Week #11 – Conceptual Design Strategies
11-1. How Do You Start a Project: Which Tools Should You Use?

ArchiCAD Training (Best Practices Lesson 11-1)

This 45 minute lesson explores a variety of tools and methods useful during early design.

Setbacks and clearances from property lines and other boundaries are important considerations. The polyline tool (similar to polygon-based tools such as slabs, fills and roofs) can be offset uniformly using a command in the Pet palette. This is shown at first by tracing with the magic wand to create a copy of the original boundary, then selecting and offsetting the polyline; later, the Window menu > Palettes > Control Box is used to select an Offset and the process is done in a single operation. Other drafting control variations in this palette are shown including multiple offset, perpendicular and parallel constraints.

The Fill tool may show a shaded or hatched area and has an option to calculate and display the area as text. This may easily give instant feedback on the lot area as well as the building footprint or any bounded polygon. The fills can be color-coded to show usage or communicate other information visually, and areas may be totaled and reported (this will be explored in the next lesson).

The Zone tool can automatically fill a room, seeking out the bounding walls, or be drawn with a manually created outline. It has a stamp that reports information such as the room name and number, and calculated values such as area and volume. Zones can be used to total up and report usage to compare against program requirements. They can also be created as independent graphic components that can be moved around to study different configurations while maintaining the right number of spaces as laid out from the program.

Zones may be viewed in 3D as part of the building model when the control for this is turned on in the View menu > Elements to Show in 3D > Filter Elements in 3D. In fact, one can turn off other element types in this dialog, and just view the Zones in 3D, which allows them to be displayed and reviewed for stacking and blocking studies.

Slabs may be used for creating volumes for massing study, depicting multi-story spaces with simple or complex outlines. Different colors or materials may be used to represent usage, phasing or exterior treatments.

Some designers like to sketch out a building concept with single lines representing the shell and partitions. A productive alternative is to use the wall tool with a 0 thickness, since it is just as easy to draw as lines yet it may be viewed in 3D. In addition, the walls may later be given a nominal or actual thickness, and eventually take doors and windows, which would be impossible with a single line diagram.

Ultimately, all of these tools and approaches are useful, and it is important to become familiar with most or all of them. This will give you the flexibility to take on your design challenges with finesse, applying the most useful tools for each part of the process.

Please post your comments and questions below.


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ArchiCAD Training: How Do You Start a Project: Which Tools Should You Use?

Let us know how you feel... (7 comments so far)

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  1. Avatar photo
    11 years ago

    Hi Eric,

    This was a great and simple demo of some of the tools I had heard about but had not yet delved into. My question for this, and for that matter, the rest of BP: If you were to present this module again, using Archicad 17, how would it differ? For example, if you wanted simply to model a form in 3d, would you not instead use the morph tool or does that remove the analytical tools of the program?

    • Eric Bobrow
      11 years ago

      Robert –

      Thanks for the positive words about this lesson.

      With regards to your question, ArchiCAD 17 does introduce many changes and some new opportunities for streamlining the workflow. The Morph tool introduced into AC16 now has some decent scheduling options, allowing you to create free-form building shapes and tweak them to get floor plates with areas that meet program requirements; this will allow the designer to go in later and use the morph shape as a guide while creating actual walls that follow the general shape.

      However, for those who design more standard building envelopes, and don’t need complex forms, morphs are probably overkill for these purposes and using the tools described in this lesson will remain the best approach. On the other hand, if you are working on a high-rise, even if the forms are simple and vertical, the morph tool gives you the ability to shape the floor plates on multiple stories at the same time and get quick feedback on floor areas.

      I will consider creating a supplemental video at some point to demonstrate some of the new options.


  2. Avatar photo
    11 years ago

    Hi, Eric,

    I have access only to Audio Version. Is it normal? or should be able to watch video version?
    I am using Google chrome browser.

    • Eric Bobrow
      11 years ago

      Hi David –

      I checked your account, and you recently purchased the SiteModel Course. This gives you access to the lessons on site design and terrain modeling in Week 12 of the Best Practices Course, as well as all of Weeks 1 through 5.

      To watch other lessons on this website (such as this one), I suggest you consider upgrading to the full Best Practices Course. You will get a credit for the amount you have already invested in the SiteModel Course, so you can think of it as a “down payment” or a small sample of the full course (which includes not only video lessons, but also 6 months of membership in the ArchiCAD Coaching Program).

      I will send you an email to tell you the options that are relevant to your particular situation.

      Best regards,

  3. Avatar photo
    12 years ago

    Hi, Eric,

    I like the idea of just viewing the zones in 3d. I also think the idea of “sketching” with walls that have a 0 thickness is genius!

    Thanks a lot! I’ll be using these ideas in my next project.


  4. JimBelisle
    12 years ago


    This lesson (#1) on conceptual Modeling Strategies is very, very helpful to me.
    I love the zoning/3D transparency/sketch idea….
    I plan to use the techniques you demonstrated immediately.

    Jim Belisle

  5. HagithPopper
    12 years ago

    Eric, this is as always so enlightening! your way of explaining the tools and methods of using AC makes them seem so easy and users friendly rather than enigmatic. In every lesson you unfold more layers into the depth of this complex program and thus make me access its hidden “wonders” .
    Thank you for all that I gain from your excellent excellent teachings.