Friday, April 27, 2007

My Top Three Features in Revit Architecture 2008

Last week at the annual Autodesk "Tech Camp" for reseller Application Engineers, an Autodesker and I were talking about the new Revit 2008 release and he made a comment that while it wasn't a really "sexy" release, it was still huge in many ways. I disagree - I think it is a really "sexy" release! Lots of good new stuff - and some major pain points addressed - but here are my top three - look for some tutorials on these in the near future:

1) Groups - They finally WORK! It's hard to describe just how much better these things are, but once you start working with them, if you've ever dealt with the shortcomings of Revit groups in the past, you will be amazed at the leaps that they've made in this release. I doubt you'll be ungrouping much anymore...

You can now "exclude" items from an individual group instance without affecting other group instances - so when you have conflicting elements (overlapping walls between two groups, for example), you can exclude one of them to resolve the situation.

You can also "Move" objects from a group instance to your project - what actually happens is the object gets excluded from the instance and a copy is placed in your project that allows you to edit it seperately from the group.

When you edit a group, you have full access to all design palettes so you can create objects during the group-edit process and they are automatically part of the group.

No more RVG files - save a group to a file and it's an RVT project. Link it back in to your project and bind it (another improvement in Revit - file linking enhancements), and it will over-write the previous group definition. This means you can have repetitive elements stored in external files - edit the external file, link them and bind them to make massive updates to your model quickly and painlessly.

2) Dependent Views and Matchlines - You can now duplicate a view into multiple dependent views (view properties are linked). You can then crop those multiple dependent views separately and place them on separate sheets. If you rotate one of the views, annotation keeps it's proper horizontal justification. Matchlines can be placed that are "intelligent" across multiple dependent views. This addresses an issue that I've run across in virtually every firm I've worked with. No more sloppy workarounds with multiple duplicated views that have to be managed separately.

3) Graphic display improvements - you can now hide elements and categories permanently - a new "Show hidden elements" mode allows you to see the hidden elements and un-hide them if necessary. A simple, but very much needed improvement.

Stay tuned for more details on these, and more enhancements to the Revit platform...

Thursday, April 26, 2007

My Top Three New Features of AutoCAD Architecture 2008

I've not posted any new features of any of the latest Autodesk products, partly because others have pretty much covered all that ground and partly because I've just been too busy...witness the lack of posts to this blog up until a week or two ago...

Additionally, it may seem that I've been ignoring Autodesk Architecture (what used to be Architectural Desktop) in favor of Revit. Not so. While it is true that my customers have been demanding more services on the Revit side, I have not abandoned AA (what the heck acronym do we use for this thing, anyway - it's an Autodesk product - it HAS to have an acronym!!!).

While there are several improvements in the new AutoCAD Architecture, I'm going to list my three top features:

1) Display Control: Last year (or was the the year before?) at AU, Chris Yanchar, Director of Product Design for (then) ADT told me that his goal was for me to never ever teach my long-running "Complete Display Control in Autodesk Architectural Desktop" class again. They've been working on making the display control interface easier to navigate and manipulate, and with AA 2008 they have succeeded! You now have one-stop shopping for all display control needs. Using the new Display tab on the properties manager, you can quickly and easily manage all level's of an object's display properties. For complex objects, you can directly select nested components for editing as well. In the image below, for example, I have selected the hatch component of a brick wall with the tool indicated. The display properties are exposed to me for editing in the Display panel of the Properties editor. This allows for direct editing without complicated dialog boxes, and with immediate graphical feedback.

Additionally, if you're about to do something that could be potentially dangerous, you get an alert notifying you of what you're about to do. In the example shown, the hatch pattern is controlled by the material assigned to the component selected. If I select the hatch pattern color (or any other property), I'm presented with the following warning.

This, in my opinion, is a huge improvement in and of itself - notifying a user who may not be completely familiar with the intricacies of the display system that he or she may want to pause and consider their actions before proceeding.

Bad news, though, Chris... I think my class will still be necessary - albeit with major modifications. While the display system is now much, MUCH easier to edit and manipulate, the underlying concepts and functionality are unchanged. Ease of use and streamlined interface are a welcome enhancement to, but not a substitute for knowledge of the concepts involved.

The good news though, is that with this enhancement, my Display Control class can easily be accommodated by a 90 minute lecture, not the 3.5 hour tutorial I've been lobbying for the last few years.

2) Annotation Scale: While you might argue that this is an AutoCAD enhancement, it still applies to AA 2008 - all annotation objects, including schedule tags, support the annotation scale feature of AutoCAD 2008. This means that you no longer have to create multiple view blocks in a M/V block schedule tag, for example, to handle multiple scales - simply make the text that makes up the single view block "Annotative".

3) Match Sheet Layers to View: This has been a huge wish-list item for users of Project Navigator. Now with a single setting in the Project Properties dialog you can make the layers in your sheet drawing update automatically with the settings you modify in the associated view drawings. No more chasing your tail! This one is easy - if you use Project Navigator, just make the setting indicated below and try it out for yourself!

Again, there are a lot of other improvements (some nice one for spaces, for example), but these are the top three, off the top of my head. If you'd like more detailed posts about any of these or any other new features, post a comment to this article. If there's enough demand, I'll see what I can do to accommodate!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

No Man is an Island

If you are considering moving to BIM, then you need to consider the bigger picture - outside of your office and outside of your discipline. If you're reaping the benefits of model-based design by pulling your elevations and sections from the model, that's great, but it's really not BIM. If you're getting automatic schedules and even take-offs that might be considered BIM, in a lightweight kind of way, but there is so much more that is possible.

Don't get me wrong - all of those things are great, but if you're TRULY looking for the holy grail, you have to remember that the "B" in BIM stands for "Building", which implies that there are a whole lot of other people involved besides you, with different informational inputs and outputs, all contributing to and accessing the building model.

The Revit platform is beginning to allow us to more easily collaborate between disciplines with a fully functional and transferrable model, allowing for all data and geometry to move freely between the various teams working on the project, even though they may have completely different uses for and ways of dealing with the model.

Revit Structure and Revit Systems add the Structural and MEP disciplines to the already mature Architectural product. While this brings us new capabilities and ways of collaborating, it also brings with it new responsibilities.

Communication is key. At a very basic level, all players need to be using the same version of Revit. If the architect is using Revit Architecture 2008 and the MEP engineer is using Revit Systems 2 (based on Revit 9.1), then the model will not be usable by the engineer. Revit products introduce a file format change with each and every release. You MUST communicate with your consultants and collaborators before upgrading your project to the new version. Hopefully all players are on subscription so that there will be little if any lag between the time the Architect is ready to upgrade and when his consultants will be ready as well. The good news is that the releases of Revit Architecture, Revit Structure and Revit MEP are nearly simultaneous - within days of each other.

You also need to be in agreement on how you will share the data. Will you provide files to link via FTP site? How often will the model be updated? What will be the protocol for dealing with conflicts? The list goes on, but my point is that you have to communicate, constantly and openly with the other disciplines and players involved.

You also have to be more aware of how those other players will use the data that you put in the model. If you're working with an MEP engineer who is using Revit MEP, you need to know not only that they can use your room information in their analysis, but also how you can easily streamline the process and ensure greater accuracy by taking a few simple steps. Revit MEP 2008 includes hooks to IES Virtual Environment, which can be used by the engineer to run extensive heat load and lighting analyses on the Revit model by exporting the data. Additionally, some of the basic functionality from IES is included within Revit MEP 2008, allowing for preliminary heat load calculations to be done in minutes, right inside of Revit MEP, with no additional software required. You can quickly explore the effects of building orientation, building materials, glazing, etc. to arrive at an efficient and sustainable design very, VERY early in the process.

However if you, the architect, don't prepare your model properly beforehand, you put the burden to do that on the engineer, increasing the time it takes to get those analytical results and worse, introducing more opportunity for erroneous results.

Here's a scenario: You create room definitions in Revit Architecture. As the architect, you may not really care about the 3D volume information of the room. You're just wanting them documented for area calculations, room finish schedules, color fills, etc. So you don't even pay attention to the Limit Offset property of the room (go ahead, pick a room and check out it's properties - did you ever notice that before, and if so, did you ever wonder what it was for)? The Limit Offset is the vertical limit to which room volumes are calculated if volume calculations are turned on in the Room and Area settings. Here's the key - the Limit Offset is NOT the height of the space - it is the limit of where the calculations can occur. In Revit Architecture 2008, floor slabs, ceilings and roofs can now be (and are by default) room-bounding objects. This means that when the engineer runs his analysis, the room volume will be calculated based on the walls, columns and curtainwall room bounding objects, as well as roofs, ceilings and slabs. If you have a model that you migrated from an earlier version of Revit Building, however, those slab, roof and ceiling objects are, by default NOT room bounding. And if you leave your Limit Offset set to a value that is below your ceiling, roof or slab, it doesn't matter anyway! It's a simple matter to select all rooms, set their Limit Offsets to a value that will accommodate all horizontal bounding objects and select any "legacy" slabs, roofs and ceilings and toggle the room bounding property on. But you need to remember to do this. Yes, the engineer can do it, but what if they don't? What if they just assume that you, the architect, did that, because after all - it's YOUR model that they're getting the information from? (Hmmm... who would bear the liability for any errors due to an oversight like that? I honestly don't know - but that's a topic for a whole 'nuther post...).

The above is just one example of how simple communication and just a bit of understanding about cross-discipline collaboration needs can go a long way to streamline and improve the Building INFORMATION Model. I haven't even touched on interference detection between architectural, structural and mechanical systems, or how you can collaborate with users of AutoCAD-based products (like your Civil Engineer, for example). My intent here was to merely provide some food for thought.

I am hoping to present a 90 minute session on cross-discipline collaboration and coordination in Revit at Autodesk University this year - stay tuned for developments!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Through the Looking Glass in Autodesk Revit - Mirroring a Project

Have you ever tried to do a normal AutoCAD thing like "Move" or "Rotate" or "Mirror" to an entire Revit project?

If you haven't, don't. Revit won't like it, and you will like the results even less.

Stop and think. This is not CAD - this is a Building Model - there are relationships here - this isn't just a bunch of lines and stuff. This is a bunch of objects that are "connected" to each other in all kinds of ways - just like they are in the real world. You don't just pick up a building and flip it around or rotate it or move it... (Yeah, I know - I've seen buildings moved from one place to another, but it costs a LOT of money and it doesn't always work so well - I stand by my observation).

If you want to move or rotate a building in Revit, you need to use the items on the Tools pull down menu for rotating a project or specifying coordinates at a point. Those aren't the topics of this post, but if you're not sure what they do, look them up in the Help utility and try them out.

What those tools don't address is mirroring a project. Until I ran across a post on the Autodesk Revit newsgroup, I didn't think it was really feasible to do such a thing. However I saw a trick described there recently that looked interesting, so I tried it myself on a simple project and it worked. Then today I had a customer with the need to mirror a building project and I had her try it out as well (after backing up her local and central files, of course), and by all reports it worked quite nicely.

Here's how to give yourself the Mirror Project Tool:

1) To my knowledge this has not been fully tested by Autodesk, and is probably not supported. Back up all data before attempting this.
2) I have only gotten this to work in Revit Building 9.1. I have NOT been able to get it to have any effect in Revit Architecture 2008 (although I could be doing something wrong...)

CREDITS: This was posted originally by Leonid Raiz on the Autodesk Revit discussion forum - he deserves credit for it. I just took what he said to do and tried it out, and am passing it on.

1) Close Autodesk Revit Building.
2) Edit the Revit.ini file, which will be found in the \Program folder where you installed Revit. Add the following lines to the file:
3) Save the Revit.ini file and launch Revit Building. Go to the Tools pull-down menu and select "Project Position/Orientation". You should see two new tools: "Mirror Project" and "Rotate Project North".

AIA Convention - May 3-5 - San Antonio, Texas

If you're going to be at the AIA convention this year, stop by the Autodesk booth and say "Howdy". I'll be there most if not all of the conference, helping to man the booth, since I live right here in San Antonio. I may try to sneak out a bit early on Saturday - my kids' Scout Troop is going camping that weekend...

Unmoderated Comments Found!!!

For some reason, after finally updating my Google account, there were a bunch of unmoderated comments to past posts sitting there unattended, some dating as far back as July of last year! It must have something to do with the fact that I have had text recognition and post monitoring turned on due to spammers. I'm still leaving post moderation on, because the rat-bastids are still trying to get through.

For what it's worth, I've published all valid comments to my posts (positive or negative) and rejected all spam.

I only have two additional comments on the matter:

1) My sincerest apologies to anyone who was inconvenienced (sorry, Melanie - don't beat me next time you see me), and hopefully it won't happen again.

2) All spammers must die a slow and painful death!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Troop 285's Big Bend Adventure 2007

My kids' Boy Scout troop specializes in High Adventure trips. From hiking the Swiss Alps and the Chilkoot Trail to whitewater rafting in Northern Canada, there is always at least one gonzo trip for kids to partake in during the summer months, with the rest of the year taken up with more traditional "static" camps and weekend backpacking trips.

High Adventure is usually reserved for scouts 14 and over though, and they have to be at least 1st Class rank, which means they've learned their basic scouting skills - first aid, pioneering, orienteering, etc., and they're no strangers to strapping on a pack and walking to their campsite.

My own older son went to Philmont Scout Ranch near Cimarron, New Mexico (the "mecca" for any Boy Scout into backpacking trips) on an 11 day trek when he was 14. This summer he'll be 16 and he and I are planning to go with the Troop on a 10 day trek through the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Northwest Montana - the heart of "Grizzly Country".

To give the younger scouts a taste of what's coming later, every couple of years, Troop 285 has a Big Bend Adventure, geared specifically for kids 13 and younger, during Spring Break. This past March, my youngest (11 almost 12) and I went on the Big Bend trip. I've been to Big Bend a few times myself and was looking forward to being there as my youngest experienced it for the first time. Big Bend is arguably the most beautiful and interesting part of Texas and ironically the part of Texas that fewer than 10 percent of those who live here have ever even seen.

Day 1 (Saturday): We left San Antonio at 7:30 AM in a caravan of Suburbans loaded with dads, scouts and gear. We stopped for a brief photo-op on the Lake Amistad Dam in Del Rio, straddling the border between Texas and Mexico, then went on to Langtry, Texas in the heart of the Trans-Pecos region, where we had lunch and toured the Judge Roy Bean Museum, home of the "Jersey Lilly" and the place where the legendary Roy Bean administered his interesting brand of the "Law west of the Pecos".

Afterwards we continued to Big Bend National Park and the Chisos Mountains, arriving at the lodge in the Chisos Basin around 4:30 PM. Dinner at six, then we went to bed early, as we had a big hike to the South Rim of the Chisos scheduled for the next day.

Day 2 (Sunday): We began our hike to the South Rim at dawn, first scaling the Pinnacles Trail (a climb of approximately 1500 feet in about 3 miles). After a brief worship service with one of the dads who is a Chaplain in the U.S. Army, we continued on through Boot Canyon, until we reached the South Rim at lunchtime. Elevation 7400 feet (our hike started in the Basin at around 5300 feet). We had lunch on the rim, looking out over the desert 2000 feet below and on into Mexico to the South. We then returned to the Basin via the Laguna Meadows trail, completing the 13 mile round-trip hike at around 4:30 PM.

My youngest (on the left) and another scout, looking out over the desert from the South Rim Trail in Big Bend National Park.

Day 3 (Monday): We got an early start, leaving Big Bend National Park to the West, driving through the ghost town of Terlingua (the home of the annual Texas Chili Cookoffs in November) and proceeding to Fort Leaton just outside of Presidio for lunch. The boys toured the fort while "Mr. Mac" (the Scoutmaster) and I fixed sandwiches for them to eat afterwards. After lunch, we proceeded to Candelaria, a town about 45 miles West of Presidio on the border, where we met our guides for the next adventure. We drove about 12 miles on a dirt road, parked the cars in the middle of the desert and began our hike up Capote Canyon to Capote Falls, the highest falls in Texas (175 feet). There was no trail - we had to bushwhack our way up the Canyon some 3.5 to 4 miles, with full packs. By "bushwhack" I mean that we were frequently climbing boulders and rocks as much as 10-12 feet high to get through, along with countless stream crossings (usually one every 50-100 feet). The destination was worth it, however. We pitched camp and the boys got to go swimming in the frigid waters at the base of the falls while we cooked a backpacking dinner of Ramen noodles and sausage.

Beginning our hike up Capote Canyon - this was the easy part.

Capote Falls - at 175 feet, the highest waterfall in Texas. Where my backpack is in the foreground is where we pitched our tent for the night.

Day 4 (Tuesday): After an early breakfast of oatmeal, we hiked back out of Capote Canyon, arriving at the cars around noon, where we had lunch. We drove back to Candalaria, where we were treated to a verbal history lesson by Glenn Justice, a local historian and expert on the history of the region. I bought his recent book "Little Known History of the Texas Big Bend", which I've been enjoying immensely for the last few days. After leaving Candelaria, most of the troop proceeded to Chinati Springs, a natural hot springs between Candelaria and Fort Davis. My group took a detour back into Presidio where we bought steaks, potatoes and salad fixin's, then caught up with the group in Chinati. While we relaxed in the Hot Springs, the group that had been ahead of us began cooking dinner - a veritable feast! We spent the night at Chinati.

My youngest and I enjoying the hot springs at Chinati.

Day 5 (Wednesday): We left Chinati Springs and proceeded North to Fort Davis where we had lunch and spent some time touring the old calvalry fort. This was home to the Buffalo Soldiers, who were involved in suppressing the Apache Indians. The has been largely restored and was an interesting way to spend a couple of hours.

Trying out the accommodations in the calvary barracks at Fort Davis

From Fort Davis, we went just a few miles further to Prude Ranch where we stayed the night. Most of us took a side trip to McDonald Observatory at dusk where we participated in the "Star Party", getting a good view of several constellations and nebulae. If you haven't been out of the city in a while, you have forgotten just how many stars there really are, and in the remote, lightly populated areas of West Texas, there are even more visible. The night was clear and the sky was ablaze!

Day 6 (Thursday): We visited the Miller Ranch, which included a drive along a gravel road back into the Viejo Mountains to Camp Holland. This was an army outpost built during the Mexican Revolution to help counter raids by Mexican revolutionaries which included Pancho Villa, as well as Apache raiders that came through Viejo pass. The camp was only occupied for 3 years until the end of the revolution, and is the site of the last battle of the Apaches in that part of the state.

After lunch, we took a white-knuckle drive up the mountain to Viejo pass. The road was marked for jeeps only. One of the guys with us had a Toyota FJ Cruiser who he said could pull one of the Suburbans up the roughest part of the "road". So we piled everyone in the two vehicles and set out. The FJ did, in fact, pull that fully loaded Suburban up that road - it would have made a great commercial for Toyota! The whole time I was planning my escape should I have to bail from the Surburban when we went over the cliff!

The white knuckle ride up to Viejo Pass. Yes, that's a Toyota in front of our suburban pulling us up the jeep trail...

On the way down from Viejo pass we were buzzed by an airplane from Homeland Security. We had seen an Aerostat blimp earlier in the day - no doubt they had picked us up on radar and had vectored the plane in to check us out. I doubt too many legitimate people (read - non-smugglers or illegals) use that route. At any rate, after a couple of passes, when they saw that we were just a group of harmless (albeit slightly daft) Boy Scouts, they didn't bother checking us out further.

That night we spent in a hotel in the thriving metropolis of Van Horn.

Day 7 (Friday): This was to have been the day we were to have driven to Guadalupe National Park to climb Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas. Unfortunately, though, several of the boys (including my own) got sick that evening so a carload of us drove back to San Antonio instead, cutting our trip short by one day. As it turned out, however, when the rest of the group got to Guadalupe Peak, it was socked in with fog and rain, so they cancelled the climb anyway.

Maybe next year. In the meantime, we've got lots of really good memories of a very busy week!

ADT 2007 Implementation Guide - Relax, Y'all - It Still Applies

Paul Aubin and I wrote the "Autodesk Architectural Desktop - An Advanced Implementation Guide, Second Edition" for ADT 2007 last year. Now 2008 is soon to hit the streets and we're getting questions as to when we'll write a 2008 edition.

Answer: We aren't going to write a 2008 edition.

Now before you go and have a stroke, relax...take a deep breath and maybe a blood pressure pill...

First, it's a lot of work, and I'm getting lazy in my old age (note that I hadn't posted anything to my poor neglected blog since December before this evening).

Second, and more important, nothing (or at least hardly anything) in ADT 2008 has any impact on what we wrote for implementing ADT 2007. Paul and I are going to publish a white paper on his website that will update anything that needs to be updated but it will be very, VERY short.

Example: there are some major improvements to Display Control in ADT 2008, but NONE of them affect implementing ADT. The concepts are the same and the setup and settings are the same. The only difference is that you now have an additional option for WHERE you do it.

Most of the changes in ADT 2008 affect the day - to - day use of the product but have little impact on the way you implement and set it up.

So.. chill out, buy the book, and wait for the white paper.

Oh, yeah... Paul... I told you I'd have my stuff to you by the middle of the week, but did I say WHICH week????

Structural Drafters and CAD Technicians - a Dying Breed?

So... you're a structural drafter or a "CAD Technician", not a structural engineer. You've just seen Revit Structure and you're thinking that maybe you should be considering changing careers to ... say... WalMart Greeter?

Hold on, don't panic! While it is true that Revit Structure is going to automate a huge part of your current job, allowing the engineer to build the physical model of the structure as he/she designs it, from which the drawings are automatically generated, that doesn't mean you have no value.

What it means is that your role in the organization will have to change. Just as BIM is changing processes, those process changes are changing job descriptions.

Even though the plans, sections and elevations are being generated automatically from the model, someone will still be needed to annotate those drawings check them for visual accuracy and fidelity, and organize the sheets. Did the engineer specify the correct moment connection for that beam? Somebody needs to make sure those footings show with the correct linetype in the plan view. Those are not tasks that are good uses of the engineer's time, but are right up your alley.

There are other tasks that are equally if not more vital to the new process that are also not a good use of the engineer's time. Someone needs to make sure the model is cleaned up periodically, and that project templates are managed and kept up to date with office standards. Someone also needs to be building custom content. That, by itself, will be a never-ending job. The need for custom content will never end, no matter how far into an implementation you are.

So...stop thinking of yourself (and marketing yourself) as a "Cad Technician" or "Drafter" and consider yourself a "Model Manager". Learn how to use Revit Structure, and then learn how to build custom families - annotations, detail components and parametric model components. You'll improve your company's overall process efficiency and ensure yourself of ongoing employment and marketability.