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A collaborative effort

Richard + Wittschiebe Architects - Georgia, USA

Balancing strong design principles with a truly collaborative spirit, Richard + Wittschiebe Architects' studio in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, an open space encourages open dialog among the staff, often resulting in staff critiques throughout the design phase of their projects.

"We are able to model all of our projects in ArchiCAD as a logical part of the design process, from concept design through construction documents. This has been invaluable in fostering a collaborative environment, through in-house critiques, with our consultants and with our clients," relays architect Carol Richard, the firm's founding partner with Janice Wittschiebe, a registered architect and interior designer.

"ArchiCAD is integral to the development of our design work and the communication of our ideas to our clients."

This award-winning firm specializes in educational and commercial work, with recent projects including the renovation of a 1922 school building, a parking deck for the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the complete renovation of their own 4,500 sq. ft. office space (for which they received the Georgia AIA's Sustainable Award of Merit).

Richard first saw ArchiCAD at a trade show in 1989, when the software was just being introduced to the US market. "Graphisoft had a very small booth competing against the likes of Microstation and AutoCAD," explains Richard. What Graphisoft lacked in square feet, they more than compensated for in innovation. "What impressed me about the program was its unique approach toward the modeling of the building. It was not merely an electronic graphic representation."

The introduction came at an opportune time, as Richard, then transitioning from a sole proprietorship to Carol Richard & Associates, was beginning a parking deck project for a mass transit system in Atlanta.

"We knew we had to coordinate with engineers who were using AutoCAD, so ArchiCAD's DXF functionality was critical," Richard says. "Even with this earlier version of ArchiCAD, our office was able to communicate with our engineers while experimenting with the modeling capabilities of the program. And over the course of the last ten years, we have been able to model and document our projects with greater ease and interoperability."

Now expanded to include 11 architects, Richard + Wittschiebe is strictly Mac and strictly ArchiCAD, but most of their partners are on the PC platform, and using other CAD programs. "We never have issues with file exchanges, and efficiently trade DXF and DWG files with our consultants regularly," says project architect Kevin Heidorn.

Currently on their boards is a new headquarters facility for the Design/Builder's Group (DBG), and a utility plant for a US government agency. When DBG visited Richard + Wittschiebe Architects' offices, they were immediately impressed with the architecture and requested a similar building type - brick exterior with exposed steel structure and ductwork. The main tenant of the finished building will be an audio/visual company, so the architects used that to develop a unique treatment: a "screen" wall on the street front displaying their service.

According to Heidorn, the initial model for the schematics of this 45,000 sq. ft building took about a week. "We maintained and developed the 3D Virtual Building model throughout the length of the project. So when it came time to do the construction documentation, the information was all there and it was accurate." Having that 3D information was also useful when developing wall sections and details. "It was an incredible time saver," explains Heidorn. "This is an obvious advantage to using ArchiCAD."

Heidorn familiarized himself with ArchiCAD, after winning a trial version at an Apple computer seminar. When he heard that Richard + Wittschiebe Architects was an ArchiCAD firm, he interviewed for a position and got the job. "I knew most of the tools at that point, so it was only a couple of days before I was productive."

Now Heidorn is charged with creating many of the firm's striking presentations using ArchiCAD and PlotMaker (ArchiCAD's tool for layout and paper-based documentation), and even training new colleagues to use ArchiCAD.

Heidorn is also the project manager for the government utility plant project, for which they were hired by another design firm who, along with the client, was enthusiastic about their previous work. The facility will house a chilled water plant, cooling towers, a steam plant, electrical sub-station, and ancillary office spaces.

"It's located on a very prominent part of the campus, so the client asked that it be - aesthetically pleasing - which is not the norm for a utility plant," Heidorn explains. The cooling towers on the roof are "architectural" grade cast-in-place concrete rather than pre-fabricated packaged units because of their high visibility.

Thanks to ArchiCAD, the client could easily follow the progress of the design on this fast-track project. "At any point while designing in ArchiCAD, we could stop and create a presentation without spending a lot of time on the presentation itself, for example, 3D floor plans and sections," says Heidorn.

While they are making full use of all the Virtual building offers, Heidorn is looking toward creating office standards for building the model, to make it even more comprehensive. "I believe that is the key to ArchiCAD's success."