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ARCHICAD Solo has limitations, and that’s great

Back in January 2016, GRAPHISOFT introduced ARCHICAD 19 Solo to the North American market. In our market, ARCHICAD Solo replaces ARCHICAD STAR(T), and this makes me very happy. Why am I so excited for Solo in the North American Market? To do that we need to look at the differences between STAR(T) and Solo. And the most interesting way to explain that is to go back in time, and first talk about the difference between what STAR(T) was and now is (for those markets where it still exists). STAR(T) has evolved a lot over the past decade, and its strengths help highlight the subtle differences between these two versions of ARCHICAD.

A Brief History of ARCHICAD STAR(T)

We’ve had a “light” version of ARCHICAD since 2006 (though technically there was also a German and Swiss version in 2005). For a long time, it was ALMOST very good. When I was the local GRAPHISOFT agent for Minnesota (2010 to 2013), I would tell people about STAR(T) and then say “you don’t want it.” It wasn’t a bait and switch trick to up sell people. It was my honest opinion as a user. I enjoyed being the rep, but I was always a user first. And that meant I was always thinking more about workflow than almost anything else. STAR(T) was an entry point to ARCHICAD, but it lacked a few key features—particularly Complex Profile support—that were deal breakers to me. That changed in 2013. It’s kind of ironic that after I had stepped away from sales, I was finally ready to promote the other version of ARCHICAD.Queen AnneThe geometric complexity of the house in the image above rivals anything else I’ve ever had to do in ARCHICAD. By the time I finished modeling everything from the stained glass window to the wrought-iron spire, I realized I could model anything in ARCHICAD that I wanted to—and this was before the Morph Tool and without taking advantage of the Shell Tool, even though it existed. Geometry was no longer a limitation in my work. In subsequent versions of ARCHICAD, we’ve acquired even better methods of modeling, but I knew by the end of this model I had gone from asking “is it possible?” to “how easy is it going to be?”

I modeled this house in 2011 using ARCHICAD 15. The modeling capabilities of ARCHICAD 15 were on par with ARCHICAD STAR(T) 2013, except the latter software, also had the Morph tool. So this model would be easy (sorry, “easy”) to do in ARCHICAD STAR(T) 2013. Therefore since 2013, I’ve felt comfortable telling people I meet “hey, if you are nervous about the upfront investment cost of ARCHICAD, go with STAR(T). You can always upgrade later. You won’t even know what you’re missing…at first”. My viewpoint was that if the “light” version of ARCHICAD had the same modeling power as the full version, then it was a good place for people to start if the cost was an issue. There is much more to ARCHICAD and BIM than just proper geometry, but gorgeous models are the gateway drug of BIM. Once you can make a perfect model, then you can start focusing on other things.

And remember—this can’t be stressed enough—when you are switching to BIM (and STAR(T) was developed for people switching to BIM from CAD), you have one task to tackle first: first match, then exceed. Since 2013, ARCHICAD STAR(T) could handle all the modeling needs to accomplish that task. It always had all the graphic and layout capabilities needed, but with the addition of Complex Profiles, Shells, and Morphs, it also had the modeling functionality. Combining those two things meant anyone using ARCHICAD STAR(T) could create the solid foundation they needed to succeed at BIM. And once a STAR(T) user accomplished that, then they could decide whether the added value of the full version of ARCHICAD made sense, or whether their business could continue to flourish by sticking with STAR(T). Both are valid propositions.

The finished windowIn 2014 two wrinkles appeared in that recommendation. One might sound bigger, but it is actually kind of minor. ARCHICAD STAR(T) doesn’t have the CineRender engine, which we got in ARCHICAD 18. This means all the crazy awesome renderings we can now do so easily in ARCHICAD aren’t accessible to STAR(T) users. That’s too bad for them but, when you first start learning ARCHICAD, renderings shouldn’t be a priority. Once you are ready for renderings, perhaps it’s time to upgrade. That’s a legit perspective. I can’t imagine working without CineRender, but I always have lots of great stuff to render. Of course that wasn’t always the case: I didn’t do much rendering for the first few years I used ARCHICAD, and then it was primarily sketch renderings until ARCHICAD 18.

STAR(T) is the intro version of ARCHICAD; it has to have less features. Rendering is a perk, not a requirement. Removing it from ARCHICAD doesn’t lessen the benefits of the CAD to BIM transition. And I can’t stress enough, when you are first learning BIM, you have other priorities than adding services. Finally, it’s worth pointing out that the above images are screen captures from the 3D Window. Add some planting and landscape Objects or do some post production in Photoshop and you are going to have some very impressed clients. Actually, don’t bother with any of that; just show them screen captures or the model live in a meeting and you’ll still have happy clients.

The bigger issue I have with STAR(T) is that it can’t open regular ARCHICAD files. This is kind of an esoteric concern, unless you are unreasonably passionate about templates. In 2014, I met an architect who was thinking about purchasing ARCHICAD. We got together for coffee and by the end of the meeting she was sold. She called up our local rep and bought ARCHICAD STAR(T) 2014. And then we realized that my template, the one I give away to people for free because templates are too important for people not to have access to, was inaccessible to her. My template was a .TPL from ARCHICAD. And ARCHICAD STAR(T) couldn’t open it. I wanted to help her, but couldn’t give her the file—a file designed to make ARCHICAD easier to use that I want everyone to have. I found a work around. It is possible to use .aat files to transfer Attributes between ARCHICAD and ARCHICAD STAR(T)—and I think also .prf files for Favorites. For this one user I reproduced my template by transferring Attributes and rebuilding my template in STAR(T) 2014. It was a pain, and I don’t have the time or energy to do it again (though for those interested, it’s just a handful of hours worth of work and absolutely worth it). So for the past two years, I’ve still thought that STAR(T) was a great offering, but I knew there was a catch. It’s great that it’s half the price of ARCHICAD. But without the benefits of templates developed by myself or others, that savings is compromised. Using ARCHICAD without a template is not ideal. And without file compatibility, that’s the default position of STAR(T)—unless you use the out of the box template, which as a template obsessive I tend to discount. Now neither of these limitations are deal breakers, just issues I have (especially as a power user).

As mentioned above, since anything can be modeled, STAR(T) more than passes the requirements needed to be a complete solution. At the end of that day, that is what truly matters: getting work done accurately, efficiently, and profitably. Everything else is about degrees of utility. That said…

Move over ARCHICAD STAR(T), ARCHICAD Solo is here!

archicad-solo-boxFortunately for the North American and UK markets, there is another option. ARCHICAD Solo was first introduced in the UK in 2012, and has now reached us. ARCHICAD 19 Solo has many of the same limitations of the old STAR(T): no rendering, no Teamwork, no linking XRefs. But ARCHICAD 19 Solo can exchange files with ARCHICAD 19. And that changes everything. It means an ARCHICAD Solo user is fully connected to the larger ARCHICAD user community. They are not ring fenced by file type. They can use any template they want. They can get example files from friends. They can exchange their files with the gurus, trainers, and teachers and ask for help.

Exchanging files with the full version of ARCHICAD is super important—it’s THE defining issue—, but I also want to address rendering, because ARCHICAD Solo is also superior to STAR(T) in that regard too. Rendering is worth every extra penny. People who use ARCHICAD Solo should always have a plan for when/how they will graduate to the full version of ARCHICAD. But now that the file incompatibility issue is removed, people not ready to jump all in should feel completely comfortable beginning with Solo (and maybe staying there for a long time). If you are learning ARCHICAD and reaching the point where your models are good enough to share with your clients, instead of focusing on renderings, first integrate BIMx and BIMx Pro into your workflow. Both of those are accessible to ARCHICAD Solo users. Using ARCHICAD Solo will actually put you ahead of many people using the full version in this respect: because you can’t rely on renderings from ARCHICAD, you’ll be forced to use a more progressive form of client communication: mobile models that can be explored in real time.

Does ARCHICAD Solo have everything a power user needs? Of course not. Am I going to switch from using the Full version to the Solo version? Absolutely not. But that’s fine. ARCHICAD Solo is designed for non-power users (though of course power users with atypical goals could probably use it forever, happily). Think of ARCHICAD Solo (and ARCHICAD STAR(T) as ARCHICAD without Distractions. As I said in my previous post: first match then exceed. Without CineRender, ARCHICAD Solo keeps you from worrying about renderings. Without Teamwork, it keeps you from worrying about how to manage large teams. Without the ability to add Xrefs and Modules (though you can view existing ones placed by the Full version), it limits your ability to access external data but doesn’t prevent you from doing your job. That’s great. If ARCHICAD Solo is right for you, you have other important things to do.Primary-Benefits-of-BIM-smallFinal Thoughts:

Now let me be clear: if you are in a market that offers ARCHICAD STAR(T), but not ARCHICAD Solo, don’t ignore STAR(T). If you don’t want to use the full version of ARCHICAD, both are good solutions. If you look at my views on the Primary Benefits of BIM, ARCHICAD Solo and STAR(T) both struggle to meet all the goals—especially integration, and to a lesser extent coordination. But that’s okay. The path through BIM is not a single step process, nor does it have only one goal. You can spend a decade focusing on just one of those benefits and never once feel like you’re missing out. The primary focus of people in the early stages of BIM progression are production and design. ARCHICAD, ARCHICAD Solo, and ARCHICAD STAR(T) are all strong in those areas. Any of the flavors of ARCHICAD can model and document to the same level of detail and precision. And modeling and documentation are the key to everything.

I hope ARCHICAD Solo makes it to more markets as I expect it’ll help spread BIM to even more parts of the AEC industry. For more info on ARCHICAD 19 Solo, click here. Subscribe to my blog to read more about the tricky world of being an Architect in the 21st century: Shoegnome on FacebookTwitter, and the RSS feed.


  • October 4, 2016

    nancy lacher

    I have been using archicad 15 I inhered from my previous employer, and use it to do small residential projects and shop drawing details (It’s not fancy but the money is good and I can set my hours, work from home and my kids don’t have to go to daycare) I’m looking to upgrade to a new version drafting program. I’ve been using Archicad since V8 and have my templates, library and details all set up that makes drafting fast; I know and most of the time love Archicad. I just don’t know what I should do? Star(t), solo, or abandon archicad for Chief Architect. How does Solo compare to Archicad 15? When you say solo doesn’t render- are you talking about fancy rendering or the quick renderings one does to check how things look with a little shadow?

  • October 4, 2016

    nancy Lacher

    Thank you for the link and the quick response. The big question I have then is can solo read v15 files? And, can I import my old libraries to use in solo? Thank you for your help

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