCHICAD are excellent respectively within their means. We know that Revit is appropriate for Initiation, Iteration, and Involvement while ARCHICAD is supportive for Initiation, Intuition and Innovation. Both have their own strengths and good for specific works and disciplines. At the end of the day, in my opinion, ARCHICAD is ideal for Architects looking for the most efficient path to implement BIM while Revit is ideal for Engineers who relies on coordination and collaboration of multi-discipline functions.

For any typical and efficient BIM project, the use of ARCHICAD’s abilities for architectural design and Revit’s abilities for engineering work is not only ideal within the world of BIM, but this approach is a perfect example of maximizing the effectiveness and using the best abilities of the specific BIM applications.

Like what you read? Give Han Hoang a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.