Architects think in three dimensions, so Graphisoft has designed ArchiCAD's project workflow accordingly. Instead of working with a series of 2D drawings, you use ArchiCAD to create a virtual 3D model that incorporates all the elements of a building, including floors, walls, windows, and doors. The program's new Project Navigator allows the control of layers, visibility, attributes, and scales to create views. These views ultimately become the 2D drawings and renderings that are needed throughout the design process - conception, design development, working drawings, plan submission, and facilities management. With ArchiCAD, you can also create animations and QuickTimeVR to view the designed spaces - or any object or detail in the project - from any angle. The updated Virtual Building model introduces an organic way of working. To create a building section or cutaway view, just draw section lines on the floor plan with the Section tool, and ArchiCAD creates the section view in a separate window. When making a change in the section view, that change is automatically incorporated in the floor plan, and vice versa. In version 8 it's similarly easy to create details. Using the Detail tool, draw a circle around a portion of a drawing, such as a wall-floor intersection or a doorjamb, and ArchiCAD creates the basic detail drawing. You can then add any necessary elements or notes to the detail with typical text and 2D-drafting tools. Throughout this process, the underlying Virtual Building model remains, so any edits made to one view updates all the other views. If you move a door in a perspective rendering or change its dimensions, for example, those changes occur automatically on the floor plans and elevations. For drawing management, ArchiCAD includes Plotmaker, a page-layout application. Plotmaker establishes the different sets of drawings needed during the project: for clients, for consultants, and for permit submissions. You can also export drawings in PDF format, so people who are not using ArchiCAD can view them. And since the software updates all views with every change, Plotmaker gives an updated set of drawings with a click of a button. One of this version's best features is a boon to communication: you can publish and automatically upload project documents to the Web. Clients or consultants can then view, comment on, and mark up the documents online. Both the sole practitioner and the small design firm will benefit from ArchiCAD because the program can quickly and efficiently update all parts of a project. But ArchiCAD has other features that can enable large design firms to work more efficiently. With ArchiCAD's Teamwork feature, designers can work on different parts of a project file simultaneously. Team members can check out drawings - as well as layers of a drawing or even parts of layers - make changes, and then check them back in to update the project file. The software prevents two people from working on the same part at the same time. Collaboration can also occur remotely, with designers in different locations working on parts of the model, and updating the project file the next time they log in to the office network. All this sophisticated power comes at a price. Graphisoft has made significant improvements to ArchiCAD's interface, but the result is quite complex and difficult to learn, compared with programs such as Engineered Software's PowerCAD and Nemetschek's VectorWorks, which place a heavier emphasis on 2D drafting. ArchiCAD is a "use it or lose it" kind of application. Regular users will easily maintain proficiency, but occasional users will likely need to keep the user guide nearby. The work that you put into preparing the file for a specific project will pay off in the long run: you'll spend less time on building the virtual model. To speed the modelling process even more, ArchiCAD provides templates and libraries of parametric symbols and objects, including furniture, structural elements, and textures.
At £3,995, ArchiCAD 8 seems expensive. But for that price, you get the most sophisticated top-of-the-line CAD program available for the Mac. Professionals who need it - and can afford it - won't be disappointed. For current users of ArchiCAD, the upgrade price is more than reasonable, at $595 from version 7 and $890 from any versions previous to that.