| 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 ArchiCADwhich we
talk about in the following interview. So whether you
use ArchiCAD or not, join us as we talk all things architectural
Anthony Frausto-Robledo, B.Arch., Editor.
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 Revitbecause this is probably
one of your strongest new competitorshow has Graphisoft
ratcheted up some of it technology in regard to Revit's parametric
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 experiencesyou 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
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
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.
CB. ...so it was a combination of various moves in
AFR. Right. So the elimination of Mac support by Microstation
and Autocad actually drove users to come knocking at your
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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