Thursday, March 26, 2009

Creating a Collage of Exploded Views in ArchiCAD

Lucan O. Robinson
Graduate student, School of Architecture, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University

Exploded views provide a quick way of identifying a building’s constituent elements and understanding how they relate to each other. The production of these views can be quite a task even with CAD and BIM applications. Nevertheless, the continued increase in design complexity may warrant the increased use of exploded views as it is a strong communicative tool that can serve to enhance decision-making throughout a project’s lifecycle.

ArchiCAD offers a number of methods for creating exploded views that yield varying degrees of “explosion.” One of the roads most traveled involves saving a copy of the working model and exploding the newly saved model vertically by changing the story heights using the Story Setting dialog box. To achieve explosion horizontally, the constituent elements are then selected, grouped and dragged to open space. Some of the disadvantages associated with these methods are:

  • They require the creation of two files, thus negating one of the essential characteristics of ArchiCAD as a BIM application which is having ONE central model file to provide all the views and information required.
  • Updates made to the working model do not automatically register with the separate file created for the exploded view. One option is to insert the constituent element groups into the new file as Hot-link modules, which may not be practical in most cases.
  • The integrity of the model that is exploded is compromised as dependencies between constituent elements are lost when the model is pulled apart.
  • Pulling the constituent elements apart is a time consuming exercise, particularly the selection process even with the handy Find and Select tool. Finalizing placement of the various elements is an exercise of trial and error. It is particularly time consuming, given the switching that is required between the model and 3D windows.

A return to first principles provides a way of achieving the exploded view in ArchiCAD without the need for multiple files, compromising the working model or interrupting the typical project workflow.

Exploded views are typically intended to be used as 2D drawings. If the exploded view was therefore considered a collection of smaller 2D views, each showing a constituent element group (walls, columns, etc.), then simply creating individual views of these elements and arranging them as a “collage” would yield a quick and easy method of creating the desired exploded view.

Creating exploded views using this collage method has four primary steps that involve standard ArchiCAD operations. This tutorial has been prepared with assumption that the user is familiar with Layer, Layer Combination, and Saved View creation in ArchiCAD.

Process Overview

1. Coordinate element groups on layers
2. Create layer combinations for element groups
3. Create views of element groups
4. Assemble views in layout window as a collage

The building below will serve as the subject of our tutorial.

Let’s look at each of the steps in details.

Coordinate Element Groups on Layers

1. Open the Layer dialog box and create Layers for each element group: “Columns” for all columns, “Beams” for all beams and so on.

If you intend to explode one element group such as curtain wall (that occur on different façades) in multiple directions, it is best to create a layer for each façade (CWall-west, CWall-north, etc.). This will allow separate Views to be created for curtain walls on each façade and be inserted separately to provide a greater level of flexibility and control. Similarly, if your model has, for example, a floor beam system with numerous members, it may be prudent to establish a hierarchy among the members and create layers accordingly to give you the options of hiding secondary and tertiary members for retaining visual clarity.

Tip: Use the marquee and Find and Select tool to quickly filter out constituent elements that may be on their default layers; for example, beams, columns and slabs all occur by default on the “structural-bearing” layer.

Create Layer Combinations for Element Groups

Now we create Layer Combinations that will allow element groups to be isolated in order to create the individual views that will make up the exploded view.

1. In the Layer dialog box, create new layer combinations with names that correspond with the names of the layers created in step 1 in the previous section.

Tip: Create all the required layer combinations first, then use the Layer dialog box’s Select All and Hide buttons to turn off all layers and then deselect them using the Deselect All button. Next, associate the layers with their respective layer combinations by showing the required layer and updating the corresponding layer combination.

It is a good idea to also do this for any 2D grid elements (centerlines, bubbles, text, etc.) that you may have used to organize your model in plan view. The grid will assist in arranging the various views that will make up the exploded view on the layout.

Create Views for each Element Group

1. Open the 3D window. Select Axonometry from the View menu > 3D View mode.

2. Select Shading from the View menu > 3D View mode. Note that Wire frame and Hidden modes have no fills to hide objects that are behind and produces a confused view due to overlapping lines.

3. Select Internal 3D Engine from the View menu > 3D View Mode.

The Internal 3D engine is preferred as it retains the vector quality in displaying the objects in the layout view, as opposed to the OpenGL 3D mode that produces a pixilated bitmap-like image with “noise” around the edges of the objects.

Tip: If the OpenGL mode is preferred, a quick fix is to output the finished layout as a PDF. The process of creating the PDF will sharpen the edges of the elements to some degree.

Another advantage of using the Internal 3D Engine is the ability to scale the drawings using conventional scales within the Drawing dialog box (see left of image below) as opposed to being restricted to percentile magnification with views created using the OpenGL 3D Engine (see right of image below).

4. Use the Quick Options palette to quickly cycle through the Layer Combinations in order to display each element group individually in the 3D Window.

5. Create Saved Views of the individual element groups (columns, beams, walls, etc.) and name the views to correspond with the names of the Layers and Layer Combinations.

Assemble Views in Layout Window as a Collage

1. In the Layout View, set up a large format sheet such as 24x36 (600x900). This will allow for enough space for the initial placement and arranging of the Views.

2. In the Drawing dialog box, check Transparent Background to change the drawing settings to make all inserted drawings have transparent backgrounds. As drawings are layered upon each other, this setting will allow views lowest in the stacking order to remain visible.

3. In the same dialog box on the Title tab, select No Title from the pull down menu. This will change the default setting that appends title markers to all newly inserted drawings.

4. Place the views of the element groups on the Layout starting with the grid.

5. Using the Line tool to create reference lines to match the axonometric planes of the grid. These reference lines will assist in accurately aligning and spacing the views in the correct isometric planes to achieve the 3D quality necessary for an exploded view.

6. Place the remaining Views, aligning and spacing them as required with the aid of reference lines.

7. As the views stack up, selecting specific views may become difficult. Turning on the Printable Border on the Frame tab in the Drawing Settings dialog box will provide a visible edge. Be sure to set the Border Offset value to 0. Once the collage is complete the border can once again be turned off.

The finished exploded view, produced in approximately 30 - 40 minutes, is shown below.

If the model has elements that are not easily distinguishable a numbered legend may be useful to enhance the clarity of the exploded view.


The collage method brings to the table another valuable deliverable that can be easily harvested from an ArchiCAD model and one that can remain up-to-date during a project’s life cycle. It is a simple way of creating exploded views and affords a great degree of flexibility and speed in doing so, while retaining the integrity of the virtual model without the need for multiple files or interrupting the typical project workflow in ArchiCAD.

About the Author

Lucan O. Robinson is a graduate student at the School of Architecture at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, Tallahassee, Florida. He holds an undergraduate degree in Architectural Technology from the Caribbean School of Architecture at the University of Technology, Kingston, Jamaica. His graduate research focuses on achieving thermal comfort in commercial applications in hot-humid climates through passive design strategies, and critical regionalism. Lucan is affiliated with the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists (CIAT), London, UK, and has over seven years professional experience in architectural documentation and project management combined. He can be reached at

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