Architectural business during the remote period: teamwork practice at Archicad

Quarantine restrictions and the forced need to work remotely have presented the entire architecture and construction industry and Archicad users, in particular, with new challenges and unforeseen difficulties.

In this article, we tried to look at the problem of remote work from the point of view of a large architectural bureau and a relatively small design studio. To do this, we asked two practicing architects to answer a series of questions and share their experiences working remotely:

  • Ivan Voronezhsky, technical director of the Moscow architectural bureau “Ostozhenka”;

  • Nikolay Karpov, chief project engineer of the Arkhangelsk company ArchCub.

Learn more about the challenges and challenges of collaborative design away from the office and the potential of Archicad in the webinar “Practice of collaborative remote work in Archicad”held on January 21, 2021.

Ivan Voronezhsky, technical director of the Moscow architectural bureau “Ostozhenka”

What programs do you most often use in conjunction with Archicad?

Archicad is the main and central tool in our work: all other software products are somehow tied to it. Our projects are in several versions – from Archicad 19 to Archicad 23. This spread is due to the fact that projects are long: some last for decades. In addition to Archicad, we use Rhino, Grasshopper, QGIS, SketchUp. But I don’t think that such functionality needs to be implemented in Archicad as well – this is already a fairly powerful program.

How did your office reorganize to a remote location?

Shortly before the quarantine, we changed the layout of the office to accommodate a larger number of employees. But in just a week it was empty. During this time, we set up all the equipment and distributed it to the employees: they went home with their work computers, on which the necessary software was already installed. The only thing they needed was a VPN and a more or less stable Internet.

Scheme of remote office work
Scheme of remote office work

While the staff were setting up the Internet connection from home, the emergency licenses of Archicad helped us a lot. To work together on projects, we used a VPN connection, because it solves all problems at once: with keys, and with access to the file server and the project itself. Employees who had no resources, but had a good monitor, used Remote Desktop, leaving their computer in the office. But basically everyone worked through a VPN. For now, our BIM server is enough for us. But, probably, soon we will mature to full BIMcloud.

What projects were developed remotely?

In 2020, we were running about 30 projects in parallel at different stages. Here is some of them:

  • Renovation concept of microdistricts in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Archicad has become the base for collecting information, taking various indicators, receiving data from QGIS. This large project was developed in a short time completely remotely.

Renovation concept of microdistricts in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk
Renovation concept of microdistricts in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk
  • Apartment complex on Kazakova street. The project is currently under construction. In the course of work, we created a BIM model, but the customer does not need it yet. It is a composite model of architecture and related sections. We used BIMcollab to quickly view the IFC files.

Apartment complex on Kazakova street
Apartment complex on Kazakova street
  • Residential buildings on the streets of Pavlova, Tymoshenko. This is a very small project – two 10-storey buildings. We got a good experience: we built a very high-quality architectural BIM model. The data was transferred regularly through the IFC. We used graphical replacement to visualize engineering systems, set up interactive catalogs to validate our model and constructor model, track errors and counts, view and assign correct model attributes, design functions.

Residential buildings on the streets of Pavlova, Tymoshenko
Residential buildings on the streets of Pavlova, Tymoshenko

The object is small, so we were able to make a nice BIMx file. All sheets, links to floors, sections, elevations and explications are interactive: you can go from the explication of the catalog to the described room in the model. We also had a model with already implemented engineering systems – now BIMx has made significant progress in terms of performance and the ability to load large models. On this project, we also practiced with EcoDesigner Star: it helped us and still helps us to check the solutions of the nodes.

Residential buildings on the streets of Pavlova, Tymoshenko
Residential buildings on the streets of Pavlova, Tymoshenko
  • Residential complex on Prichalny proezd. The file is very heavy, about 3 GB: you had to keep the variability in it so that you could go back and compile different versions of the same model. Among the tasks facing us was checking the visibility of the river from the windows. To do this, we made simplified “blanks” of the model in Archicad, transferred them to Rhino, where we made the necessary calculations. Then they were again transferred to Archicad and there they already tried to determine which apartments have zero visibility.

Residential complex on Prichalny proezd
Residential complex on Prichalny proezd

What are the advantages of Archicad when working remotely?

Archicad uses resources quite sparingly: complex projects could run on computers that are more than five years old. It is important to note the safe storage and multiple backups of data, the safety of local data in Teamwork. Of course, there have been some failures, but overall Teamwork has shown fairly reliable performance. We also note the good integration of Archicad with other software, especially Archicad 24, which allows you to load elements from Revit files. And technical support in such a difficult time was organized much better than that of any other software.

How will the bureau work now?

Remote work had its own psychological difficulties: the situation does not change, and this can negatively affect a person, although initially productivity increases. The employees who are involved in working documentation and engineering design have gotten accustomed to the remote quite well, they are even better there: there are fewer distractions and it is easier to concentrate. But at the concept stage, close team communication is very important: Zoom meetings are very exhausting. It is unlikely that we will return to the previous state: we will transform and look for some kind of mixed version.

Nikolay Karpov, chief project engineer of the Arkhangelsk company ArchCub
Nikolay Karpov, chief project engineer of the Arkhangelsk company ArkhKub

Do you use Teamwork technology in your work?

ArchCub is the only design organization in Arkhangelsk that uses Teamwork in Archicad at all stages of design: architects develop a sketch of an object, then designers and related specialists are involved, and design documentation is being formed. In parallel, the designers begin to create working documentation. Thus, architects, designers and subcontractors are involved throughout the entire design process. All this allows you to quickly edit the volume of planning decisions and drastically reduce the time required to complete the assignment.

Now we employ 15 people, of whom only eight are permanently present in the office. At home, employees connect to the server and install a network license over a remote connection.

What projects have been implemented remotely?

Thanks to the use of Teamwork, the removal results are comparable to those obtained in the office. Teamwork in Archicad significantly reduces the design time: all participants in the process work in one space and see each other’s actions.

  • Residential complex in Severodvinsk. The draft design of a residential complex in Severodvinsk with a general concept, visualization and video was completed by our architects in three weeks. The project included the development of a land plot with an area of ​​about 9 thousand m2 residential complex and renovation of the city’s forecourt. Each developed his own part, being in the same space with the rest. The field of activity and tasks were discussed in advance with the designers: one checked the insulation level by changing the layouts, the other built the wall material and decorative components of the facade, the third was engaged in the development of the master plan and improvement elements. The designers and subcontractors did not remain idle either: already at the sketch stage, there were disputes and discussions of the structural scheme, the possibility of using architectural elements, types of heating and water supply systems.

Residential complex in Severodvinsk with renovation of the station square
Residential complex in Severodvinsk with renovation of the station square
  • Cultural and leisure center in the village of Pinega, Arkhangelsk region. During the period of the pandemic, in parallel with other objects, our designers completed the albums of the AC and KM, and the adjacent ones – the albums of the OV and VK of the cultural and leisure center in the village of Pinega. In the project of the cultural and leisure center, the designers provided additional frame beams in the places where the ventilation ducts pass. The heat supply system specialist noticed the obstacles in his path in the form of foundation beams in time. Such interaction of designers made it possible to avoid mistakes and the need to make changes to the already completed design documentation. You can learn more about the project from the article by Alexey Kalinenkov “Architect’s Tool: Experience of the Design Workshop ArchCube“.

Cultural and leisure center in the village of Pinega
Cultural and leisure center in the village of Pinega

What are the advantages of Archicad when working remotely?

Archicad communication tools speed up interaction between designers: if someone replaces an element, then in the messenger you can send a request that the employee will immediately see. Another plus for operational work is sending 2D and 3D views to any project participant with the ability to comment and discuss.

A clear display of structures and networks in BIMx format helps in remote work and when meeting with approving authorities. We always provide the opportunity to interactively view the project. First of all, it is necessary for builders to determine volumes and structures, a good 3D display and an understanding of future difficulties in the work. A set of working documents, from which you can switch to 3D mode, is available on both computers and mobile devices via the BIMx application. Even a person who does not understand the drawings will understand what is located here and how.

Example of working in Teamwork
Example of working in Teamwork

A configured BIM server with differentiation of user rights and distribution of design roles, as well as a redundancy system and a project synchronization function, help to optimize our work. Connecting more specialists to Teamwork allowed us to reach a new level: the number of projects being developed increases from year to year, but their quality does not decrease. Using teamwork in Archicad allows you to design efficiently, quickly and without errors.

How will the company work now?

We are a growing organization, however, during the time of removal, difficulties arose with the preparation of new employees: several people came in a year, but it was rather difficult to train them in our standards. Now we have practically returned to the previous regime: two-thirds of the specialists are already working in the office. This is more familiar to all of us.

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