Saturday, September 5, 2015

Static IFC, or STEP + dynamic XML?

By Pedro Martín
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The more I think about IFC, the more questions emerge.
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I have spent some time thinking about using IFC with more specialized disciplines like industrial engineering or even something so far as aeronautical maintenance. Sounds fantastic; in fact sometimes sounds like a complete fantasy to me. And it probably is, but it have conducted me to a concept that I think it has to be taken into consideration when we think about a BIM standard for the building industry.

3D + Static Data Scheme
IFC standard file (IFC-SPF) follows the definition of the STEP-file defined in ISO 10303-21. STEP format (*.STEP, *.STP) is a generic structure used to define 3D models, that allows the definition of objects and its properties. Since it is generic it could be used for any use, but as long as it is, each specialized STEP use has to define a set or library of objects and properties ('STEP-lib') adapted to its specific discipline.
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In this line, IFC is an STEP-File that uses a set of definitions focused on building industry. There are other examples of these specific uses; ISO 15926 format is another STEP specialized in electrical, piping, rotating equipment, etc. at oil and gas production facilities. Most of CAD systems export its proprietary formats to STEP.
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Since all specific formats based in STEP could use generic definitions too, any specific format could be used for any other discipline. IFC has specific definitions (IfcWall, IfcBeam, etc.) but it also has a generic IfcProxy that can be used to host any entity that it is not natively defined in its specifications. So if we plan to connect that file with a different discipline application, we could add a description that would be identified and used at the other application via a mapping table. That way, IFC could be used for anything, Sky is the limit.
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But the sky is too high - it is not efficient to use just IFC specifications to design an airplane since it would be full of undefined IfcProxies. The right way has to be to use a specific format based on STEP with a library of appropriate definitions. As I have said, ISO 15926 is the IFC for Oil & Gas, and I am sure there is some kind of STEP-based standard for aeronautics.
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Rosseta Stone
So if we are searching for a kind of 'Rosetta Stone', it should be something like a STEP - based mapping table between discipline-specific definitions. As Rosetta, it probably would be used only on very specific situations -Memphis Decree doesn´t happen every day. But it has to be defined just in case it is needed.
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I have to add something, though.
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Building object properties are mostly static, so the IFC alike file that may be used for O/FM phase could be one with object instances and properties that will be overwritten sometimes, based in a building maintenance schedule.
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But those other disciplines like oil & gas, aeronautic or even military industries have to deal with an enormous amount dynamic properties. Such a great amount that Big Data Management enters into place.
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Currently, the 3D model part is the big one in BIM models. I am sure that 3D LOD will increase, flanges will have bolts modeled and so on, but I think that dLOI data part will be the real deal, especially for O/FM. In the future, I think that we will have to manage a small set of 3D entities linked with a big dynamic set of properties, not as big as the production industries but not small and static as it is now.
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So I think that probably the most efficient way is to separate 3D and associated data in two (or more) files linked by an ID (as those STEP currently has, that '#3167'). This way we could manage the differences of size and dynamicity that a STEP file info has, letting them grow at that different speed they seem to demand. The 3D part could remain as STP, data as XML.
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I'm not a programmer, so I´m not completely sure if this can be done or, if it is, it is operative. I have to talk with a specialist - this will be my next step.
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Saturday, July 18, 2015

If I want to have a good IFC, I'll better trace my own map.

IFC map
Not a lot ago I wrote a post about IFC object and property definition limitations. I didn't know what was really inside the format until I had to analyze how to connect it with other engineering disciplines. I'll better keep my mouth shut next time. -
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IFC is flexible enough. The real limitation is in the mapping inside the BIM app. It is hard and tedious to get to a functional one, but the key to good coordination is to trace a good mapping schema. Better said, to trace two of them; one for each app, with common export and import equivalences. -
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A good map leads to IFC treasure. -

Monday, July 13, 2015

Friday, May 22, 2015

No BIM this time

Casa Decor 2015, Madrid. Lift lobby and public toilets, by Monica Garrido & Pedro Martín.
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No AECOsim this time (just a little bit of Microstation rendering...)
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Friday, April 17, 2015

Revit 2015 Esperanto Language Pack

IFC format is supposed to be a common denominator for all BIM applications. I have said in another post that it would be great it to be used as a native format for all them. Just a dream - we will not see it.
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I see two big problems for that.
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First of all, most BIM applications come from ancient times. That´s good, but they have very consolidated data structures, and it is obvious (and logical) that shareable data properties they have, are just a small part of their full possibilities.
Yes, it may be easy to create a new property from zero: if an RFA Family comes with manufacturer's URL and a link to its PDF catalog, it seems easy to create a property field for that at, let´s say, AECOsim Dataset. I have a good wizard for that. Even a complete mapping table also. But not so easy; for example, there are some apps that don't have an MEP module, and they would get only the 3D side of the IFC Mechanical entities. Data lost.
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Second,  there´s another part of specialization that it is even harder to share: localized data.Localized datasets from separate construction areas or countries are obviously very different. And they have to be; let´s suppose that we are finishing a big tower at Dubai. If they have to make an entity modification on their BIM model, do they have to wait to know how a very localized wall property from Mexico is translated to an IFC definition? Perhaps in IFC v5? No. They have to get it finished on time & budget, just that. They will use their language, their way of working, their currency, their construction slang.
Do we have to wait for Revit Esperanto Language Pack...? Esperanto: a great idea, created for all, used by no one.
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Thursday, April 9, 2015

AECOsim or Revit... Further intelligence

Next step at BIM world has to be further construction intelligence. But I am not talking about something like to make wall placement easier or adding more defined IFC data. No, it's something more conceptual.
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Currently, I can place a wall or a column floating in space. BIM intelligence makes them not only simple 3D forms; they have a lot of building properties assigned. They have a width, depth, and height - if they are rotated and placed laying on the floor, width is still width -but placed vertically. That's good, that a great step from standard 3D modeling.
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But there is something that it's still missing.
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A basement wall could be placed without a foundation like the one that it seems to need according to your experience. A little wider than the one rules mark. Oh, you know the place, the people, how things are usually done here.
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Currently, you can check the model after finishing, there are great tools for model checking - like Solibri. Using rules, you can check if a wall is connected or not to the slab above, for example. But most of the times it has to be done manually because experience or even intuition is not easy to be written in a rule.
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My idea is -at least you should have a dialog saying something like "Do you want to place a linear foundation linked to this wall like the one that you know it needs?".
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What am I talking about? Whole building construction coherence based on experience.
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In the future, BIM apps should have to check construction ability to be built like you know. I dream of a set of tools that check impermeabilization -"that roof slab has a part that is not protected from water", or things like "given wall material, that window head needs a beam", "that door placed in that PBD wall is too close to wall´s end - no space for a timber stud like the one this manufacturer say it needs", etc.
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Currently, we have tools that detect 3D coherence like clash detection or bad pipe connections. They are conceptually easy for a 3D app. Solibri let us define all kind of rules, but most of them are geometric. What I'm talking about is something deeper, to apply real site construction intelligence to BIM.
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This way we would avoid modeling a full and LOD 300 building unable to be built (...and floating in space).
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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

AECO Lifecycle

AECO / by place: 

AECO / by time spent: 

AECO / by money involved in:
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Thursday, October 2, 2014

BIM & 2016 UK BIM mandate -

When I start a course, I use to spent some time at the beginning talking about walls, windows etc. After some hours, someone stops looking at the screen and looks confused. "But, that thing of BIM is not a question of changing from CAD to a BIM tool, it doesn´t matter if it is Revit, Allplan, ArchiCAD or AECOsim, that´s not the question..." "Yes", I say. "It is something deeper", he continues, "It is a question of changing the whole way we work, specially redefine roles, hierarchies...". While all his colleagues continue fighting with wall leaves or DataGroup definitions, he stops talking and he goes out from the room to have a coffee. He has realized that his job is in danger because of BIM. -
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That´s the question inside this article. -
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'64 per cent of respondents to the survey from 70 businesses in the infrastructure sector said the target was unachievable (...)' -
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'69 per cent said that existing construction contracts fail to adequately address the means by which collaborative contracting can be achieved (...)' - 
No one said that the technical side is a problem - but the organization is. One and a half years for learning how to place a wall is not hard. But to change all the structure and renovate all roles seems almost impossible. -

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Diálogo entre MicroStation y AECOsim

(Acto único, escena única) - 
Despacho lateral en una gran empresa. Al fondo, muchas mesas con ordenadores, alguno de ellos aún con monitores CRT, entre ellos el del despacho. Sentado en un viejo butacón, MicroStation, un hombre ya mayor aunque vestido con cierto aire moderno. Entra AECOsim, más joven aunque también con su edad, aires de artista. Guarda su smartphone en el bolsillo, del que asoma un viejo rotring Staedler). - 
AECOSIM.    Buenos días. ¿MicroStation? - 
MICROSTATION.   Sí, soy yo, muchacho. ¿Qué desea? 
AECOSIM.    Me han dicho que hable con usted, para ayudarle a incorporarse al mundo BIM en obras de ingeniería y arquitectura. 
MICROSTATION.   (Pone cara de extrañeza.) ¿Perdone? 
AECOSIM.    BIM, que significa “Building Information...” 
MICROSTATION.   No, digo lo otro, eso de ingeniería y arquitectura. No me suena. 
AECOSIM.    (Con asombro.) ¿¿Cómo que no le suena?? Me han dicho que lleva casi cuarenta años dedicándose a ello. 
MICROSTATION.   Pues no, ni idea... yo sólo sé hacer rayas y cosas en 3D. 
AECOSIM.    (En un lateral, para sí.) Esto va a ser más difícil de lo que pensaba. (A MicroStation.) De acuerdo, 3D, eso es lo que me va a interesar. Vamos a hacer arquite... 
MICROSTATION.   (Interrumpiendo.) Arquitectura, no me suena. 
AECOSIM.    (Con paciencia.) Vale. 3D. Vamos a hacer 3D. Yo me ocupo del resto. 
MICROSTATION.   De acuerdo. Dígame.
AECOSIM.    (Sentándose.) Veamos. Usted sabe hacer 3D. ¿Qué objetos maneja?
(...)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

ARCH/inese, ARK/orean etc

It´s all about the money - so to say, the 'CO' part of AECO -
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When CAD meant only 'AE' phase, we just needed an app or two (AutoCAD & MicroStation) to get by. But now that we are going fast to 'CO' part, I think it´s just a matter of time for some new BIM apps to appear to take some piece of cake. Or getting it all. -
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Now the real BIM one is the one that starts with 'R'. Revit is young, it comes from 2002 -the other three come from 'ancient' times (they start with 'A', don´t they?). They have the experience, they have the wrinkles. Revit has got the main part of the market in just a decade; even more, it was only 3 or 4 years before that it became real. Now we can handle a full building in a portable computer. -
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A unique app that gets all the AECO money? Now that IFC is mandatory? -
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For me, it is just a question of time for an ARCH/inese or ARK/orean BIM app to appear. Complete, flexible, easy and fast. In full IFC and COBie compliancy. Perhaps too general, perhaps not easy to customize or not localized, maybe lacking any support. But enough solid to be used without a problem in most situations. -
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Some time ago, not a lot, mobile phones were Siemens, Nokia, and Blackberry. Now we are looking for a Samsung S* or something similar, always designed and built at the East side. If we look for something cheaper, we have ZTE, Huawei or that blue Kingzone that looks like a perfect S*. They have full Android and whatever you look for. And they appeared when the money starts to be on that little machines we have in our pocket, side by side with our wallet. -
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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Old metadata Tiles table -

Found inside an old book. A kind of classic metadata table. -
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"Tejas para cubiertas" ('Roof tiles'). Dimensions, Weight, Number of units per m, Slope etc -
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At the right side of "Peso de una teja / seca" ('single tile weight / dry') it says, "Mojada" (wet). The vertical text says, "Cuando la teja está mojada aumenta de peso 1/12 aproximadamente" ('wet tile weight is 1/12 higher'). That´s accuracy. -
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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Why AECOsim?

Notes for Spanish Architecture students - 

Yeah, why AECOsim? Why do we need a new BIM architecture suite? We don’t have enough with those three, ArchiCAD, Revit and Allplan? Why on earth there is a new application laying around? Yeah, it is probably a new program that is trying to jump on the BIM bandwagon, now that everyone is talking about it.
BIM -a concept that hardly anyone knows what it is, here in Spanish speaking architecture communities, But, they say, BIM it's the future, it would lead us to a marvelous world full of job opportunities and, who knows, maybe even leads us to earn some money.

So it sounds like AECOsim Building Designer, whom nobody had heard of until a couple of years ago, must be something new that tries to get into the act of BIM and wants to take a chunk out of it. -
Let's try to clarify things.
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AECOsim is an old pal
First. No one had heard anything about AECOsim until 2011... because it had another name before.
Bentley Architecture.
Well, okay, it is not a household name. But there it was, much like AECOsim, struggling around since 2004.
A couple of years before Revit was born, for example.
Ok, well, that’s not much, two years before Revit, bah.
But it had another name before... Bentley Triforma, born around 1996. And before that, it has another one, Brickworks... created around 1986.
Ok, that names are not very known either.
But a BIM app that comes from 1986 is another matter. 1986 is the year when, for example, first Graphisoft application, Radar CH, was renamed Archicad. The year when Allplan was created. CAD Prehistory.
It was also that year in which Argentina won the Football World Cup, Maradona and that 'Hand of God'. Golden years.
Anyway. The fact is that AECOsim is not newIt has ben growing throughout all history of BIM development.
I think that changing its name from time to time is not very commercial, really.
In fact, the name changes are so confusing that a lot of people here at Spain calls AECOsim "Bentley". No, that's the name of the company, Bentley Systems. Same as if we use "Autodesk" instead of Revit.
Anyway, I hope you all are totally confused by now.
Taking the long story short: AECOsim is a BIM application designed around 1986 by Bentley Systems Inc.
Ok. So AECOsim is laying around yonks ago and it deserves a little respect and all that -it´s an old boy. But once we accept it, what sense does it have to have this application around? We have said it before, BIM Spanish market has not enough with the three musketeers, Revit, ArchiCAD, and Allplan?
Bentley Brothers
I know, it sounds like a trio, a group of comedians, or something taken from a Dostoeivsky book (notice the cultural note). But the truth is that I am talking about the Bentley brothers (Keith, Greg, and Barry), founders of Bentley Systems, creators of AECOsim (formerly known as... etc, etc).
Back to the story. Around 1982, a man called Keith Bentley created a CAD app for a company called Intergraph. Same year that gave birth to AutoCAD and ArchiCAD, etc.
Intergraph -an engineering software company. This time we are talking about truly ancient times. Beatles' days. Its president started developing applications for Saturn rockets and Apollo capsules, those ones that went to the Moon. And Intergraph is still around, is a very well established company in the world of industrial plants. A mega company.
So Bentley created a CAD, MicroStation, for Intergraph.
Oh wait, MicroStation, I've heard about that. It's kind of AutoCAD, right?
The other CAD, MicroStation
Indeed, it is a kind of AutoCAD.
MicroStation is a generic 2D / 3D CAD, which allows to create all kind of technical drawings for any use you need. You can create elements, modify them, add dimensions, make plans and get them printed, all that stuff.
AutoCAD has its differences, of course.
For example, in AutoCAD to draw a line, you must press "LINE" (an icon with a line), and then "click" in the window to place the start of the line, and another "click" to place the end. There is also a text command for this, "LINE".
For example, in AutoCAD to draw a line, you must press "LINE" (an icon with a line), and then "click" in the window to place the start of the line, and another "click" to place the end. There is also a text command for this, "LINE"…
Ok, it´s obvious that two CAD programs that have same objectives are necessarily very similarAnd most of the objects are the same kind if not equal, they have the same commands, the way to place them is similar. When you know one of them, it is just a matter of some time to get used to the interface of the other one, to find where the button "line" is located, here or there.
Sometimes, there are rather funny differences. In AutoCAD, you can display a 3D model without the "hidden lines". In MicroStation, if you want to do the same thing, you have "to show only the visible edges."
Well, as usual, they use different file formats, DWG in AutoCAD, DGN in MicroStation. But in the end, their files contain very similar data - they are somehow condemned to understand themselves, so AutoCAD can open DGNs and MicroStation can use DWGs.
But there is a fundamental difference that came from the start, and it has influenced the evolution of both applications  and, consequently, the development of AECOsim.
"Because we came here to talk about AECOsim, right?" Be patient, I´m coming.
The nitty-gritty
The essential difference is that MicroStation DGN files are saved automatically (no need to File > Save), but AutoCAD DWGs are not (you have to File > Save).


"So, what's the big deal?
Indeed, it seems nothing. But it has traced an evolution path that curiously, ultimately, has determined the position of the two programs on the marketAnd accordingly, the two companies' paths, Bentley, and Autodesk.
Each time an item is created in MicroStation, it is written in the DGN file. Each new object causes the file to be overwritten again and again. Written in the pure and hard drive. Instead, AutoCAD loads the items in RAM memory and only writes the DWG when you decide to do it.
So? In AutoCAD a lot of RAM is used by items data, while in MicroStation RAM is more free. And therefore, it is more available for object creation, 3D modeling, view management,... ie, that means greater agility.
In short. From the beginning, MicroStation is much more operational for handling huge filesAnd I am not talking about some megas, I´m talking of some gigas. I have opened DGNs bigger than 100 Mb with MicroStation V8 2004 version on a 1GB netbook, and I have managed them with reasonable agility.
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In fact, using federated reference files system you don´t have a real limit - In theory, you can reach over one terabyte projects (although you will need a very very strong set of computers...). 
Both programs have evolved and now the differences are not so huge. But that nuance made that Bentley customers tended to be those companies that handle AEC drawings made of large amount of dataWhat kind?
Industrial engineering companies, civil engineering, administration & surveying companies (and therefore municipalities)... that mean bridges, mining, railroads, process plants, subsurface utilities…
Not much architecture, it seems.
But hey, those ones are solid Bentley customers. They require strong support -'you had to always be at their service', but they buy and renew their licenses. And they still there... loyal customers.
MicroStation Market: few customers, they pay well. MicroStation is less known, but by 'large' customers.
Moreover, if you get MicroStation, you get into a kind of 'Bentley at your service' mode too.
Meanwhile, AutoCAD spread like wildfire to cover that "other" customers. They may not require such large file handling, but they are a lot of customers. A lot. Of customers.
So, AutoCAD market: many, many customers, but do not generate much money. And most of all, everyone knows AutoCAD, AutoCAD is 'the' CAD. If you think on CAD, first word that comes to you is Autoetcetera.
It might not have as strong support as Bentley has, but has at its disposal a key weapon -I call it "Wikipedia support ". That is, if something happens to you using AutoCAD, it has already happened to someone else, and someone more knows the solution that is waiting for you over there on Google.
But hey, we were not talking about AECOsim?
I'm coming, I'm coming.
Look. If I have been speaking about MicroStation is because AECOsim BIM is not a standalone applicationSimplifying a bit, AECOsim is an extension of MicroStation.
Something like Autodesk Architecture (ADT, yes, is still here) -MicroStation, that 2D / 3D CAD, is AECOsim's base app.
In fact, you can unload the discipline modules from within AECOsim, and you will get MicroStation with no string attached.
This has its little advantages. It lets you continue drawing with 2D or 3D CAD what you've created in AECOsim
And at the end, it also has a qualitative advantage, in my opinion. A personal opinion, more about BIM concept in itself.
For me, the one and only goal of BIM is Operation. Final building use. "Owner - Operator" phase.
"What?"

AECO comes from 'Architecture', 'Engineering', 'Construction', 'Owner / Operator'), the four phases of the creation and operation of a building. 

"Ah, ok!" 

BIM has no sense if it is focused exclusively on architecture phase. Sorry to say, since I'm an architect and I really like to be one. 

But I have to admit that BIM is showing us here in Spain something that we all architects have always feared: the important thing is a fully functional building. 

A magnificent project does not justify that, at the end, the building does not meet the client needs. Even worse, a building that is not used at all. And if this happens, no, it´s not contractor´s fault (as we tend to say), but a bad process management. Not only partial, the overall management of all building process. From design to operation. 

And within this, unfortunately, the initial work of the architect is only a small part of the process. We are the first. But just in time. 
Say: two month for project phase, two month for structure and mechanical, twelve of building phase... and who knows, fifty years of operation. In months, 1200.
But we'll have a lot of time for talking about BIM.
I'm saying this because, in my opinion, AECOsim has a target market somehow different than the other three BIM apps it is associated with.
It is a suite of programs designed for the whole process AECO, created for a market of loyal MicroStation customers that need to work on large engineering-related building projects.
And not for that kind of architectural offices we are here used to.
For me, AECOsim is mainly focused on the 'EC' of the 'AECO'.
Put it another way, for me BIM is created for those who need to manage large architectural projects mostly developed at large engineering companies: buildings associated to civil works, plant engineering offices, large buildings where the design is much less binding than construction, large buildings cheking at contractor´s offices etc... 
Uncreative, anyway. Boring, maybe.
So what...
So what. But now we are looking for something, to get a jobWe are architects, many, many architects, and we want to work. And money, and that stuff. So, I´ll talk a little more seriously.
If we take a list of the 100 companies around the world that have most number of architects on staff, we´ll see that the vast majority are civil works engineering companies.
The first in this list is AECOM -I do not have it associated with the kind of architecture offices we are here used to, but has more than 1,300 architects on staff. Ugh.
Among the top 10 names there are IBI, Nikken Sekkei, Perkins, Stantec, Aedas... They don´t sound to me like architectural offices, may be they are, I admit I'm not very up to date on international market. The only company that really sounds architectural to me is Foster & Partners -located at number 10. They have nearly 700 architectsIt´s not small.
Well, the fact is that these top ten companies account for over a third of the total architects on staff on all that 100 -around 10,000.
Main Bentley client? AECOM.
Main architectural office using Bentley apps? Foster & Partners.
You see what I am talking about.
And what if I want to be creative...
Well, I think you have to look for something else. AECOsim does not help you to create too showy stuff.
Mm, wait a moment. It has a render module inside, called Luxology , that comes from modo (yes, lower case) -that´s a competitor of Maya, Maxwell and all that stuff. They have used modo recently for Ironman movie. And for Wall-e. Architecture at its best. 
That agility I was talking about before has allowed MicroStation to have from the origin a very powerful render core. There´s no need for an external app, you can create movies with actors traffic simulations... 
And also has a thing called Bentley Generative Components that... 
Well, that´s all, I´ll keep this for another time.