ArchiCAD is a BIM software that enables the creation of intelligent 3D models of facilities and supports the OpenBIM workflows and IFC based project data exchanges. Graphisoft, the makers of ArchiCAD, agree that they have been publicly contributing to the buildingSMART IFC standards initiative and are part of the OpenBIM community.
In the local professional communities that I have interacted with, ArchiCAD is considered software for architects. Primarily because it is architectural design software. However, other project team members such as the MEP (Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing) engineers, structural engineers, project managers and quantity surveyors can benefit from it.
The MEP and structural engineering profiles have been fully integrated into ArchiCAD in the latest versions including ArchiCAD 24, 25 and hopefully with the subsequent newer versions. Also, environmental design consultants benefit immensely from the energy evaluation functionalities.
If BIM models authored suing ArchiCAD are done with the needs of the quantity surveyors and cost engineers in mind, these professionals will equally benefit from this technology. But as it stands, they seem to be missing out on the benefits of the BIM workflow for reasons including but not limited to the incompleteness of the BIM models generated by the designers.
I am a quantity surveyor and I have used ArchiCAD since 2014, the first time I sat in architectural design class as a first-year student at the university. Although my motivations were different at that time, I have come to appreciate the immense benefits that quantity surveyors can reap when they understand how BIM models are put in place.
Traditionally, quantity surveyors perform an interrogation of the design before actual quantity take-off. They give feedback to the designers on the issues detected to help better the proposed design solutions. With BIM becoming mainstream, model checking is an evolved role.
Consequently, an understanding of how things are modelled is important for one to give constructive feedback about the model or derive accurate and reliable building quantities from it.
Regardless of your software choice, the aforementioned competence will be of immense benefit to your career and the projects you work in. Because of the IFC and OpenBIM workflows, the software you use won’t matter. You can exchange, import and export data using IFC file types built on open standards.
That being said, if you want to learn ArchiCAD you can start with my “ArchiCAD Essentials: From Novice to Ninja [Digital Course]”. It is a beginner-friendly online course that will teach you the basics of BIM model creation using ArchiCAD. Revit fans can take advantage of “Autodesk Revit Architecture 2019 – Complete Beginners’ Guide” to start familiarising themselves with the software.
ArchiCAD Element Properties and Classifications, including IFC
An ArchiCAD BIM model is made up of an assembly of design elements that graphically represents the actual building elements. This is coupled with intelligent no-graphical BIM metadata in the form of building material performance data, cost information, energy evaluation data, fire resistance ratings and manufacturer data, among others.
Further, ArchiCAD gives the model author the flexibility to feed the data to the model when the element default settings tab is accessed. Under the “Element Properties and Classifications” tab, important non-graphical data can be fed into the model to aid in energy simulations, structural analysis, and cost calculations, among other uses.
Also, IFC properties and classifications are specified here. This is like giving guidelines and instructions to other software that are interoperable with ArchiCAD on how to interpret the model data if it is exported for use via an IFC file.
It is an important functionality that is at the core of supporting open BIM workflows; allowing project members to seamlessly collaborate on a project regardless of the differences in the software they use.
For example, Revit users and ArchiCAD users can comfortably work together using the “IFC Model Exchange with Revit for ArchiCAD” plugin.
So, what IFC file types does ArchiCAD support?
IFC File Types Compatible with ArchiCAD
According to Graphisoft, ArchiCAD supports the export and import of the following IFC data file formats:
- .ifc: this is the default IFC exchange format using the STEP physical file structure.
- .ifcXML: IFC data file using the XML document structure. This format is recommended for architects whose partners’ applications cannot read the original .ifc format, but can exchange XML databases; such as budget and energy calculations. The format delivers the same model information as the plain .ifc format, but the elements and their properties are stored in a more informative structure. An ifcXML file is normally larger in size compared to the normal .ifc file.
- .ifcZIP IFC data file using the ZIP compression algorithm. It is the compressed version of .ifc or .ifcXML. An .ifcZIP file usually compresses an .ifc down by 60 – 80% and an .ifcXML file by 90 – 95%.
.ifcZIP is compatible with windows compressed folders, WinZip, among others. Therefore, if the recipient cannot read .ifcZIP, then a ZIP extractor application can open the file into .ifc and .ifcXML format.
We have seen that it is important for the designers to understand the information requirements of other project members in their teams for them to create their models in a way that will be useful to them.
It is equally vital for the quantity surveyors and cost engineers to understand how digital models are put together for them to constructively participate in the BIM workflow whether in interrogating the quality of the models or extracting quantities for cost estimations.
Further, as BIM software ArchiCAD supports interoperability with other software used by the MEP engineers, structural engineers and quantity surveyors in their work. With the use of IFC formats built on open standards, data exchange is possible and practical. Although not 100% perfect because there might be possible inconsistencies, it is a progressive solution for the AEC industry.
To conclude, we have seen the various IFC file types that the software supports. As your needs may dictate, you can request any of those files from your colleagues in the project for data exchange in neutral formats when working together.