A Quick How-To on Data Transfer Between Archicad and Smartsheet

In my twopart series on distributing design criteria via Smartsheet I explained how the heart of the process was a direct pipeline of information between Smartsheet and the architects’ and engineers’ BIM authoring tools. In my example of this I used Archicad and I wanted to share some more detail about how to make Archicad’s property import/export functionality work with Smartsheet.

Archicad has been able to import and export property data via Excel spreadsheets for several versions now and it’s a very slick way to use information to drive your BIM workflows with external vendors, subcontractors, and anyone else who communicates product and design specifications via spreadsheets. Since Smartsheet is spreadsheet-based and can import/export Excel files (among other file types), it too can be used to communicate property data with Archicad with just a couple extra steps to help all the data make the journey.

If you haven’t already used this feature of Archicad, read about it here in the Help Center before you dig into the Smartsheet workflow.

Now, here’s how property information transfer between Archicad and Smartsheet works:

  1. Just like you normally would, set up your properties and schedules in Archicad and then export them from each schedule you want to share with Smartsheet. This will give you XLSX files for each export.
  2. You can open the exported XLSX file and notice that row 1 in the spreadsheet is collapsed by Archicad. This row contains the GUIDs, which are the Midi-Chlorians of Archicad, who in this case are working behind the scenes to make things from outside of Archicad match up with things inside. You shouldn’t alter row 1 or do anything with it, so close the file without saving. It’s just important to know for later on that row 1 is there, and to note that row 2 is the headers from your Archicad schedule.
  3. Next launch Smartsheet and import the XLSX file. When you do that you’re prompted to select a row from the XLSX file to make the Column Headers in Smartsheet. You want to select row 2 here. In Smartsheet the header row doesn’t have a row number, which is different from Excel. This difference means the old Excel row 1 with all those GUIDs is row 1 in your newly imported sheet in Smartsheet.
  4. During the import process you’re also prompted by Smartsheet for which column to make the Primary Column in Smartsheet (Primary Columns have special functions that we don’t need here, but you’ll need to select one nonetheless). Select column 1 from the Excel spreadsheet, which is the column containing the GUIDs for each row in the schedule.
  5. Lock the Primary Column and row 1 in your new sheet in Smartsheet so no one messes with those while working on the rest of the schedule. Then go about filling out or changing cells as needed.
  6. When you’re ready to export the sheet from Smartsheet back into an XLSX file, do so like you normally would from Smartsheet’s File pull-down menu.
  7. Open the exported XLSX file in Excel. Here, we’ll need to move that GUID row that we made the Column Headers in Smartsheet from row 2 in the XLSX file back to row 1. Once we do that, the XLSX file is ready to be used by Archicad.

These are some images of the steps in the process noted above that may be helpful in understanding the workflow.

That’s it! A switcheroo of row 1 as it goes from the XLSX file into Smartsheet and then back into an XLSX file again is the key to this workflow. Hopefully we see a Smartsheet plug-in for Archicad someday that just does this for us automatically, but until then, this is how it’s done. Happy data-transferring!

Information-Driven Design: Distributing Design Criteria via Smartsheet – Part 2

In Part 1 we looked at how Smartsheet can serve as a tool to help organize and disseminate design criteria for companies doing rollout development of their concept. We discussed how vitally important it is for the design criteria being referenced by external consultants like architects and engineers to be current and accurate.

In Part 2 we’ll cover how to build a pipeline of current and accurate design criteria between Smartsheet and the BIM authoring tool used by the architects and engineers. This pipeline of information is the automated magic that makes this workflow superior to everything that came before.

You’ll recall from Part 1 that we loaded up sheets with specifications in a schedule format where each row represented an individual fixture, furnishing, or piece of equipment. BIM content corresponding to each row was attached to that row. Smartsheet’s push notifications let external consultants and vendors know that changes have been made and are ready for download and export. With this functionality in mind, we’ll establish the information pipeline to the BIM. In the example of this workflow, we’ll use the architect as the external consultant and Archicad as the BIM authoring tool, but the workflow is essentially the same for other consultants and other BIM authoring tools.

The Workflow

Step 1: Notifications & Downloads

Once the organization makes changes (including additions and/or deletions) on a given schedule sheet, the architect receives an email notification highlighting the change from Smartsheet. The architect then opens the sheet and goes to the changes (if desired, the company can even have Smartsheet highlight the changed cells in the sheet itself for ease of identification) to download the new BIM content if applicable. If the change is to the specifications, the architect exports an XLS file of the schedule from Smartsheet as well.

In this example, we see a simple schedule entry with an Archicad Object attachment to download
Next, we can export the Smartsheet schedule to an XLS file, now we have model geometry and scheduling data for our Archicad PLN

Step 2: Updating the BIM with Changed BIM Content

The architect will add the BIM content to the library for their BIM, retiring old content if applicable. The updated library is reloaded and the new content gets verified in the BIM, including aligning the new content’s ID and classification with the corresponding schedule in the BIM. Next, the architect can then begin updating the scheduled specifications for this new BIM content.

Here, the architect brings the new Object into their PLN file and prepares it for receiving scheduling data automatically

Step 3: Updating the BIM with Changed Specifications

The architect imports the data from XLS file from Smartsheet into the BIM to update the properties of the BIM content with the changed scheduling information. Schedules in the BIM then automatically update with the changes, with no manual data entry required

This image shows the XLS file’s data being imported by Archicad to automatically update the corresponding Object and schedule in the BIM
Here’s the schedule in Archicad, all matched up with the original from Smartsheet and ready for CDs

This workflow is the same whether the architect is updating their template or a live project. The three step process can be completed in just a few minutes as well.

Another great feature of this workflow is that the company can allow the vendors who provide the stuff in the Smartsheet schedules to update those schedules and their attachments directly which effectively extends the information pipeline from the architect directly to the source of the information, further reducing opportunities for errors and omissions.

All Done!

Let’s be brutally honest here, no one likes doing prototypical updates — it’s boring af — so the more of it that we can leave to technology like we see in this workflow, the better off we all are. Having it be more accurate and timely is an added bonus. Distribution of a chain company’s design criteria is just one use of this workflow, so I’m hopeful that as more jump on board with it, we can begin leveraging Smartsheet APIs to have the workflow be even more automated than what’s shown here — like a plug-in for the BIM authoring tool that grabs all the content and data straight from Smartsheet. Bring it on!

Information-Driven Design: Distributing Design Criteria via Smartsheet – Part 1

For companies doing rollout development of their concepts, a big part of making sure buildings and spaces get designed right is making sure all of their external consultants are working off the latest and greatest design criteria. Having been on both sides of this important knowledge transfer, I’m here to tell you that it’s easier than ever to do this well thanks to technology.

I love this topic. It’s all about implementation. You can have the coolest design with the best content for your architects and engineers, but if you can’t organize all that information in a way that makes it easy for those outside of your organization to use, you lost.

To make sure we don’t take an L, we’re leveraging information-driven design workflows to take the design criteria for a concept from the organization’s design department out to their consulting architects and engineers. The heart of this workflow will be Smartsheet, a web-based database centered around powerful interactive spreadsheets.

Step 1: Organize the Content into Schedules

The first step is for the company doing the rollout development to organize their BIM content (Families, Objects, whatever you want to call them) into categories related to how that content would be scheduled in construction documents. Depending on the content, you’ll want to organize it by vendor, procurement or installation responsibilities, purpose, or something else. This exercise should allow you to identify common scheduling characteristics (manufacturer, model, finish, utility connection types, etc.) which will become the columns of the schedule chart. The rows of the schedule chart will be each individual piece of content. Now you’ll know how many schedules you need, what’s in each schedule, and how each schedule charts out its information.

Step 2: Build the Schedules

Next, we’ll begin building the schedules from Step 1 in Smartsheet. Each schedule will be its own sheet. The sheets can be organized within Smartsheet into folders which will come in handy for assigning access privileges later on. First, set up columns based on the scheduling characteristics determined in Step 1 then begin adding each piece of content in the rows.

Your vendors can help populate these schedules accurately with current information if you want to give them access to the sheets. This is key to making all of the information accurate, especially once everything is up and running as we’ll see later on.

The individual files for the BIM content as well as any product data get attached to the row in the schedule to which they belong. Smartsheet has version tracking so if the BIM content needs to be updated later on just upload a new file with the same filename to preserve history. This version tracking also applies to the contents of the cells in the schedule. Having a history to look back on is super helpful to both the organization and the external consultants once everything has been up and running for a while.

A completed schedule might look something like this…

This is what schedules look like in Smartsheet

Step 3: Grant Access

Once completed and populated with the initial content, each schedule will also leverage Smartsheet’s push notifications. You’ll set up the sheets to push notify everyone who needs to be made aware each time there’s a change made. Those people will get automated emails from Smartsheet highlighting the changes so they can take action and update their BIMs, and in turn the documentation created from those BIMs.

To make notifications work, you’ll first step up all of the users who need access to the sheets of schedules and BIM content. These are your external consultants and vendors. People can have read and/or write access to the sheets depending on who they are and what their needs may be. You can further organize users into groups based on their companies and/or level of access to make it easier to assign people and update them later on as people come and go from these external companies. As you set up users, Smartsheet pushes out email invitations to get set up in your company’s Smartsheet workspace.

Step 4: Set Up Sheets for Other Design Criteria

Smartsheet is useful for other types of design criteria that aren’t necessarily schedule-based. For example, prototypical details for construction documents can be disseminated through sheets with version-tracking and push notifications as well. Here’s an example of that…

You can organize prototypical detail content in Smartsheet too

Another type sheet you can make is instructional, where you explain to external consultants how to handle the design criteria. Here’s an example of an instructional sheet explaining distribution of deliverables created from the design criteria. Again, push notifications allow people to be made aware of changes in an automated fashion.

Using Smartsheet to explain distribution requirements for design deliverables

These non-schedule sheets won’t interact with the consultants’ BIM authoring tools in the ways we’ll cover in Part 2, but they are still a great way to leverage technology to distribute design criteria.

End Users Download & Create

With everything up and running in Smartsheet, your external consultants can visit the sheets to begin downloading BIM content, product data, and exporting sheets. In Part 2, we’ll look at how these downloads and exports from Smartsheet drive information in the BIM and eliminate the coordination headaches common to every other method of distributing design criteria.

The Smartsheet for Rollout Development Series

This is a landing page for the Smartsheet for Rollout Development articles I’ve published. Here, you can find links out to all of those articles in one convenient spot.

To briefly summarize this great series, I ❤️Smartsheet and think it’s a fantastic way for architects to build databases (outside of the BIM) that inform project delivery and show our value as the head of the project team. I share a detailed example of how to do that in this four-part series and the example is a database for a restaurant chain to track their rollout development of multiple locations across the country. Once you see how it all works, you’ll quickly come up with your own ideas of how Smartsheet can imporve any technology-driven architecture practice.

Part 1

This introduces the tools I used and provides an overview of what I built with Smartsheet.

Go to Smartsheet for Rollout Development, Part 1

Part 2

Here, we get into the details of what each template sheet does for each project in the database and how they link together to help visualize all the data.

Go to Smartsheet for Rollout Development, Part 2

Part 3

In Part 3, I cover the technical details of how the build comes together, and I also get into managing change.

Go to Smartsheet for Rollout Development, Part 3

More articles on how architects can leverage Smartsheet are on the way!

The Building Permit Process Explained


After I wrote this and built the chart below, it occurred to me that one could simply file a dummy permit application way before the real one needs to be filed and then wait for the AHJ to come back and explain everything wrong — a rough-shot yet surefire way to get it right once it’s time for the real deal! 😩

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, thoroughly researching permitting requirements is vitally important to the success of any project — not just that, but doing the research in the very beginning when you’d rather just get on with the design. Everyone in the architecture industry has a first time they hit the wall that is the building permit process, and they usually hit that wall while attempting to do their research, or when they first file that permit application.

Everyone I’ve ever taught permitting research to goes through the same motions of hitting that wall and saying it can’t be done, no one knows anything and no one will help them. This is when I tell them that’s correct, you’re actually doing it right! Welcome to dealing with a government agency! With these frustrations in mind, I thought I would chart the building permit process, perhaps this will be a handy guide for your next building permit shitshow adventure with your local AHJ (authority having jurisdiction).

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention that there are some really great jurisdictional authorities out there that do an outstanding job of preparing the people who prepare the permit applications, I just wish there were a lot more of them.