1999 – ArchiCAD API

In 1998 ArchiCAD released their first Application Programmers Interface (API) with ArchiCAD 6.0. While APIs are extremely common these days, they weren’t so common late last century. However, we could see the potential of the ArchiCAD platform and while we had been able to create Custom Objects using GDL the API gave us huge opportunity. 

Initially however, the first API only allowed us to ‘read’ and ‘update’ existing elements in the ArchiCAD model, we couldn’t create new elements. While this was an initial stumbling block, ArchiCAD 6.5 was released a year later and with the API was upgraded and allowed us to create elements which was critical to our first project with the API.

Before we jump too far ahead, around 1995/1996 future employee Andrew Watson and his brother in law started developing comprehensive GDL Libraries – initially for the New Zealand market but then sold worldwide. Many of these libraries survive to this day.

GDL was and is a very powerful scripting language and allowed many amazing objects to be created. When coupled with the API the capabilities magnified enormously.

Lockwood Homes – a family held ‘Log’ Home Builder in New Zealand since 1951 – were customers of ours with ArchiCAD. Lockwood at the time used ArchiCAD to design homes and these were then handed to the manufacturing draughting team who drew all the elevations and generated the cut-lists for all the material. We could see that the ArchiCAD Virtual Building had the required information to allow these manufacturing drawings to be ‘extracted’ from the model and drawn, dimensioned and labelled.

Even though we didn’t have it, yet we knew the API was coming and we decided to do a proof of concept for the team at Lockwood.

We worked with Andrew from Theometric design who created a great Proof of concept.

However, we were about to learn an important lesson that has stuck with me ever since. We were absorbed in the technical side of the solution and hadn’t been concerned with the ‘look and feel’ of the solution. When we presented the concept, instead of Lockwood seeing and understanding the overall concept, they zeroed in on details like “we use a blue pen, not a black pen for that” or “we draw that line as a dot and dashed line”

At first reading this may sound entirely pedantic and at one level it is. However, because we didn’t draw the walls in exactly the same way as they did, they immediately got caught up in the details and missed the big picture of what we were actually showing.

Following the Proof of Concept, we put forward and had accepted a proposal to create a Design to Manufacture system based on ArchiCAD. 

Based on our original lesson, we paid particular attention to the details and found this was essential to the Lockwood Team seeing and understanding what was being done.

In due course we came to understand the attention to detail wasn’t because the people we had demonstrated the concept to were being pedantic, it was in fact because they were thinking ahead and it was critical that what we produced would be readily understood by the people behind the machines in the factory – it seemed in hindsight the concept was so well understood they almost wanted to use it in the factory immediately.

There are two ways to approach a problem like this. Architects commonly create ‘white’ models (either as renderings, or physical cardboard models) by stripping away all materiality clients can focus on the form and not get caught up in which material should be used (something that will be addressed later in the design process) so in this case you strip as much detail as you can and focus on the big picture. As with Lockwood where the detail is essential to the story, you need to make sure you get the details correct as otherwise as outlined that will become the focus. Its incredible that when the detail is correct it basically goes unnoticed.

Incidentally Cadimage was continuing to grow and with the restarted visualisation services doing well in 1999 Gareth Ross joined the business. Ironically (for those who know the story) Gareth came in to take over my ArchiCAD tech support role in order for me to concentrate on the visualisation more. This changed further in late 1999 when I took on the role of Project Manager for the Lockwood project. Also, late in 1999 we took a big step and leased an Office after almost 10 years working from Murray and Sue’s home. We had about 5-6 of us in the team and we set up our first training room.

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