Putting the “I” into your BIM Documentation

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In my last post I discussed using Building Materials to check the level of development and resolution in an ArchiCAD model. This post will continue to look at another concept that forms part of Fulton Trotter Architects ArchiCAD 17 template that can be adapted and used in your practice.


Over the last 10 years many Architectural Practices have embraced BIM Software (at differing levels) to build virtual models of their designs to obtain coordinated documentation. As ArchiCAD has developed each release with new features it has become quicker and easier to model your buildings to a greater level of detail with less effort. The one area of BIM  that the majority of practices lack is the “Information”. Is it due to fear of the unknown, “Change”? Is it a lack of understanding of the Software? Or is it that they are waiting for someone else to give them the answers? The sooner you have an “Information Strategy” the better!

Level of Information

The first question you need to ask yourself is what information do you need to incorporate into your model and what information can live outside of the model but is referenced to the individual elements.

This will vary depending on your deliverables for construction and / or your client. It could be as simple as using the ID field of each element or as extensive as a full set of IFC properties. The critical thing is to plan out at the start of each release of ArchiCAD how you plan to handle data in your new template for the current release and how you may need to handle your data in the future.

The challenge in the industry at the moment in some countries and in particular Australia is that there is no Standard in place for “Information” delivery, therefore any investment in IFC Pset data creation is fraught with danger as the required deliverable may differ once a standard is adopted. Therefore my strategy is to only insert the required data into ArchiCAD to achieve your deliverables with links to external Information Documents.

The power of Global Data Control

At this point in time global control of IFC Pset is not available to be managed in ArchiCAD at a practice level. You can embed this data into elements and save as Favorites, but once your template has been saved and is in isolation as a project file, it can be challenging to manage any changes that occur in the Information attached to your elements at a Practice Level. There are workarounds and you have the ability to reimport favorites from your revised template, find and select and replace with your updated favorite, or use the Interactive Scheduler to monitor and update the data on a single file basis.

Information Creation

As an Architect the biggest challenge that we face is collecting the information and organizing it into a suitable format to meet your deliverables. Traditional processes see information take the form of Drawings, Specifications and Schedules. The process of creating these documents is a manual isolated process, it is time consuming and with the information being created in different ways and not linked together it creates coordination issues.

Information from one Source: Utopia

In a utopian world our BIM software would be a Briefing Tool, Room Data Sheet, Modeling tool, Documentation, Specification and Schedule Creator all in one. There are a number of pieces of software out there that do one or two of these things really well, and there are some that are able to live link to your model that bring us closer to the Utopian BIM world. But as yet there is not one piece of software that can do everything and do everything well.

How Fulton Trotter Architects use Data

Prior to the release of ArchiCAD 17 Fulton Trotter didn’t embrace any embedded data from ArchiCAD in its documentation. We did experiment with some labels on our elevations calling out surfaces but it was very limited and our systems relied on a significant amount of manual noting and checking between ArchiCAD and our Specification and Schedules.

The introduction of Building Materials opened the door of opportunity, as it is a Super Attribute (refer to my previous post). Together with Surfaces it set up a structure for us to link two pieces of data to each element that could be managed globally.

The advantage of this system is that unlike Favorites it is very quick and easy to change settings throughout your whole project in the Attribute Manager and the Override command. This enables all projects throughout the office to use the same naming system, which as you read further you will understand how this is key to the whole system.

Text in our documents use custom labels calling up combinations of Building Materials (BMat), Surface and geometry. This removes the significant and timely coordination issues between the model and the notes, as the notes will update as you make changes, even to the name of your Building Material.

As we model everything and apply BMat and Surface to each element we also use the Interactive Schedule to create a series of Legends, Specification Schedules and Auditing Systems. This information is then taken to finalize our Specification with the Specification writer who is fully aware of what Materials and Finishes are in the project without even looking at the drawings.

The Future

As our model data requirements increase we will add to our workflows. We are investigating the capability of using a Database to automatically write our specification from the data extracted from ArchiCAD, further automating our processes.


Any automated process will not remove the need for you to perform final checks to meet QA compliance. But by automating as much of the processes prior to that check it will enable your team to spend more time on design and less time producing the information. Fulton Trotter’s system discussed above has been developed and implemented in under 12 months.

“Have a big think about how you handle data, automate it as much as possible, and take your BIM processes to the next level.”

Want to learn more…

I will be hosting a webinar in collaboration with Graphisoft Australia to discuss in detail the concepts covered in this post and my previous post in early March, 2014. The purpose of the event is an opportunity to share some knowledge and answer questions that people may have.

If you are interested in being invited to this event please comment below with your Global Time Zone +/- GMT. After collating all of the responses I will time the event to take place during business hours or early evening of the majority of respondents.


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