On Land

Environment Information
At Rill Architects we run ArchiCAD on macOS. If you work at Rill, this is your stuff. If you don't, but you work in ArchiCAD, you may find something interesting. Anybody else, I don't know.
Howto Archive

Adapted from my brief presentation at the DC Archicad User Group meeting earlier this month. If you want to look at the files, there is a download link at the end of the post.

Site Model

This is a simple scheme for using a single site model for multiple projects. It is applicable for everything from detached garages, to townhouse blocks, to proper campuses. The goals of this scheme are:

• Consistent 2D and 3D site data in each project, maintaining accurate story information.

• Visualization of the whole property in BIMx, while all buildings are easily kept up to date.

In our usage, the site is part of the main house's file. The site can be in a completely separate file using the same technique. The BIMx is published by the project file which contains the site. I will refer to the main house file and the small house file.


If this was a proper post it would be clearer and have some illustrations. These are just my notes on the process, quite involved for us as you'll see, of migrating a project to AC17/18. Even though 17 was released 18 months ago, we still have projects in earlier versions and I doubt we are alone. IMO, the combination of Building Materials and "Inside/Outside" for walls is the biggest change to AC modeling in my 16 years of using it. It's worse for us because we have a standard of interior wall reference lines, and AC is strongly biased in favor of exterior. No, changing this standard is not feasible.

When an AC16 file is opened in 17/18, building materials are created, several of each kind, based on cut fills of preexisting elements, and maybe favorites and tool settings. You need to sort the Bmats first, to make it easier to sort the composites later.

Sorting the Bmats: In Attribute Manager, open the current template. This has the good Bmats. In the template, here's concrete at ID 4. In the newly opened project, you probably have several concretes. Hopefully one of them has ID 4. Overwrite that one from the template. (In 17, all overwriting is by ID. In 18, you can choose to overwrite by name or ID.) Apply that, and you will get a confirmation that you are modifying the bmat as well as the surface.

Now that you have a good concrete, you can delete the others. You have to do this in the Bmats dialog, not the Attribute Manager. Select all the old concretes (the ones with the strings of numbers), delete and replace with the good new concrete.

Back in Attribute Manager, pick another Bmat that needs to be cleaned up, how about brick. Reopen the template (yes every time) and check that the ID of the template brick matches any one of the project's bricks. If it does, repeat the process above. (Overwrite, delete the others and replace with the good new one.) If it doesn't match, e.g., template brick's ID is taken by Empty Fill ########## in the project, postpone working on brick and choose something else. In the process of cleaning up the other Bmats, template brick's ID will eventually become available.

Keep overwriting and replacing, back and forth between the Attribute Manager and the Bmats dialog, until you have all good Bmats from the template.

Once the Bmats are done, you can do the composites. Some new composites are created, though the old ones remain. Composites are upside down because of the inside/outside thing, so the easiest way is to replace them from the template where possible. (Technically, they aren't upside down yet, but they will be once you flip the walls.) Because the old composites are kept, it's easy to line up the IDs with the template and you might be able to replace them all in one Attribute Manager session. Then in the Composites dialog, delete the items with the long numbers, replacing them with the good ones from the template. Unfortunately, for composites you can only delete them one at a time.

Changes to walls in AC17: They have Inside and Outside faces. The surfaces (formerly materials) are set by these faces, not by the ref line side. The ref line can be inside or outside face. The three surface attributes can take the surfaces of the wall/composite's Bmats, or they can be overridden. In practice they get overridden a lot, and in the overridden state they are just like the three attributes in AC16 and earlier.

This default Bmat/surface/override behavior is suspended when a project is migrated. There is a legacy setting in the Project Preferences for Construction Elements (In AC18 it is under the Legacy tab). It stops the new intersection method from working (the 3 digit number in the Bmat's settings), and also auto-overrides the surface attributes of elements such as walls. So the override button is not available for those settings.

If you turn the the legacy setting off, the override button will come back to life, with the override on. So you should see no changes to surfaces. What will change is the intersection behavior between Bmats. With the legacy setting off, the 3-digit priority takes effect, so you might need to tune those up to get the behavior you expect. One change you must make: The cutting layers need to be set to a high intersection number to prevent them interfering with ordinary elements. For a clear example, turn the legacy setting off, open a section, and take a look at what the site cutting slabs do to the basement walls. I'm using 100 for this intersection number in the templates. It only need apply to section, elevation, and 3D layer combination types.

There is no rush to turn off the legacy setting to keep working as you were. If you are purely migrating the project, i.e., archiving it in the most current version, I would leave the legacy setting on.

GS decided that most people have the ref lines outside, which I guess is true. For us it is false. When you migrate a project, the Inside/Outside setting has to be created from scratch since in does not exist in AC16. All walls are reborn in AC17 set to Outside Face. The ref lines are still inside, and the interior/exterior surfaces are architecturally correct, but it is not sustainable to continue working with this setup.

Even though the appearance is fine, logically it is intolerable. Here is an exterior wall. Its ref line is Outside Face, but that is the interior side of the wall. In the wall's settings, the interior surface (paint) is on the exterior corner icon, and the exterior surface (siding) is on the interior. There is no way to keep this straight going forward, especially if you are accustomed in ref lines inside. Further, those composites you imported assume the ref lines are inside. And, the Outside setting is picked up by the eyedropper. No, we need the walls to say Inside Face.

Fortunately, it can be done, using the Modify Wall Reference Line (MWRL) dialog. It's at Edit -> Reference Line and Plane -> MWRL. Option+W on the keyboard. There are two moves involved: Mirror Walls In Place puts the ref line on the other side while keeping the wall in the same location, though the surfaces flip. Edit Ref Line Location - Inside Face changes the ref line side setting and moves the ref line to the opposite face. In combination, these two moves switch the Inside/Outside setting while keeping the ref line in place (on the interior). Dimensions also stay put. There is one very unfortunate consequence, however, which is that the interior/exterior surfaces are now backwards. So for exterior walls and any others where the two faces differ, you have to change those surface settings manually. This could be anywhere from a minor pain to a huge pain depending on the project.

Wall favorites are also reborn set to Outside Face, so they need to be modified, or you can start over by reloading the favorites from our standard setup.

Some new complex profiles are created, though the old ones remain. Delete the new (##########) ones and replace them with the old ones. I don't know what the deal is here, they seem to be identical.

I think this process is far too cumbersome, considering that Bmats are not that big of a deal to us at the moment. Starting a project in 17/18 is no trouble at all, but this is by far the most complex migration we have seen since at least the death of PlotMaker.

It's fine to say don't migrate and finish the project in 16, except: You now need 17 to create BIMx files; GS won't give you the 16 version. And of course 18 offers the superior CineRender engine. So by staying in 16 you are hobbling yourself in presentation.

Most of the trouble in this migration is caused by the assumption that everyone has ref lines outside. It's because of this that our walls are outside-in, and we need the MWRL maneuver, and we need to manually fix all the exterior wall surfaces, and the composites are upside-down. All GS had to do was ask, when opening a 16 file, if the user's standard is ref lines in or ref lines out. I'm sure GS is correct that ref lines out is the majority, but the decision puts us in a bind.

It's also worth keeping in mind that you should generally migrate projects, and continue to migrate past project archives, because you never know when updates to AC or your OS will leave some of your data inaccessible. GS didn't get to vote on whether AC9 would stop working in OS X 10.7. They (presumably) didn't know AC10 and 11 would break in 10.9, and while they fixed them that time, they certainly didn't have to, because generally only the last two versions are "officially" supported. You need AC10 to open anything older than AC10, and the next major OS could break it for the last time. So you need to migrate and keep migrating; archives that are eight versions behind are not a sound strategy. Too bad it has to be such a pain.

Current migration advice:

All projects should be in 16. Addition projects can proceed in 16 without using the new(ish) renovation setup.

All AC17 projects should be migrated to 18. That migration, thankfully, is NBD.

Projects in schematics or design development should be migrated, full-service, as described here. Perhaps I take on these migrations myself. The more projects in 18, the sooner you don't have to work in two different ways.

Projects in CDs can stay in 16 until they are finished. If you need BIMx or CineRender, save a copy and produce those files there.

That said, I don't object to migrating any project if you have the time and inclination. Personally, I migrate everything because I don't like going back and forth.

Completed projects will be archived in AC18, but without the Bmat/wall-sides process. They open in 18 behaving superficially well, and we will let them stay that way. If we ever need to do real work on the project again (it happens), we will do the real migration then.

Somebody asked about the animated gifs in the Renovation post and elsewhere. (My favorite one is of the roof with the FPCP.)

An animated gif is special image format which allows multiple frames, with each frame shown for a certain length of time, in a loop. Animated gifs based on video have lots of frames, with very short delays simulating motion picture frames-per-second rates.

My screenshot gifs have a handful of frames with long delays. They are very simple to make. Without the specifics of any particular application, the steps are:

Take a series of screenshots of the same size, one for each step of your process. The application needs, at the very least, to be able to remember the last selection you used. (The built-in Cmd+Shift+4 function on the Mac does not do this.) Save each image in gif format, or convert them using virtually any image processing application. (But not Preview in OS X, why why why.)

In the gif-creating application, drop the images in, in order. Set the delay for each frame. One to two seconds is a good place to start. Save the whole thing, drag it to the web browser, and enjoy.

For screen capture, I have used Snapz Pro X for years, but it hasn't kept up with progress and started losing its mind under Mavericks. I recently dismissed it in favor of Voilà. (The selection-remembering setting is in Preferences.)

For image editing, I've been using Acorn and Pixelmator, but Voilà seems to provide a lot of editing and annotation features on its own so outside editing of the frames might not be necessary.

For the gifs themselves, I'm currently using GIF Animator which I found in the Mac app store and might have cost $1. This is basically the whole interface:

Gif Animator

Photoshop can do it, for more than $1.

PS, Hard G.

Converting 2D elements for use in 3D.

Tree sketch

Any 3D element(s) can be saved as an object with the Save Project As... menu command. (In Archicad 11, Save 3D Model As...) This technique is known as 'slabifying' since such models are often built from slabs. Objects saved in this way are dumb (not parametric), but it's still a useful trick.

2D elements can't be saved this way, because they never appear in the 3D window, where 3D object saving takes place. Despite the fact that GDL contains commands for 'flat' shapes in 3D, including LIN_ (a line) and PLANE (not a joinery implement). But there is a workaround for 'slabifying lines'. When you open a 2D DWG as an object, 2D lines are created as LIN_ statements in the 3D script. When you place the object in the model, you get the 2D geometry in 3D.

It's that simple at it's simplest, but real world applications need some tweaking. In this example, I'm converting an Archicad library 2D tree elevation symbol so I can use it in a sketch render image. Other applications might be a complex ornament in a hidden line elevation, or a busy glazing design placed in front of a conventional window.


Isn't north up? Probably not. Since the orientation of the project is driven by the geometry of the plan, north can be any which way.

Project North
In the Sun dialog
The north direction for the project is set in the Sun dialog. You get there via the Sun button in the Camera settings box, or via the More Sun button in the 3D Window Settings dialog. MORE: Karl Ottenstein points out that you can also go directly to the Sun dialog by right-clicking on any 3D viewpoint (camera, axon, etc.) in the Project Map, or on any 3D view in the View Map.

Note: Though it's called 'Project' north, it's true north, in that it's the only north, and the north used by the sun settings. Archicad doesn't directly support a project north environment variable separate from true north.

There are at least four reasons to set project north correctly:

• Accurate sun shadows

• Automatic orientation of north arrow symbol objects.

• Automatic dimensioning of metes and bounds using the Survey Dim RND9 object.

• Correct naming of interior elevations with the Orientation autotext. (A real project north would be nice here.)

For the purposes of sun shadows and interior elevation names, you can eyeball the north direction by moving the pointer in the Sun dialog. A degree or two off isn't going to hurt.

For the metes and bounds to work, you need to set the direction exactly.


If you have a DWG or DXF from the surveyor, drop it in the floor plan and trace it. (Such a drop creates a drawing element in the plan.) If you trace carefully, the shape will be as accurate as the DWG itself.

But, very often, instead of a DWG from a surveyor you have a plat or 'location survey' from the homeowners' closing documentation. Even if you scan it in, you can't accurately trace it because it doesn't have any real lines. Scan or no-scan, you need to manually create the boundary polygon using the metes and bounds on the plat as a guide.

1. Set the working units. Set the length unit to decimal feet and the angle unit to surveyors' unit [sic].

2. Line tool. Pick a line on the plat, any line. Start drawing. Type A, which highlights the 'a' field in the coordinate box. Enter the angle of the line, which is something like N 26º 14' 51" W. Omit the punctuation; it's just n 26 14 51 w. When you finish typing, don't strike enter. Hit Option+A, which looks the angle you just put in the A field. Type R, which highlights the R field. Enter the length of the line, the hit return to finish it.

Don't worry if the line looks funny. The surveyors' units follow the project north setting, so if you haven't set north yet the direction will seem rather random.

3. Draw the next line the same way, starting at the end of the first line. Pay attention to whether the line goes in the expected direction. If it doesn't, move it so its other end touches the first line.

Why? In surveyors' units, any vector can have two directions, depending on which way the guys went around the lot. Following their numbers will sometimes give you a line that looks crazy, but it's just 180º off.

Do all the lines this way and hook them up.

4. In the case of an arc, do it last. They usually give you the degrees and the radius. Using the circle geometry method of the arc tool, start drawing by clicking anywhere. Move straight to the right and type R followed by the arc radius. Hit return. Type A followed by the angle, then return. Drag and rotate this arc to fit the other segments. If you have multiple arcs ask for help.

5. When all the segments are connected, magic-wand a fill element onto the whole thing and trash the lines and arcs. A fill is good because it can report its area, which you will need for the project information. Line type: Property Dot-Dash. Layer: +C Site Line.E Pen: 45 or other 5-weight.

When the boundary is done, drag and rotate it to the proper place with respect to the project. Use the boundary to create the grade mesh.

Once you have the north direction set correctly, you can use the Survey Dim RND9 object to dimension the boundary for the site plan.

Don't forget to put your working units back.

Gray Top View
This is a non-destructive method for creating a grayscale, shaded, top view of a model, for placement in a site plan. It uses a second project file with redefined material colors. In order for this to work you need a range of grayscale pens. The more pens in this range, the richer the image. In our templates we have fifty.


1. Make a new project. Use settings of latest project, launch new instance of AC.

2. Set up the stories to match the main project. For some reason the 'latest project' settings don't include this.

3. Save with a name like '[Project] for roof plan.PLN'. Put it in 1 Design / Modules.

4. Hotlink the model's project file into the new project.

5. Set up the 3D window with top view, internal engine, shaded. Turn off the undesired layers. There's a layer combination 'x Shoot Roof Plan'; that's a good place to start. Most of the visible elements will be on A Roof2, A Deck2, A Fireplace, etc.

6. And, most of the visible polygons will be of a handful of materials. Determine which materials these are.

7. In Attributes -> Materials, redefine all these materials to the same gray color. (Try 75%.) You only need to change the main material color.

If you don't see the color changes right away, try updating the hotlink. As you gray-ify materials, you might see more that need to be done.

The trick here is that there's no damage to the materials in the main project.

There's your gray model. I can think of at least three ways to get it back in the main project.

• Save a 3D view of the gray model, and place that view as an external drawing on top of the site plan. Pro: It's direct. Con: Tricky to line up with site plan drawing. External updates increase overhead, and at the moment they're buggy in 11.

• In the gray project, copy and paste from the 3D window to a detail window. Save a view from there and place as an external drawing on top of the site plan. Pros: You can edit the 2D image to erase elements or change line weights. The 2D drawing is more detectable and easier to line up with the site plan. External updates of 2D views run faster and more reliably. Con: Copy, paste, and subsequent editing needs to be done over if the model changes.

Grayscale Pens
(Note: Shaded fills in the 3D window can use the full range of RGB. When you paste into a 2D window, you get solid fills of the pen color closest to the color in 3D. So the more grays you have available, the more variation you get in the image.)

• Copy and paste to a detail window as above, then save a module of the lines and fills. Hotlink the module into the site plan in the model environment, using a site annotation layer to control visibility. Pro: Visible in model environment, no second drawing to align in the layout. Updating hotlinks does not need a second session of AC, so it's faster. Con: Copy, paste, and subsequent editing needs to be done over if the model changes.

All three methods require that you open the gray project in order to modify the content. There's no way for the gray project to know the model has been modified and the hotlink needs to be updated.

I'm using the third one. A 3D external drawing is a big chunk of overhead. Both view solutions require an additional drawing in the layout, and the shaded content isn't visible in the model environment. Editing the lines and fills is an extra step, but it also looks better.The external 2D drawing and the hotlink give the same graphical result, but the hotlink update is faster.

If you ever need to update the image for changes in the model, all you need to do is:

• Save the main project, open the gray project, and update the hotlink.

• Re-copy and paste to the detail window. Mess with the lines again as needed.

• Select, copy, save as module from clipboard, write over the existing one.

• Back in the main project, update hotlinks.

Drop the DWG in the floor plan window. It becomes a drawing. (Use inches for the units, unless it doesn't work, in which case you should use feet.)

UPDATE: In Archicad 11 and above, you can drop the DWG into a worksheet window and then ghost the worksheet into the plan. (I still can't say 'trace', and notice again how much better 'ghost' is as a verb. 'Place as trace reference the worksheet into the plan.' Ugh.)

Trace the geometry you need. (See, 'trace' is already a word.) This is, at least:

• The property lines and setbacks
• The topographic contours (use splines)
• Streets and driveways
• Other critical features such as wells and septic fields
• Trees, if provided. Tip: Put the tree description (18" Oak) in the ID field of the tree object.
• North arrow, or at least a line showing the direction. (Needed to set north in the sun dialog.)

Watch your layers and linetypes. Note there are favorites for the contours and the boundary and setback lines.

I'm fairly confident the drop-trace method is best for our site plan needs. If you open the DWG, you need to manage the layers, the pens, and the objects created from blocks. It's a lot more fiddling, and then you need to trace the contours anyway.

Remember PDFs can be drawings too. If you have a PDF survey or plat, the principles are the same. BUT: Since PDFs don't have 'lines' in a CAD sense, you'll need to draw the boundaries and such using the given dimensions. Tracing PDF contours is probably OK.

Details need to be processed before merging them into running projects, or into a details PLN. It is important to avoid merging unwanted attributes, especially layers. This process simplifies the layers and gets rid of all the unneeded attributes.

This method should be considered alongside A Method For Standard Details.

Standard details will be administered by one or two people at the most.


In framing plans, it's often helpful to show the walls on stories below with dashed lines. Especially roof framing. Well how do you do that.


Update: This refers to the old version of interactive schedule, now called 'Element Schedules'. The principles are the same, but some of the names and menu commands have changed.

Zones are better than fills for area measurement because they can be updated when the walls (&c) enclosing them have moved.

(Zones are cool for so many reasons, but let's try to stay on topic.)

You can use Interactive Schedule to get the area of each story, of the rooms individually, and of the entire project.

I will describe two methods of floor area calculation: First, the gross area of each story, ignoring interior walls. Second, The total room area, or usable floor area, which will be less since the area occupied by partitions is not counted. There are different occasions to use each one.


Some typical applications for Wood Beam JAM9.