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Alice in Attributeland

I am excited and delighted to be exploring yet another ArchiCAD update. Having spent the past 5 months in the bowels of ArchiCAD 17, the latest release brings welcome changes to the platform I’ve embraced for 20 years and affords me the opportunity to complete a key piece of my template puzzle. I’ve been holding off on paying any attention to Surface definitions, simply because the promise of C4D inside ArchiCAD was probably the worst kept secret in the Industry all year. It’s finally here and I can’t wait to get started. Thank you Graphisoft. It promises to be amazing.

Attributes are the bedrock components of ArchiCAD. And it’s Achilles Heel. For as ArchiCAD advances ever further, the stumbling block to progress resides in its core.

I’m an architect. Everything I design is bespoke. Unique. One off. Or so it says in my unwritten Charter of Beliefs and Values. The problem is, I now work in the realm of Construction, specifically the world of the Production Homebuilder. Nothing is a one-off here. We make money when we build 20 copies of the same house exactly the same way. If we have 50 houses in inventory and if even ten of them are hot sellers, we’re not making money if even two exemplars if House Model X are bespoke. We make more money if we can value engineer our way to making House Models X, Y & Z buildable with repeating means and methods and features.

Establishing an ArchiCAD template in this milieu shouldn’t be any different from trying to do it in a design boutique or a multi-disciplinary professional firm.

But it is.

Attributes used to be easy, but they’re not anymore. A composite is actually the product of combining one or more Building materials into a real world Assembly. That building Material now identifies itself as being a Core, a Finish, or an Other. That Building Material now consists of a Fill and a Surface. This gives me infinite flexibility, or it should. But I’m bogged down in the semantics of nomenclature for each of these properties.

It’s not so much of a problem - at least for a while if I am building a one-off. But the basic building blocks of a single family house need to be absolutely the same in order for me to maintain a high level of quality, and contribute information to the rest of my team. Construction Managers gotta build, but more importantly, Purchasing Managers have to order materials and seek the best price form suppliers and trades. If the materials and assemblies for Model X are not defined the same way, we are all soon in the weeds looking for the cats we were herding.

The mixed metaphor is deliberate as ArchiCAD is a big, glorious Bag of Metaphors. We build garage floor slabs out of roofs because we need a “flat” surface that slopes awy from something or toward something. A Core might be a solid or a void depending on what we’re making or how we’re making it. It might be monolithic and purely structural, or it might contain pieces of structure, insulation, piping and wiring. If so, is it still a core?

And a Finish. Sometimes a Finish is a Finish. Sometimes it’s really a Substrate onto which a Finish is applied. But not always, because, more often than not, an Other is a Substrate, or a Sub-Substrate. Understanding the semantics and abstracting ArchiCAD’s Reference Manual descriptors is important, especially now that we don’t draw anything, but publish BIMx Hypermodels instead. With the flip of a Model View Option Combination and/or the flip of a Partial Structure Display and/or the flip of a Renovation Filter and/or the Flip of a Renovation Override ...

We’ve got so much flexibility it’s going to kill us all.

Or, it won’t, if we stop subscribing to using ArchiCAD “right out of the box”.

I’m re-writing my template to take advantage of the paradigm shift that occurred in 17 and like many of you who have tread upon this ground, there’s a decision to be made. Keep the Residential/Commercial.TPL files, of branch out into unknown territory. I chose the latter and I will get there, but all the while I keep saying the same thing. What about those attributes.

Creating composites has required a rethink on Building Materials. Which has required a rethink on Fills and Surfaces because Fills and Surfaces aren’t really Fills and Surfaces at all.

Sorting anything in alphabetical order is hopeless. I can’t find what I’m looking for fast enough. Renaming anything forces a cheat on naming convention - numbers sort before letters and so I should rename stuff with numbers.

Graphisoft has been doing this for years with Library Objects. First with the CSI categories and more recently with OmniClass Codes. It’s a work in progress, but it is maturing.

With Attributes, this would be a logical solution, too. OmniClass was created to assign a code number to everything under the stars and if you look, you’ll find code numbers for the vehicles which will someday take us to those stars.

The letdown here, as it has been stated before, is that all the alphanumeric sorting tricks still play second fiddle to Attribute Index Numbers. They call the tune in ArchiCAD and if the Attribute Index numbers don’t match from one file to the next, data ceases to be real data. The most rudimentary operation invented on a Graphical Interfaced computer OS is Copy/Paste. Who knew that the most basic function we take for granted can lay waste to any standardized office protocol for Drafting Standards, Information Sharing - anything we now call BIM!

ArchiCAD 18 has added a new feature that goes a long way to addressing this problem. That is the option to append or Overwrite Attributes by name or index number. Thanks for this Graphisoft. It is much appreciated.

But here’s the thing that always bothered me. ArchiCAD is a database program. When you set up a database, you get to decide and create fields and sub-fields, prescribe sort orders - all that database stuff we see in certain corners of ArchCAD - List Schemes, for one.

The Fills provided in the Template work, but not really. Eventually, information from my project is going to end up on the desk of a Specification Writer or a Purchaser/Estimator. These are the people in the office who wield real power. Not you. You are the lowly designer. You are the lowly drafter, or permit getter. Real power resides in the hands of specifiers, purchasers, estimators and contract managers because they’re the ones whose work lies closest to the think that insures profitability: the Contract.

ArchiCAD 18 has provided a wonderful new tool in the Revision Manager. We need it, because we’re fouling things up on the way to the people who administer the contract. A revision is either something extra that the client wants. Or, it’s an error or omission - the result of bad information. Or incomplete information. Or inconsistent information. Or all three.

What the power wielders need is to reduce the risk of errors. To get there, we need to get a whole lot clearer on what got us into the weeds with those cats who refused to be herded in the first place.

I can create a Template that works for the Production Builder. I’m going to do it. And it’s going to be great. But not without a teardown of the Attribute Set and a patient persistent hand on the Attribute Manager.

It’s going to be great if, and only if, I can teach someone how it works. The hardest part of making a template is insisting that it stay simple. That it’s metaphors communicate the intricacies or relationships between the functions and tools that drive it. Twenty years ago, teaching someone the Wall Tool was easy. Today, its considerably more daunting.
Think Like a Spec Writer
AC4.55 through 26 / USA AC25-6000 USA
Rhino 7 Mac
MacOS 12.6.5

Eduardo Rolon
Having spent the las 5 days updating my template I agree with the sentiment about Attribute Numbers. I finally gave up and decided to ignore the number and concentrate on the ID (for BMats) or the Name for everything else, let AC worry about the number.

You are forgetting the addition on 17 of "Delete and Replace".

My new template strategy is to import and substitute from the "Commercial Template" to my existing template either by using Attribute Manager or by exporting XML files from one into the other.
Eduardo Rolón AIA NCARB
AC27 US/INT -> AC08

Macbook Pro M1 Max 64GB ram, OS X 10.XX latest
another Moderator


You're right. "Delete and Replace" was an invaluable addition. Discovered it by accident.
Think Like a Spec Writer
AC4.55 through 26 / USA AC25-6000 USA
Rhino 7 Mac
MacOS 12.6.5

Laszlo Nagy
Community Admin
Community Admin
Nice little treatise.
So, are you wishing for something? More support for standards? Ability to sort attributes by name? Or something else?
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Thanks Lazlo, my follow up will be a considered one, I hope. This should be a discussion that doesn't take the firm of a wish prematurely.

Broadly speaking I'm coming to the point where I see the end of attributes. What we know as attributes ate all elements that need to be managed inside an enterprise whether that enterprise is me drawing garages in my basement or Bjarke Ingels' teams scrambling to keep up with the waves of his hands across continents. In one context, those building blocks, those foundational elements need to be conceived, declared, managed and shared.

As attributes they're locked inside a file, project specific. The attribute mager lets us capture them, move them around, but index numbers force us to be wildly inventive in our quest for rigour.

I want a BIM environment that responds to my needs on a phase by phase, basis. I want to add complexity as I need it so that my hands are nimble in the days where I'm working in the abstract.

So, a few items on my outline might be expressed here, to be filled out.

With composites, a Fill can go back to just being a fill. I don't need hundreds of these.

The notions surrounding LOD specifications suggest a hierarchy of attributes based on decision making milestones. When I start a project in ArchiCAD, plasticine may be all that I want. A plasticine composite that I can make walls with, or slabs, or spiral jettys. (clay can be turned, cut with a wire, rolled out and built up).

The term "Surface" implies something at its topmost. Could it have no thickness and still be counted and quantified. Paint sits on something and is estimated and purchased, but we don't dimension it. Not even at 1:1. Glazed tiles have a surface and a substrate, Wood typically receives a finish. The finish enhances it's grain or masks it.

The answers have to come from where and how we build.

More to come.
Think Like a Spec Writer
AC4.55 through 26 / USA AC25-6000 USA
Rhino 7 Mac
MacOS 12.6.5

I also would like to say Welcome and Thank You to Csaba Kézér, for his contributions to the forum so far. His comments suggest a hint of transparency in the Graphisoft Empire that so far have suggested loudly that they follow along, but have been quite reticent about coming out to play in the ArchiCAAD sandbox with us.
Think Like a Spec Writer
AC4.55 through 26 / USA AC25-6000 USA
Rhino 7 Mac
MacOS 12.6.5

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