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The VDC Cycle: Leveraging the “I” in BIM

For quite a while now, I’ve been considering having some guest posts on the blog to help liven up the conversation and add some new perspectives. I was contacted by Elijah recently and after reading other examples of his work on The Iterative, I thought it would be great to give this aspiring student a chance to share his voice. I’m pleased to present the first in what I hope to be a new collaborative approach to sharing insights on technology trends and advances in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry. Please, give us your feedback. We’d love to hear from you. – Sean

Elijah Gregory is a high school senior who’s interest in architecture software and BIM has lead to him becoming a fount of knowledge in this evolving field.

I recently had the opportunity to attend an industry review on a relatively new Trimble product, Vico. Vico is a VDC, or Virtual Design and Construction, software which bridges the gap between the BIM guys and decision makers in a company. In the two-day introduction to the product and the product’s capabilities, a common construction cycle became clear to me: receive concept of a proposed structure, design, estimate, schedule, and deliver.

A Brief History

Initially, BIM and VDC originated from CAD software. The original goal of CAD was to increase productivity and accuracy hand-drawing lacked. From there, simple 3D models arose to display a more comprehensible visual to both designers and clients. And following simple 3D models, BIM was created to derive information from drawings and models. Finally, VDC has been created to leverage the information created by BIM software to make accurate estimates and schedules as well as do statistical analysis on various aspects of the structure.

Advantage?

VDC essentially takes a project from the design to delivery checkpoints in the construction cycle and by doing so, quickly breaks down projects so decisions can be made quickly and appropriately. The VDC cycle follows the same steps as the construction cycle by reaping the information produced by BIM software, provided BIM managers follow best practices during design–a key issue not so uniformly answered, but that’s for another article. Provided best practices have been used, when a model is loaded into VDC software–Navisworks or Vico or whatever your preference may be–a tremendous bank of values should be at the tips of your fingers and the click of a mouse. Who said being a computer nerd wasn’t cool?

VDC in Practice

Today, the amount of information which can be leveraged from this initial model is up to three variables: the quality of the model, the level of skill of the VDC software user, and the desired amount of information to be leveraged. From the initial design, material and quantity takeoffs are created, which can be used with known labor rates, overhead, and profit to generate an estimate. From the estimate, budgets are established. On the same work plane level as estimating and in collaboration with the model, schedules are created, which can be projected from inception to delivery of the structure. These three parts allow the decision makers of a company to look at accurate information graphically, via modeling, and by hard numbers which act as a facilitator to the most important element in construction: decision making. But wait–there’s more: The VDC cycle takes the construction cycle a step further by integrating actual values produced into future projects for an incredibly accurate projection of costs and scheduling. In other words, the company can analyze decisions made in the past to add curves in the road to making decisions in the future. BIM-ception? Diving into the current BIM and VDC software lineup from front-runners offer a promising glimpse into the future: collaboration with all stakeholders from inception to delivery.

Elijah can be found on Twitter – @ElijahGregory97

~ More of his recent writing can be found here:

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RTCNA Enables Glimpses into the Future

I have a bunch of posts related to the Revit Technology Conference North America (RTCNA) in draft. I thought it was time to get one of them out there for you. RTCNA was held in Schaumburg, Illinois a week ago. While it was near Chicago, it certainly wasn’t an easy trip from one to the other. I’ll have to see that city another day.

Peering into the Future

I have so many things to tell you about, not the least of which involve Dynamo and complex form-making in the Revit environment. That’ll have to wait until next time. In this post, I want to bring your attention to some shiny things. Shiny, as in new, or soon to be newly available to incorporate into your digital practice. Apologies in advance for the blurry photos. Looking into the future requires a lot of computational power, and the images we receive back are a bit degraded – OK, the real reason is I don’t have the latest and greatest smart phone (snicker).

Coming soon to a BIM platform near you

One of the benefits of attending conferences is the occasional unexpected announcement of future things to come. While this was only my second RTC, I was amazed how much Autodesk let us peak behind the curtain. Some of the announcements were sprinkled among regular sessions, and others featured in keynotes.

This also marks the first year Autodesk has become a significant sponsor of the RTC worldwide. RTC North America , a conference for users – by users, is an excellent place for learning and networking with peers, it’s also seem to become a good litmus test for Autodesk to observe reaction to possible strategies. Almost passing quietly, as I’ve seen no one else write about these topics below, there will certainly be more fanfare later this year, at that ‘other’ conference put on by the vendor themselves. Don’t get me wrong. I like both events for different reasons. RTC is certainly a more intimate setting, and as it’s name suggests is more of a concentrated, Revit ecosystem focused event.

Before getting started; a little housekeeping. All of what I’m about to say is: a). subject to change, b). was announced publicly in front of the sold out 500 person event and c). that I have no special inside scoop which I am able to comment on beyond this article.

Blocks

blocking diagram

Anthony Hauck, Senior Product Line Manager, Building Group at Autodesk, had several future industry trends to discuss, more on that later. Pretty colors. What to make of this? Notice the indication of an egress stair? Could it be the long sought after jackalope err, Conceptual Space Planning tools? Is it Revit? Hmmm. Is it FormIt, or perhaps some other mobile or web-based environment? Little was revealed about this image and it was still enough to make people stir in their seats, murmur for a bit and then spontaneously cheer and applaud. Although, it was indicated that a handful of people from RTC (whose names were literally picked out of a hat OK – Hauck’s messenger bag) will be testing this new tool later this summer. I am very eager to know more. This has been one area where we have struggled to find the right tool to help with blocking and stacking. Mass families representing departments (jelly-cubes) or rooms (Jell-O shots) have been a partial answer inside Revit – although they have their limitations.

FormIt, All Grown Up

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Staying in the conceptual world, we move toward my favorite little modeler, FormIt. My Tiny House project www.unboxedhouse.com was even featured in the FormIt session. The development of this tool (AutodeskFormIt.com) has really matured since it’s introduction in November of 2012. I discovered that you can export to OBJ file format for 3D printing. It is now on the cusp of its seventh major release, where we will see some very interesting new features and workflows. Just a few of the things to come which we saw in the working demo of the upcoming versions by Scott Davis, AEC Technical Specialist at Autodesk and co-presented by Tobias Hawthorn, Senior User Experience Designer at Autodesk, who joined the session remotely:

V6.6 (available now)

  • Weather Data dashboard – for iPad and Android tablets, pick a site location and the nearest weather station may be selected to see temperature and wind data. Let’s hope more graphs are added soon.
  • Android feature parity – so you have a choice, the Android app now does everything the iPad version can do

v7.0 (mobile coming soon)

  • 3D Sketching – drawing on x,y or z axis in space without creating sacrificial geometry for ‘workplaces’
  • Open profiles – adding the ability to sketch a partial loop, and have the lines remain, for closing later to make a surface or form
  • Reference lines – while sketching, reference lines will display for ensuring your work is easier to create parallel or perpendicular conditions
  • Snapping tools – just like in the big boy CAD modeling tools. There was an indication this may be limited to the web based version, and take a bit longer to appear (if at all) on the mobile apps.

v7.0 (web coming soon)

  • Everything above, plus… it seems like the web will be out of beta.
  • Live collaboration – this was previewed at AU last December as a teaser. Earlier this month, we saw it demonstrated for the first time. It looks very promising.
  • Array improvements – adding the ability to array a line or face, arrays of a form can now be done in 3D.
  • Copy/Paste improvements – control over insertion of pasted elements rather than them popping in unexpectedly. There will also be an added bonus – auto join of faces. This may become a fun thing to experiment with, to see what other games beyond Tetris can be simulated.

Come with me if you want to BIM

terminator_2_1920x1080Perhaps the most exciting announcement, was during Zach Kron’s class “The Day Families Became Self-Aware” – yes that most certainly is a Terminator reference. Zach, a Principal Design Strategist at Autodesk, and long-time blogger at buildz, he is deeply involved in furthering the open-source Dynamo development. Dubbed Project Honeycomb, this technology proposes to embed intelligence into a Revit family, by allowing a piece of code to be injected into it. It is currently a prototype, model 101 if you will.

To illustrate the power of the concept, Zach showed a working prototype as a special build of Revit, and was able to fluidly do what is either extremely difficult or impossible for mere mortals to achieve with today’s Revit. So, say you’ve written this amazing Dynamo definition, or a Python script, or a macro using an IDE (Integrated Development Environment) such as Microsoft Visual Studio. That’s great. Now, take that code and load it into a family, and it will perform the action in the project environment. As shown in the demo, it will perform at the native Revit engine speed, because Dynamo or whatever authored the code is not needed for producing the results.

Complex interactions between families could be possible, and be very, very fast. Those families would also need less complex parameter configurations and formulae to do the heavy lifting, as code like that generated with Dynamo manages the relationships rather than traditional and rather archaic family construction techniques. The other advantage? The democratization of Design Computation, or as I like to call it in this new paradigm – Computational BIM. Anyone, anywhere can use these families that take on superpowers.

The session was very interactive, allowing a great discussion of how we might implement a technology like this and how it should function.

When I described this to a colleague, one who is immersed in design computation daily, his reaction without even seeing the presentation was, “That’s a Grasshopper killer, right there”. I was very surprised hear those words, even though I agree. I can’t wait to see what this new world looks like. I, for one, welcome our new computational overlords.

One more thing

Anthony Hauk, gave a great talk about where the future of BIM is heading, titled ‘BIM: The Next 5 Years’. If this slide is any indication of things Autodesk may be thinking about enabling, we’ll see a dramatically more effective use of BIM than in practice today.

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The last bit I want to leave you with, which was announced last week at the AIA National Convention (also held in Chicago), is Project Skyscraper. While details are still a bit sketchy, this sounds like a very big deal. Autodesk will be rolling out a cloud collaboration toolset as part of their 360 platform to enable remote team members to work simultaneously on the same Revit model, “eliminating the need for firms to invest in costly IT set-ups”. See more about this announcement at: In The Fold

I am so jazzed by what’s around the corner. I’ll see you there soon.

Corrections from original post: Snapping will be in the mobile app as well as the web, and live collaboration will not be in v7.0 for mobile. That feature will be web only in it’s first iteration.

Revit patch… Heartbleed

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Over the weekend, I was very surprised to see the Autodesk Application Manager pop up. Yes, Revit 2015 was found to have a vulnerability to Heartbleed. — Who names these things anyway? I want that job. — Given the internet connectedness of things and how we use our design software tools these days, this was bound to happen.

Luckily, the process is relatively painless, and this new Application Manager seems up to the task of helping us to both stay informed and current in our software patch state with a few simple clicks. Kudos to Autodesk for rolling out another great feature with Revit 2015, that many people may have overlooked. It’s well done, and works much better than past ‘hot fix’ installs, which were in fact never hot at all as they used to – and of course still require that you close your application.

So, while the new method of installing updates is much improved, I would recommend one more thing: Why not implement a method that downloads when prompted, and only installs when you are done working? That would be even less obtrusive.

Revit 2015 System Requirements

Windows 8.1 is finally supported. While I still haven’t been able to install Revit 2014, or Vasari Beta 3, Revit 2015 is officially supported on Windows 8.1. With previous versions, you get the following error (I’m currently testing Windows 8.1 Enterprise in a Parallels Virtual Machine). Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 10.51.01 AM

So, good news if you plan to upgrade your OS and all of your active projects. As far as large firms are concerned, I wonder what is the intended upgrade path that makes sense? We still have a project wrapping up that’s using Revit 2011, many projects starting out with 2014 today and everything in between. Very little is seamless in the world of AEC, especially when some of the buildings we design take several years to complete.

Interestingly, there’s now published recommendations for Parallels Desktop for Mac. I’ve been using that for years, and given I have a three-day old Mac, am anxious to try it out with these settings.

Source: http://knowledge.autodesk.com/support/revit-products/troubleshooting/caas/sfdcarticles/sfdcarticles/System-requirements-for-Autodesk-Revit-2015-products.html

Is Revit dead?

cross-159805_150Many of my colleagues have recently expressed concern regarding the future of Revit. It’s not a terribly difficult observation to make; from the end-user perspective, Revit (the client application) has shown a reduced pace in the development of new features. Yes, there’s seemingly been for a number of years the long list of requests for better or new features in the core Revit product that are still unmet. So, is Revit dead? Certainly not. I don’t think any of you should be worried. I’m very hopeful for the future of this tool, and feel this lull is merely the calm before the storm.

Will something replace Revit as the de-facto BIM application? Perhaps. Nothing lasts forever. I cannot predict what Autodesk or its competitors will do over the next decade, however I’m sure we will see some significant advances in technology. Infinite Computing? What the naysayers may be missing is that Revit is no longer just a single desktop-based client application. It has evolved into a platform, or perhaps something more like a BIM ecosystem. It’s about connected-ness.

Autodesk is in this for the long-haul. And it’s not just about you and I, it’s about the next generation and ensuring the company can engage and continue to provide relevant innovation. Take for instance the Design The Future US campaign, to donate tools to STEAM schools across the United States.

I sincerely believe the Revit development team has taken a page from the Apple playbook. Much like the iPhone has become a new digital hub, replacing the Mac, the new, more mature Revit ‘the platform’ is replacing the Revit ‘the client’ of old. Revit is repositioning itself to replace, well Revit. The other page they are taking is more secrecy, which makes one wonder if they might just be working on that Next Big Thing.

This new role as platform is allowing Revit to stretch its legs and become even more important as it moves away from being perceived edge of design and focussed more exclusively on documentation. Revit has now and will become more deeply integrated with the core of planning, conceptual design, detailed design, fabrication, and operation of our built environment. Take, for instance the tools that integrate with BIM 360 Glue and Field as more details of the upcoming release are revealed.

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The Revit 2015 BIM 360 ribbon panel

To better predict what Autodesk might have up its sleeve, let’s look at the shape of the current ecosystem that may not be completely obvious, especially to those who only use a handful of these tools and services.

Let’s look at what we know from publicly available information:

  • With ‘prosumer’ iOS apps like FormIt and SketchBook mobile in the iOS Apps Store and Google Play, in-browser apps like Project ShapeShifter and Fusion 360, and mature professional creation tools like Maya and AutoCAD for Mac – the exclusive focus on Windows-based desktop applications is long behind us
  • Autodesk is investing heavily in the cloud – by some accounts up to 500 million USD per year
  • With Rendering, Daylight, Energy, Material Life-Cycle Costs, Wind and Structural Analysis all now available in the cloud, simulation is getting closer to the design tool, more real-time and more accessible
  • No longer just Buzzsaw and Vault, arguably little more than file management systems with some data capabilities, collaboration is something that they now are exploring on multiple fronts. With communities and tools such as: Autodesk 360, BlueStreak and the new iOS app Autodesk Instant, expect more to come.
  • Design computation within the Revit environment, with a relative newcomer named Dynamo, has become a reality in the last year. While still in Beta, the active community and rapid development pace has been really exciting. This is especially true since Dynamo is an Open Source project (found here), with a few interesting forks, including one for Autodesk Inventor on GitHub. Even though this is Open Source, it is a project that Autodesk is spending significant time and development to bring to bear.
  • Revit in the Cloud – with the last few releases being certified for Citrix, creating your own private cloud to allow access to your models, even while away from the office or without a powerful laptop is completely possible. When at home, I don’t need to bring my workstation laptop home. It’s very simple to access the Citrix farm from my own personal computer, even a Mac. With any stable internet connection, I sometimes use an iPad to quickly view models. I’ve written about the experimental cloud solution Octane Cloud Workstation in the past, and this now seems to be getting more recent press coverage – see this article on Architosh.
  • Revit interoperability with fabrication tools, facilities management platforms, Civil 3D and Infraworks means the useful data accessible to your fingertips is growing exponentially – to help make better decisions and incorporate the knowledge and experience of those in allied disciplines to ensure your architectural designs both take their environment into account, and are also more easily made and deployed and integrated into the built environment.

So, while some of you may not be pleased with the new features list (described in my previous post), you need to see the bigger picture. It may be made from Sketchy lines today, and it will sharpen over time. The new BIM workflow focusses more on collaboration, construction and not just design and engineering, simulation, visualization, and most of all harnessing and contributing to Big Data. I, for one, welcome our new digital design hub.

The future of design looks bright. Viva la Revitlution!

What’s new in Revit 2015

So, let’s just get right to business. What you came here for, the Revit 2015 new and enhanced features summary. I have no images to share, yet. This list is not exhaustive. For more information, until Autodesk rolls out it’s own announcement, visit: CADLine

New Features:

  • Sketchy Lines can be applied to any 2D or 3D view to help present your ideas.
    • To get good results, it is recommended to have a supported graphics card and driver with hardware acceleration and utilize anti-aliasing.
    • With this new graphic display setting, you can now enable anti-aliasing per view.
    • The Graphics tab of the Options dialog allows finer level of control for anti-aliasing, which will let you dial in to the right level of performance.
  • There’s a new ability to order and sort parameters within the Family editor.
  • Linking IFC files is now possible.
    • Revit displays IFC geometry much better than with the native import method, and this may change as the import/export IFC tools are still Open Source.
    • At this time, linked IFC files cannot be dimensioned to or used as room-bounding elements.

Enhancements:

  • Schedules are much improved – with type and instance parameter images able to be shown in the schedule – think room data sheets and furniture spec reports.
  • Revision cloud drawing and management tools much improved.
  • Hidden line display in various discipline view settings is improved, especially holes in slabs.
  • Revit Fabrication export settings for moving data to AutoCAD MEP or AutoCAD Fabrication CADmep is improved.
  • Many other productivity and performance improvements.
    • One example: Duplicating a view used to take a view named ‘View 1′ and automatically name it ‘Copy of View 1′, and will now put ‘Copy #’ as a suffix, so you don’t lose track of where the copy went in the Project browser.
  • Energy Models geometry extraction from the Revit model are significantly more accurate.
  • As per usual, many API features have been exposed.

I’m certain there will be more to write about this release over the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

Shake some trees, make some noise

How do you knock down the tallest tree? One hack at a time.

I was going to write about the upcoming AEC Hackathon at Facebook HQ, and my new BIMbuddy, Jared,

beat me to it. If you don’t follow Shoegnome, you really should.

AEC Hackathon 1.1

Last week I had coffee with Greg Howes of IDEAbuilder, and one of the AEC Hackathon organizers, and we had great conversations about BIM, digital fabrication, and the shortage of high-quality technical designers and fabricators. There’s such a lack of qualified people, that some firms who have traditionally been super competitive have to turn away work, or don’t bid on as many projects for feat they might win them all. The equipment, and by extension BIM software, doesn’t run itself.

Some well-respected designers in the AEC community have recently been quite outspoken on their belief that firm structures and business decisions are why they have not yet mastered their tools. To them I say, “stop making excuses.” The only way to master a tool is to both want to excel and put the time into doing so. There is no magic pill. I recently attended a great lecture by Andrew Kudless of MATSYS, who also happens to be on the dFab Net (Digital Fabrication Network) board with Greg Howes and other prominent industry leaders. AS he began his talk, he mentioned that while in Japan he learned that in order to be a carpenter’s apprentice, you must first spend a year in studies making your own tools. Only then are you allowed to work on a real project. Here in the USA, despite what some may think, training dollars spent on unwilling participants is wasted time and money. Jumping in with both feet or a project manager throwing bodies at a project with no training, à la ‘trial by fire’, can be equally destructive to the established team’s productivity.

The inefficiencies in the industry have very deep roots. Those roots are paper drawings, orthographic projection of 2D views, lack of understanding from clients, operators, and code officials as to why BIM will never flourish with these things in our way. Rather than save those roots, I say cut down the tree. Together, we can plant a new tree, or an entire forest. Things can be better. So, what can the construction industry do to get it’s groove back? Make everyone an expert in a particular brand of BIM software? No. Good start, and it’s not enough. We must also redefine the process, tools, and deliverables necessary to create a functioning ecosystem. Things are far too out-of-balance.

The industry needs more meet ups like the Hackathon. Did I mention that you should go? It’s not just for architects. You’ll find designers, engineers, contractors, fabricators, and a whole lot of software developers – many not even from our industry. As Jeff Kowalski said during one of the AU2013 keynotes, “the answer is outside.” The hackathon model, a similar event was hosted by Case at AU, is the perfect venue to partner directly with some very smart people in the technology sector to identify opportunities and roll up the sleeves to rapidly prototype solutions – all in the heart of one of the most innovative places on the planet, Silicon Valley.

In a time where there are many industry forces threatening to make the role of the architect less in the center of things, there’s a tremendous opportunity to redefine what it means to design and create buildings. It’s time to change the conversation. Don’t let the narrative that’s all too common out there get you down: “Architects are no longer master builders, and therefore doomed to become extinct.” Failure is inevitable. Well, that’s true if you’ve already thrown your hands in the air. It’s getting old people, and just another excuse. This reframing of the conversation for the AEC industry is critical to increase relevance in an ever more crowded landscape of constraints and competition.

We live and work in a time where we can create anything we want, including creating and reshaping the tools we use everyday. Design Computation might be is now a huge part of this opportunity. As I’ve said on several occasions, the sweet spot is where those tools combine with BIM to create the complete package of Computational BIM.

Are you ready to (really) change the world? Sign up for the AEC Hackathon, and if you need more reasons to attend, read the excellent article, on Shoegnome.