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[ LONG POST ] - I'm a new user, hoping to ask if ArchiCAD is the best program for my use-case.


Hello everyone, thank you for clicking on my post. It's gonna be pretty long, so I appreciate your time and help; Apologies if it's in the wrong forum category.


I'm a relatively young independent contractor and graduate engineer. I'm trying to steer my life in a direction that will have me designing and building one-off, small but beautiful homes/cottages for clients.


The funding and feasibility of this type of project is beyond the scope of this discussion. Please assume that it's going to happen, even if you feel it's a ridiculous idea. You may very well be right, but my concern at this time is in choosing which Architectural design program would be best.


I have put together a Pinterest board to illustrate the type of architecture I'd be aiming for. It's stuff like this:


I'm aiming for modern cottages. They will be fairly simple from a structural perspective -- I won't be doing any crazy cantilevers or suspended buildings, for example, but will contain some more exotic decorative design elements.


These include things like pillars or piers holding half of the building aloft, unique roof designs with large overhangs, large curtain walls, "architectural" or "exotic" exterior wall and roof claddings, and other design elements like rooflines which blend seamlessly with walls. Additionally, the framing of the structure will involve multiple materials, with some walls being ICF, while others are timber-framed, and with a floor assembly maybe involving some steel beams, depending on structural requirements.


The buildings would be small, maxing out at around 1500 Sq ft. 


Now, the reason for my post is because although I have an educational background in computer-aided design, and am quite familiar with CAD programs like Solidworks, Solidedge, AutoCAD, and even Revit.


I've taken about 40-50 hours of guided tutorials on Revit through Udemy. I can now easily handle all the basics, and create finished projects for simple buildings. What I've started to notice, however, both first-hand, and from forum discussions, is that Revit really isn't geared towards residential, timber-framed, highly-architectural construction.


I tried my hand at designing a simple wood-framed garden shed, and, compared to building a "normal" building in Revit with the pre-existing wall families, designing this shed on a stud-by-stud basis was like pulling teeth. Wood-framing add-ons exist, but are phenomenally expensive, and heaven forbid you go to change the length of a wall after... That's why I'm considering ArchiCAD.


The reason I need to design these buildings on a stud-by-stud level is because I will be the one building them. I have been working as a general contractor and fine craftsman for several years now, and my intention is to build these places myself, with my hands, and my tools. Doing this stud-by-stud level design is my opportunity to plan things out, make sure my joinery works, figure out dimensions and conflicts, etc.


Of course, the tasks that are beyond what a single person can do, will be sub-contracted out. The foundation pour, the sceptic install, electrical, plumbing, etc., is all going to be hired out to the respective professionals. Everything else, though, like the framing, roofing, sheathing, etc., will be me. The projects will take several years each. Once again, the feasibility or financial reality of these projects is beyond the scope of this discussion.


I know that Revit is the "powerful but cumbersome" program. I know that everything IS possible in it, but sometimes at so high of a time-cost, that it simply isn't worth it.. This has lead me to reconsider if Revit is the best program for me, or if there are programs better suited to the style of buildings I want to make.


As far as I can tell, there are five options that may serve me: 1) Revit   2) ArchiCAD    3) Chief Architect    4) Google Sketchup    5) Solidworks


What I'm needing from the program is the following:


  1. The ability to design the entire structural framing of the building on an element-by-element basis. That means every stud, every floor joist, every roof rafter, and, most importantly, for these elements to have "mates" or other kinds of relationships, such that if I decided to raise the ceiling in a room, for example, the studs move with it. It would be extremely painful to need to go in and manually change the height of every stud, should I make a change to the layout.
  2. The ability to design the joinery and construction details of building elements. That means the birdmouth cuts in the rafters, the miters on the ends of the rafters, and so on.
  3. The ability to design the entire building envelope on an element-by-element basis. That means modelling every 4x8 sheet of plywood sheathing on the exterior walls, ever 4x8 panel of drywall on the interior ones, all the floor sheathing, insulation panels, etc. Being able to model detail elements like joist hangers, electrical outlet boxes, etc., would also be fantastic.
  4. The ability to model different types of wall and floor assemblies, such as using a few steel beams in a floor assembly if needed, or vertical steel beams for architectural reasons, or a random concrete wall in the middle of the structure, or even slanted wall assemblies.
  5. The ability to do some basic landscape modelling. I don't need full terrain mapping or terrain elevations, but at least being able to draw out a stand-in green slab for the ground, and model a basic patio or a driveway would be great.
  6. The ability to do some very basic modelling of MEP systems through the use of basic geometric shapes. I do NOT need a full MEP side to the program, but being able to model a basic cylinder passing through my floor assembly as a stand-in for an HVAC duct or something would be very useful. 
  7. The ability to generate lots of diagrams and drawings. Elevation views, cross-section views, and, most importantly, construction diagrams of the wall, roof, and floor assemblies, with dimensions and annotations.

Based on these needs, and what I've seen of each program, my thinking is as follows:


Revit: It can handle them all, but it's extremely cumbersome. I have to place studs and joists by using column and beam families in the structural side of the program, but first I need to manually create all of the different columns and beams I'll need, and then these structural elements don't play well with the architectural side of the program, and, and, and, it's all very cumbersome. 


ArchiCAD: This program seems like it could be a good choice, but I'm basing that entirely on this video. This video was where I first learned about ArchiCAD. It seems very similar to Revit, but a bit more intuitive to use, and like it handles element-by-element construction better than Revit. 


Chief Architect:  By FAR the best program to use for timber-framed construction, but only if you're keeping to relatively tame suburban design. I made a post on the Chief Architect forums that generated great discussion, and the consensus seems to be that although Chief excels as the framing and diagram part, it can't handle the unique architectural features AT ALLEven something like a simple slanted wall will completely break it. 


Google Sketchup: Correct me if I'm wrong, but Sketchup is not a parametric design program, it is a "push and pull" program, more akin to Blender. Quite frankly, I don't know how I would efficiently design a building in this program, if I have to take many steps just to assign a fixed length to a specific beam, for example. Admittedly, though, this is the program I know the least about. My understanding is also that the program does not have a means to create elevation views, or shop drawings, or any kinds of diagrams, without first needing to find or purchase add-on programs to gain this functionality. 


Solidworks: This is the program I have the most experience in, with a few hundred hours, and a university course in it. However, it's designed more for mechanical engineering and small parts, and so its workflow of needing to design elements individually as separate files, then save and assemble them manually in an assembly by assigning mates, is extremely time-consuming, and performance-heavy. It also cares a LOT about minutia, spitting out errors and screaming at you if you forget to assign a coordinate origin for a given part, for example.


And so that's where I'm at. Five different programs, and no sense of which one would be best for me. 


Any help, insight, or suggestions is greatly appreciated. Thank you for taking the time to read this.


My workflow of drawing up the framing with bracing and tie downs is 2D only. There are many generic documents that depict the actual details along with the framing code requirements. Most engineers will use 2D details mainly.

If you want to use 3D details, can you import from solidworks into AC ? Might be good to research or ask that question here on the forum as well. 

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Independently of which software you end up using,  and as a general discussion (not necesarilly your particular case, as you seem to be aware of the situation), i would question the need of going through so much hassle to generate a proforma, and then present to investors. 


Personally, we would never do a complete construction documentation set BEFORE having an interested client.  We just do a quick concept design with renders (and many times just with hand made drawings), and some parametric costs. If it generates interest, then further work can be done; If not, we just lost one or two days, not 3 months. And it is in these initial stages where Archicad trully shines. 


Thank you for your comment. 


I can completely understand how my entire plan makes less than zero sense for a normal company, or a working architect.


My situation is very unique, and this really is the only way it would have a chance to work. Losing 3 months isn't a huge deal for me. It's worth it for the moonshot. 

I understand. Go for it man!

Marc H

I agree with the positive AC posts here, insofar as my experience with it over several years.  While I have not worked in the other programs you list, I believe AC provides a versatile architectural platform in which to develop one of several manner of workflow and project types.  It is also scalable, which may be an important part of the decision, as you will need to invest significant time to make the best use of it.  It also has, with some debate as to focus, multi-discipline tools, which can be helpful once you are past initial architectural conceptualization.  Increasingly, AC is making connections with other design input programs as well as technical output programs. 


One other aspect of AC is the increasing ease to build your own parametric objects using one of a few tools and methods.  This fills in an important gap between the basic program and libraries and highly detailed technical elements and objects.  As well, the Property Manager provides ample dataset configuration tools.


You also inquired on importing:  DWGs are easy; drag and drop.  Separately, there is a Revit import tool that works fairly well.  I've imported equipment up to whole buildings from Revit and Sketchup with more ease than I expected.  The one downside of Revit imports is the size of the objects created and their behavior, based in part on how those models may have been authored.  Also, to note, the imports will bring in their own class system data and surfaces, etc. and create defaults where none are defined.  Depending on how much you will need to collaborate with the imports, you may need to find improved workflow with your team.  


AC is a platform, however, not an automated fixer, so you will need to experiment and practice (even if you purchase a great template) to get the program to more automatically produce what you want.  There are element priorities, material priorities, SEO operations to work with, and often a need to import additional surfaces. There are also, at times, challenges achieving appropriate floor plan visibility of particular elements, whether a setting or display option, etc.  These modeling aspects often present themselves at the project level, sometimes when you are trying to get your drawings out.  Most of the time, though, once addressed by updating your template, they are resolved or may be mitigated in the next project.  I've found myself documenting more and more standards as I go, toward a better performing template and improving workflow.


Hope this helps.

“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.” - Abraham Lincoln

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Hi Mark, thank you for your detail reply. 


I appreciate the info on importing. Frankly, I don't see myself importing much of anything, unless I need to make a little doohickey of some kind in Solidworks, like I need a stand-in for some kind of electrical junction box that doesn't exist in ArchiCAD, or I want to make a custom design of door or window. I don't see myself importing anything complex, though. 


I'm okay with ArchiCAD not producing anything automatically, in fact, I want manual, element-by-element, stud-by-stud control and creation. The only automation I need is the ability to create elevation views, cross-sections, detail views, etc., but I know that's a basic feature of ALL Cad/Bim programs. 


You are not the first person to touch on the importance of a good template, and not just in regards to ArchiCAD. People on Revit's forums and Chief Architect's forums have said the same thing. However, I have no idea how to find a good template, where to find one, or what would even constitute a good template. Since I haven't gone through this full workflow before, it's impossible for me to know what I'm going to need, before I need it. It's a "you can't know what you don't know" kind of situation.


In my mind, all I need template-wise is drawings and sheets that default to feet+inch measurements, since that's what residential construction uses, and a font size that's big enough to read. Beyond that, I don't know what a template can do for me. 

I believe we are getting a better picture of your goals and it's great to see the supportive responses.  They also come with some cautionary statements which may also help you navigate; especially with regard to the expectation of time investment to become proficient with the program and adapting whatever template you start with.  (AC comes with a default, but as mentioned in the responses, there are other, more developed templates.). AC templates are not just layout or graphic standards, they are essentially element, attribute, and data populated model files filling out the structured AC tables.  With that, part of the value proposition for AC (beyond the technical design cohesion aspects) is, as with most software, the ability to leverage time with each subsequent project.  


Another consideration you may want to explore (a bit beyond your immediate queries here) will be around the needed agency submittals. I mention them here because increasingly they require extensive and varied documentation for new construction, including a variety of studies and calculations.  AC can assist with some of them, and some templates may also provide some installed content, but again, it will likely require additional model and document time investment beyond the physical design elements capabilities.


“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.” - Abraham Lincoln

AC27 USA on 16” 2019 MBP (2.4GHz i9 8-Core, 32GB DDR4, AMD Radeon Pro 5500M 8G GDDR5, 500GB SSD, T3s, Trackpad use) running Sonoma OS + extended w/ (2) 32" ASUS ProArt PAU32C (4K) Monitors

Thank you for your comment. I've found it to be very challenging to get my project across to the people who are reading my posts, in part because it is so unusual, and in part because it's just natural human tendency to want to latch on to the financial / feasibility side of things and start asking questions like "Are you really sure this is such a good idea? Are you really sure you can pull this off?" I get it, it's a moonshot, but yeah.


The template side of the discussion is really one that I cannot understand intuitively, with how little experience I have with CAD/BIM systems in general. The CAD modelling I've done, in Solidworks, doesn't use any template at all. The only thing you have to set at the start is whether you're working in metric or imperial units, and boom, you can start modelling. But that's just because it was always single parts, or small assemblies of things that, crucially, were never going to be manufactured by anyone other than myselfThey only exist for the point of practice and learning, or to generate measurements, so who cares if the draft pages don't have all the necessary tolerance information, who cares if the material information hasn't been applied to any of the parts, who cares. All that mattered was the model itself.


It's very different with this type of work, though, as everyone in these forums, who uses these programs for actual, real-world work, needs to care about all that minutia. Window schedules need to be hyper-specific. Fire route and parking and MEP systems need to be modeled out, and so on and so forth.


For me, because it's just me, the only information I need is the information -- -- need. I don't have to bother modelling material properties or fastening methods and the like, because I don't need to communicate them to anyone else. I know in my head what material I'm going to use, how I'm going to fasten them, etc. I just need enough information to do cost projections, and to pass inspection. 


And in regards to that inspection process, since you brought up agency submittals, I was kinda shocked to find out that the municipalities I'm planning on building in require next to nothing. A friend of mine literally built a 2-million dollar cottage based on nothing more than 3 handmade, pencil-drawn elevation views of the building, and one plan view, with basically no annotations, and absolutely no callouts, section views, or details. I've spoken to five different municipalities, and their building departments just require some basic drawings and that's it. It's wild up here.

Miha Nahtigal

I’ll be the devils advocate. In do not think AC will suit you and you will be disappointed. 
In a month or two you will barely scratch the surface and in a point where frustration will kick in. 
AC can do the job flawlessly but not in a way you expect. 

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Thank you for your comment. It was a bit brief, though. Do you mind if I ask you to expand on exactly where you think I will run into issues? In the videos I've watched of people doing timber framing in ArchiCAD, it seemed pretty straightforward. A bit less streamlined than in Google Sketchup, but much faster than in Revit. 


Nice due dilligence. I agree with everyone else that Archicad would be your best choice. Beware that the software will be as good as the info you put in it: It wont design ANYTHING for you.       But in order to avoid paralisis by analisis, why dont you just download Archicad trial version and see for youself?   you have already taken the Revit course which translates nicely to Archicad, at least for the basics (not the other way around though).  Then you can make a more hands-on decision.


(also, i suggest deleting Sketchup from your list)


lots of luck

Thank you! I figure if I'm going to make this gargantuan post, and expect people to invest time and energy into reading and responding to it, it's only fair that I try and do some research, first. 


Mind if I ask you to expand on why you feel SketchUp is not a good option? I've been trying to consume lots of videos on both programs, and from what I've seen, it feels like this: Sketchup is by far the easiest program to model in, even more so than ArchiCAD, but it doesn't handle the layout, planning, drafting/drawing, and annotation phases of the workflow as well as ArchiCAD. On the flipside, ArchiCAD is a little more Revit-like in it's modelling than SketchUp, but has a smoother and more powerful workflow in its drafting side. Both of them are leagues ahead of Revit, though, when it comes to modelling.


At least, that's what I've gathered from the footage I've seen of people doing timber framing in both programs.

Laszlo Nagy
Community Admin
Community Admin

A couple of thoughts based on my experience and analysis of some of the other applications:

  • I think the biggest fundamental difference between Archicad and Revit is that Archicad was designed by architects, while Revit was designed by engineers. And this is something you can feel while using them, I believe for an architect, Archicad is just more intuitive and more flexible than Revit. The Archicad library is light years ahead of Revit's default Families in terms of parameters and 2D/3D options. Another pro for Archicad is its versatility: many times, there are multiple ways of doing something, for example, you can model Wall Framing with multiple element types (Columns+Beams, Curtain Wall tool, or Object tool that uses library parts, etc.) This can also be a con because there is a lot more to learn.
  • SketchUp is a really good and easy-to-use general 3D Modeler, but it is not a dedicated architectural design and documentation software. This is why I believe Archicad is much better suited for an architectural designer, since it has all the dedicated tools and workflows for architects (there are a lot, SU might have some of these or similar, but for example: dedicated tools for all the various architectural element types like walls, columns/beams, slabs, roofs, doors/windows, stairs, railings, etc., composite structures, partial structure display, dedicated section/elevation/interior elevation tools, dedicated layouting tools and environment, publishing, design options, renovation filters, graphic overrides, properties/classification, autotext, etc. etc.) that SketchUp,  being a generic 3D modeler, does not have.
  • Someone mentioned Vectorworks: Vectorworks is also a good BIM software, in general, I feel it does a lot of the things Archicad does, just not as well in many cases, Archicad has been a 3D BIM software from the start, Vectorworks was like 2.5D software in its capabilities and became a 3D BIM software in the last 10-15 years. So most tools in Archicad are more developed and more mature than in Vectorworks, in my opinion, with a few exceptions, general 3D modeling and landscape modeling being two exceptions.
  • Another aspect is that Revit, Vectorworks, and SketchUp are all subscription-only software, while Archicad is available in both Perpetual Licenses and Subscription Licenses.
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Hey there, thank you for your comment.


I can absolutely sense the engineering intent behind Revit, like you said. I understand why it's used by big corporate design firms to handle massively complex structures like airports and stadiums. 


I've been consuming as much video content on the various CAD/BIM programs as I can, but there's something about ArchiCAD that concerns me.


My concern is that ArchiCAD has beams and columns, which work in fairly predictable ways, and in ways I'm a bit familiar with from my time practicing in Revit. Unlike Revit, though, they're much easier to manipulate in ArchiCAD, as it has an inference engine very similar to SketchUp's, which allows you to just grab corners and drag and drop and stuff. 


What I couldn't find any footage of, though, is when you need to tweak a beam by giving it a cutout, or a notch, or a birdsmouth, or a hole for an anchor, etc. Maybe it's all possible, but I can't find footage on it. With Sketchup, it was as simple as taking that beam, and drawing a line across it wherever you need to make a cut, then push/pulling. Same with holes, or anything else. 


Likewise, I can't find any footage on modelling custom assets in ArchiCAD, like if I wanted to make a joist hanger. I know it's possible, I saw one guy make a special mending plate for an A-Frame cabin, but there's very little content out there on it. With SketchUp, it's easy, just draw some shapes, push-pull your way 'till its done, define it as a component, and bam, you have parts. You can then put them wherever you want. 


Additionally, I can't find any footage on modelling sheathing, or modelling fasteners, or modelling masonry blocks. Not on an individual level. Everything that I've witnessed so far in ArchiCAD involves a workaround, like using curtain walls to create a block wall. Yeah, it works visually, but I don't know if it will work mechanically. If I go about making a block wall using the curtain wall workaround, can I just pluck one of the resulting blocks out if I need to replace it with something special? Or do I have to go back into the curtain wall system and completely redefine it to somehow include that special block? Or what if I need to model a special fastener going into one of those blocks? In SketchUp, each one of those blocks is a genuine 3D object, so I can just go to any of them, and put a hole in it. 


Like you said, though, ArchiCAD is a dedicated architectural modeller, where SketchUp is just a 3D modeller. The timber framing part of ArchiCAD seems doable. It's nice to be able to do it all from a plan view, which SketchUp doesn't allow for, but the actual 3D CAD Modeling tools seem much more limited in ArchiCAD, at least based on the content I've found. ArchiCAD's documentation and drawing tools are much better than SketchUp's, though.


Take things like the roof wizard. It's great, as long as you stick to a traditional roof. If I want some kind of crazy portion to my roof, though, I'll need to model that out with beams, and model out special hardware, and I can't seem to find much on the modelling side of ArchiCAD.



There is no need to double post your comments.


To answer some of yours points and questions: 

- If you model a brick wall using the Curtain Wall tool, you can then select the Curtain Wall element, enter Edit Mode, and then you can select any individual Frame or Panel and modify it individually or even remove it, switch it to something else, etc. It is very flexible.

- About modeling details of columns/beams: yes, this is an area where general 3D modeling capabilities come in handy, which is why I mentioned SketchUp and Vectorworks, both if which are pretty capable in this area. In Archicad, I would say there are two scenarios: when you have to add geometry to an element or when you have to subtract from it. Both van be performed by modeling the to-be-added geometry or the to-be-cut geometry using the Morph Tool, and then using Solid Element Operations (SEO) to add/subtract the modeled geometry to/from the Column/Beam. These Morph pieces can reside on their own Layer so after the SEO, they can be hidden by hiding their Layer. The result of their SEO will still be visible on the Column/Beam.

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Thank you for that detail!


When doing solid element operations, does the resulting geometry get saved into the column? So, if I create a post using a standard ArchiCAD column, and then I give it a custom top or a special cut or something using the solid element operations, does that new geometry replace the old column, such that it will move along with it if I move the column, or change its height, or make other changes?

When doing a Solid Element Operation, you have a target and an operator that does the cutting.

Both elements must exist in the file, but the operator element can be in a hidden layer so you don't see it.

However both elements need to be moved together for the operation to still be in effect as intended.

Elements can be grouped so it make them easier to move together.


The target element is not permanently changed.

It is only affected while the operator is in its correct location.


You can convert the target to a morph to lock in the changes, but it will no longer have the settings for a beam or column or wall.



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Hi all, I found this video but it doesn’t have any voice instructions just audio. It shows how to do a 3D bolted connection with a steel plate in AC23 to a timber framing member. I don’t know how they got the bolts into AC or how they created the plates but it certainly can be done with a lot of work.

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All done with segmented columns and beams.

Some segments may just be tapered, others are complex profiles with modifiers.



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Sounds like a bit of extra work ?


CI tools library has an engineering bolt object in it that can be modified for different sizes. It also has an expanding anchor bolt in it too. CI also has a timber framing bracing add on that can be used in NZ. Do they have it available in WA as well ?


You just have to decide how to model the steel plates and cut holes in the beam for the bolts to be inset into it.

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@mthd wrote:

Sounds like a bit of extra work ?

It is, but that is what you have to do if you want detailed 3D modelling.

Creating your own objects would be another alternative.


@mthd wrote:

 CI also has a timber framing bracing add on that can be used in NZ. Do they have it available in WA as well ?

Some CI tools seem to be available to anyone who wants to purchase them - others are available only in Australia and/or New Zealand.

I believe some people outside of Australia and New Zealand use some of the CI tools.

Whether they conform to local standards is another question.




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