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Late in February Architosh.com editor, Anthony Frausto-Robledo, had the pleasure of talking to Chris Barron, AIA, Vice President of Architecture, Graphisoft US, about ArchiCAD, its future and the architectural CAD industry in general.

As many of you know, Graphisoft is the developer of ArchiCAD, an architectural CAD heavyweight serving worldwide markets. Graphisoft began in the early 80's, pioneering object-model-oriented architectural CAD on the Apple Macintosh. Today Graphisoft continues to serve the Mac platform in addition to Windows and has recently released a Mac OS X version of ArchiCAD—which we talk about in the following interview. So whether you use ArchiCAD or not, join us as we talk all things architectural CAD. —by Anthony Frausto-Robledo, B.Arch., Editor.


Chris Barron, AIA VP Architecture, Graphisoft US

History Helps Confront New Challenges

AFR. Graphisoft has been in the virtual building CAD market for a long time. How has that history helped prepare you for some of the new model-based architectural CAD rivals?

CB. Sure. The history really helps us in a lot of ways. Not only have we tried a lot of different avenues with the development of the software but more importantly we have collected feedback from our customers for about twenty years. And what that means is that it gives our products a more robustness and thoroughness that is hard to achieve in a brand new product like Revit. So in many ways there are aspects of ArchiCAD which solve problems which some of the newer CAD players don't even know exist yet.

AFR. In regards to Revit—because this is probably one of your strongest new competitors—how has Graphisoft ratcheted up some of it technology in regard to Revit's parametric features?

CB. Well...we've been doing parametrics for almost twenty years now. In terms of ratcheting up the technology to compete with Revit? That's not really a factor. Where we ratcheted up our technology is really in response to our customers. Certainly we look to see what some of our competitors are doing and if it's great we'll see if it's practical to incorporate it in our technology. However, it's very dangerous to be driven by a competitor and not by your customers.

AFR. Sure. And where does Graphisoft get most of its user feedback? How do you capture that data from customers?

CB. We keep an ongoing database of user 'wish lists' and we spend a lot of time out in the field getting direct feedback. We also look at what new technology is out there. Customers may not be asking for it but it is our responsibility to project what customers are going to need.

And one of the unique things about ArchiCAD is that there are a lot of architects who are in our [software] development, bringing their own experiences—you know they aren't just a bunch of programmers out there, but people who bring the 'architectural experience' into the process.

AFR. You are talking about programmers at Graphisoft's headquarters, right?

CB. Yes.

AFR. Throughout the years Graphisoft has made a number of significant contributions to the whole CAD market and since the 90's the company has been acquiring smaller technology companies. What is leading the incentive to acquire some of these smaller players?

CB. I think there are two things. One is that Graphisoft has gone public in the early 90's and has had the where-with-all to acquire new technologies, but also it is part philosophy: as 3D technology became a reality in the CAD market it became apparent that users could use 3D technology...the price of hardware has gone down while the power has gone up...and it has meant that 3D technology would grow and with that growth would require new technologies.

Where Mac Users Went, Where Mac Users Can Go

AFR. Prior to Graphisoft's going public [they are traded on the Budapest and Frankfurt stock exchanges] the company went through a large growth period. Was that growth driven by supporting Windows or was there some other driver there?

CB. Well, in part is was support of the Windows platform. Also many CAD vendors out there gave up on the Mac and those users which were loyal to the Mac platform found that we were a good solution for them. So Autodesk's decision to abandon their Mac Autocad users left users looking and they found that they could get a great solution from Graphisoft.

AFR. Right.

CB. ...so it was a combination of various moves in the industry.

AFR. Right. So the elimination of Mac support by Microstation and Autocad actually drove users to come knocking at your door?

CB. That's correct.

AFR. Now Graphisoft has been a true CAD innovator going all the way back to your early work in the 80's with Apple Computer. Where do you think your innovations will come from going forward...where will they be implemented?

CB. Well, there are some ways you can predict this and other ways you just can't. One of the initiatives which we have been involved with from pretty early on is the International Alliance for Interopability (IAI), and the goal of this group is to not really have all these kind of 'islands of CAD data' but to create some standards for exchanging intelligent CAD information, not just drawings but CAD models..

And we have been involved with a project there called BLIS (Building Life-cycle Information Software). And what it is is lot more than just passing drawings between one CAD system and another. In this project we started with an Excel spreadsheet and a building program and brought that into Visio for a schematic diagram, then that data went into ArchiCAD to create a 3D architectural model, then that model was used by Timberline to do cost estimating on the construction. Another product called Energy Plus, by the Department of Energy was then used for energy analysis.

So what we started working with was...rather than a bunch of electronic drawings...really working with a digital model of the building and starting to explore what the real possibilities were for simulating the performance of the building, ultimately to improve the design of the building. So you know, going to 3D is not just for 'eye candy'...it's not just a marketing tool. It's really powerful as a design tool-used by the designers-not just some guy in a lab coat in another room.

AFR. What is the argument Graphisoft makes there?

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