Seven Simple Layers


Wonders of a Virtual World

“So, what can you do with just seven layers?” Almost everything anyone ought to be doing with layers, no matter how many. Yes, I told you in the “Power of One” that my standard template has twenty-one layers, but for now seven is enough to introduce the principles of my system. Take note: visibility is king. For all that functional tracking stuff see my earlier post “Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Element ID.”

Layer Concept

Begin with the ArchiCAD Layer and reserve it for layout elements. Reassign other elements, such as those from schematic design, elsewhere. The remaining layers are derived from standard orthographic projections. In plans the cutting plane segregates a building’s components into three natural categories: base elements, which fall wholly below the cutting plane; cut elements, which intersect it; and overhead elements, which lie wholly above it. Typical elevations include plan elements plus additional wall-mounted components, like baseboard or trim, that are too thin to show in a standard plan. These components, along with small elements one finds on an enlarged floor plan, constitute the detail for our fifth layer. Typical sections include both plan and elevation elements plus additional components concealed within floor or ceiling assemblies, which define our sixth layer. (See Euler Diagrams of combinations below.)


Regarding visibility, we can manage with just six layers by combining model elements with text and other annotations—until we include an enlarged plan. Why? The text and other annotations we need for it will be superimposed on those for the floor plan when we set up the layer combinations. So our seventh layer is reserved for text and other annotations needed for our base plans for the site, floors, and roof. We’ll find it’s our preferred location for any text or other annotations we wish to add to any drawing except other modeled plan views.

Layer Combinations and Layers

*Layout ArchiCAD Layer
Elevation ArchiCAD Layer | base | cut | detail | overhead | text
Plan ArchiCAD Layer | base | cut | text
Plan ArchiCAD Layer | base | cut | text
Plan Enlarged ArchiCAD Layer | base | cut | detail
Plan Interstitial ArchiCAD Layer | concealed | cut
Plan RC/Electrical ArchiCAD Layer | cut | overhead
Section ArchiCAD Layer | base | concealed | cut | detail | overhead | text
Survey ArchiCAD Layer | [xref]

Modeled Drawings and Layer Combinations

Site Plan Plan
Floor Plan Plan
Roof Plan Plan
Reflected Ceiling/Electrical Plan Plan RC/Electrical
Interstitial Plan Plan Interstitial
Enlarged/Finish Floor Plan Plan Enlarged
Elevation Elevation
Section Section
Interior Elevation Elevation
3D Document [depends on view]
Survey Survey

Tips and Limitations

  • Place site elements on a separate story, generally the lowest.
  • Place electrical objects, text, and annotations on the overhead layer, regardless of their relation to the cutting plane.  By default these will be visible on the reflected ceiling plan.
  • Elements placed outside the 3D model, like those on 2D Worksheets or Details, cannot be used with Interactive Schedules, Lists, Photo Rendering, or Energy Evaluations.
  • Use the interstitial plan to show concealed structural and/or service components.
  • Use Object Settings for 3D Detail Level and Floor Plan Display to prevent modeled plants or furniture from appearing in 3D windows, elevations, or sections. Consider adding vegetation to elevations and sections as 2D annotations.
  • Consider attaching a survey as an xref file, which will add xref layers. Edit layer combinations as needed to show survey data in plan. (It’s just xref layers. Who’s counting?)
  • Provide unannotated presentation drawings by hiding the text layer.
  • Provide other plan views using the 2D Worksheet tool.
  • Provide construction details using the 2D Detail tool. A practical limit for displaying modeled elements is around 1:16 (3/4″=1’–0″).









Plan Enlarged


Plan Interstitial


Plan Reflected Ceiling/Electrical





Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Element ID


The Element ID is Better in BIM

In ArchiCAD layers are good for no more than three things: visibility control, editing convenience, and improved rendering speed. Remember Revit gets by with none at all. There are better ways to categorize data. Among ArchiCAD data fields the Element ID offers the broadest functionality to identify and group elements for Interactive Schedules, Lists, Find and Select Criteria Sets, and the IFC Manager.


You can assign an Element ID to any Construction Tool, Object, Zone, Fill, or Grid Element using up to 15 characters. You can edit it in the Tags and Categories panel, an Interactive Schedule, or the Element ID Manager. You can even display it in plan with element Label Settings.

Interactive Schedules

Scheme Settings are used to establish selection criteria for Interactive Schedules. The Element ID field offers nine conditional functions: greater than, less than, greater than or equal to, less than or equal to, starts with, ends with, contains, is, and is not. Other non-numeric fields, including Layer, offer two: is or is not. Of course you’re free to incorporate layers into the Scheme Settings, but the Element ID obviously packs more punch. From here it’s just a matter of nomenclature.



Find and Select Criteria Sets

Consider a twist on a familiar tool. Using Find and Select you can create Criteria Sets to choose elements to display in the 3D Window and hence in a 3D Document. The filtering logic is similar to Interactive Schedules. So regardless of your layer strategy, you can isolate a particular system or set of components in a 3D Document. You can even use 3D Documents to create pseudo-plan views, elevations, and sections.



Unfortunately, 3D Documents must be updated manually. The process is somewhat involved, but once upon a time so were Schedules and Interior Elevations. So to incorporate new elements into a previously defined 3D Document—

  • Open the 3D Document.
  • Select Open 3D Source.
  • Make sure all the needed layers are visible. (Remember “The Power of One”)
  • Open Find and Select.
  • Apply the appropriate Criteria Set.
  • Select Show Selection/Marquee in the 3D Window.
  • Select Redefine the 3D Document. (Make sure it’s correct.)
  • Done

*Or if you’re not worried about preserving annotations from an earlier version, just go straight to the 3D Window and apply the Criteria Set to make a new 3D Document.


Whether simple or complex, you should be systematic about setting Element ID’s. You’ll find the conditional functions starts with, contains, and ends with to be especially helpful. In simple situations, identify elements with prefixes like “W” for window and a numeral to indicate a unique instance or shared type, such as “W-07”. In sophisticated situations, adopt a standard like UniFormat. A fixed exterior window might be denoted as “B2020.20-07”, where “07” again refers to a particular instance or type. In a hierarchical system like UniFormat, the criterion “Element ID starts with B20” would select that window and all other exterior vertical enclosure elements.

IFC Attributes

If you’re into exchanging files, the IFC Element Name is the ArchiCAD Element ID, and it’s set by the ArchiCAD user. IFC also uses two unique identifiers set by the system: the GlobalId (the Globally Unique Identifier in the IFC model) and the Tag (the ArchiCAD GUID, which differs from the IFC GlobalId).


The Take Away

Manage drawings with layers and data with Element ID’s, so changes to one shouldn’t screw up the other. Use no more layers than the drawings require. Geometry first. Data later.

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