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In this segment we touch upon an interesting distinction between "horizontal" versus "vertical integration of building information modeling (BIM) in the industry. A BIM product that is horizontally integrated concerns itself more with parallel design processes (parallel to the architect's) such as landscape and site design -- not at the expense of but in favor of vertical concerns such as virtual constructability or other "4D matters."

Sean Flaherty also makes clear that Nemetschek AG didn't buy Graphisoft to get at a Construction BIM tool but to further gain market presence with another designer's tool. And he explains the move relative to Autodesk Revit.


Horizontal Integration versus Vertical Integration

AFR: You now have classable wall components and the ability to show components in sections; this brings VectorWorks 2008 up to the level of many other BIM tools. What is the next step in your mind in regards to the granular control of components in BIM applications like VectorWorks 2008?

(SF): We see BIM as "a part" of the architectural solution these days. There is still a lot of need for drafting and the 2D side of it. The approach we have seen from products like Revit is just to forget about 2D -- it will be generated automatically. I don't see us moving in that direction at all in the next five years.

So this is just a beginning? You are starting with walls but down the road you will have sectional capabilities of a roof?

(SF): We are trying to figure out our stopping points because we are focused on design. We want to be the designer's choice in the industry.

The designer's choice? 

(SF): Yes, some of the other BIM products are getting too construction-focused. We hear the push back from the customers who say "this is annoying, every time I go to spec out my volume I get these huge dialog boxes, I just want to start by looking at the volume first."

And, therefore, "Design BIM" versus "Construction BIM"... you have made that distinction in the past...

(SF): We are trying to walk a fine line here. We have talked in the past of what we call the geometric canvas and design BIM -- that if we could get you in the envelope, that is a good stopping point for many architects. The detailing is something that can be handled in different ways, in the model or in 2D. We will add some of the automation here, but to what level? I think we are still trying to figure out how far to go with the product. 

Right, you are touching on the delicate balance between how BIM as a tool can impinge on the openness of the architectural design process and, sometimes, hurt it. 

(SF): We hear the architects saying BIM is a whole new process and they don't want to change their architectural practice, the way they work. We hear that from customers who switch back to us...that they missed our free-form modeling capabilities, that they liked that there was no structural information behind it. They say, "We have no idea how we are going to build this fancy spline thing. It is a piece fabric, it is interlocking titanium panels, but we don't really know right now." Sometimes you don't want to know. 

Those are very valid points. It is interesting to see some of the other BIM players adding drawing and conceptual tools. They are all doing it.  I'm going to switch gears here and say that when Nemetschek AG bought Graphisoft last year analysts and other CAD writers suggested they did it because they wanted a pure construction BIM tool, and they could get that in Graphisoft Constructor. 

(SF): I would say that is incorrect. They actually spun it off as quickly as they could. Vico Software owns it and Mark Sawyer, who used to be president of @Last Software, runs it. We [Nemetschek AG] have so many construction tools and engineering products that we didn't want another. 

That's interesting, so they purchased Graphisoft for ArchiCAD and ArchiCAD alone? 

(SF): They wanted a design entry. Of all the products in the group the one most analogous to Revit is ArchiCAD. ALLPLAN really straddles the line between design and construction. Whereas, we take a very different direction with VectorWorks.

But you just said they wanted a design entry? 

(SF): We are focused on the designer primarily, in all disciplines. I am more interested in horizontal design integration than vertical construction integration. Instead of worrying about the construction during the building design process we are more interested in how the building design fits into the site. We want to integrate horizontally with the landscape designer, the interior designer, the lighting designer. These are the horizontal dimensions of design integration that run parallel to the architectural design process. To us BIM means that you can focus on your discipline, such as architecture, and collaborate with the other disciplines involved without having their concerns weigh down the usability of VectorWorks.

Hmm, that is certainly a different way of looking at it.  

(SF): It is a very different approach that we are talking about. I think it is different than anyone else in the industry. 

So how do you view the engineering segments around the architect? Will we see a structural and HVAC version of VectorWorks soon? 

(SF): We do find that this is very important. We want VectorWorks to talk to all of these key AEC engineering components. That is why we are working on IFC, so we have a communication mechanism with the rest of the BIM methodology. But the difference in our approach is that we don't necessarily consider that this is a VectorWorks task. 

Why not? Isn't that horizontal and design-centric? 

(SF): When you look at Autodesk Revit they have Revit MEP, Revit Structural, etc. They have all these Revit family components which I think are holding back Revit Architectural. That is why VectorWorks is such a better design tool than Revit Architecture. They are constrained by the needs of the other parts of the industry.  

But we don't design architecture in a vacuum. 

(SF): But you can't tie the hands of the architect or designer. You have got to give them the freedom to focus on great architecture and include the functional or cost side when they are ready in their process.

Some might just think their strategy is that if you get the engineers to use these tools for modeling that part of the Revit family then it will drive synergies in the market towards Revit.  In other words, forget about great architecture for a moment, let's just get the industry tied together around our Revit family of products. 

(SF): That is a marketable approach, but we are taking a different one. 

I'm pushing you on this difference because I think what you are saying is incredibly important, no matter how nuanced it may seem or sound. 

(SF): Yeah, I talk with their customers that are the designers, and they are incredibly frustrated at times. With VectorWorks Architect you have powerful free-form modeling. They care about that. We recognize that you, the architect, have to choose what is important to you. 

And, for some it may be free-form shapes and for others it may be deep integration with engineering. Let's get beyond deep integration for a moment, let's talk structural. That's arguably the most aesthetic engineering discipline tied to architecture.

(SF): Right, we are looking at Nemetschek AG's structural solutions and some of their concrete solutions, too -- to find out how we can tightly integrate with those. But those are separate applications you go to. The architect and the structural engineer don't need to use the same product. They just need to be able to communicate in the same language. 

I would imagine that could be a tough sell to engineers who are all too comfortable in their mind set. It seems to be a reflection of the old "DWG everywhere" strategy. 

(SF): When everyone was 2D that was easy. Things have changed.


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