Category Archives: Computational Design

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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.

IMG_1106

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.

Happy Holidays from Paradigm Shift!

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Have a Happy Holidays and a fun and safe New Year. Looking forward to great things in 2014. Here’s my 30 minute exploration at virtual ornament hanging. Using a little formula magic, based on the pattern of a pine cone, we have an efficient packing of ornaments, leaving little room for much else. Because this is the best part of the tree, next to lights. Since no one in the office can agree which is best: white or colored lights, we’ll just use our imagination for the finished trimmings.

How I made this:

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Go and get the latest version of Dynamo, download Vasari Beta 3.

Download my Dynamo definition and Revit model from a zipped file here: XmasTree.

Open the XmasTree.rvt. On the Add-Ins ribbon, launch Dynamo. If the custom nodes for colors are RED, double-click to download the “Standard Colours” package by the brilliant andydandy (Andreas Dieckmann of CAAD RWTH Aachen University). Although not necessary, it’s very useful to have this collection. I’m far too lazy to look up how to make colors with RGB values every time I need them.

And there you have it: A Revit Christmas Tree. Technically, there’s no tree at all, it’s just a collections of ball ornaments. The size of the ornaments changes as it moves up the tree, and the colors are random in the range of green to red.

Go ahead, experiment. Send me your mash-ups. Cheers!

Autodesk University Recap and Top 7 Digital Practice Trends

Autodesk University, a ReCap

keynote

As a year-end wrap-up, I’d like to share some thoughts from the events I attended at this year’s Autodesk University. During the opening keynote (go ahead and watch, then come back), Autodesk CTO Jeff Kowalski described going “Outside” as important for the success of design firms. We need to alter our mindsets to embrace change. This may mean working with new team members from external firms, working with new disciplines in other industries and also by embracing technology and tools that were not necessarily designed specifically for our work. We need to re-imagine our work, our business structures and our lives. I really like the quote that he used to make his point:

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.

At NBBJ, we call this Change Design. This deeply embedded philosophy in our practice enables us to create and innovate in ways not possible by only working with what you know.  Working collaboratively with non-traditional consultants creates that ah-ha moment more consistently for our projects. As design practices regain strength after the last five challenging years, this idea of “outside” could not come at a more perfect time to go mainstream.

Along a similar thread, I decided to go outside my comfort zone when planning my conference. This was a very different AU for me, as it was the first time I didn’t stack up my class schedule with only those offered for my primary tool of choice. In 2002, that was Architectural Desktop, and in 2006 it switched completely to Revit. Seven years later, I am much more interested in Computational Design, and design technology leadership. Key to these interests, which thankfully align with my firm’s vision, were round-table discussions on leadership, fabrication classes, further exploring computational design tools like Dynamo and conceptual design tools such as Fusion 360, and the mighty Design Computation Symposium.

Design Computation Symposium

This is the fourth instance of this conference within a conference. The format this year was a half-day event emceed by Matt Jezyk of Autodesk. There were too many presentations to focus on in this article. I’d like to summarize more of what I saw in future writings.

Day one of AU, it became clear that Autodesk is committed to a computational workflow. Actually, on Day 0, the day before, there was a special day-long Dynamo workshop (which I missed) that looked at the node to code possibilities of embedding DesignScript within Dynamo. At the kickoff of the conference, the gravity of the situation hit when Carl Bass talked about Dynamo in a big way as a punctuation mark to the AU keynote for all 9,200 conference attendees, and 37,000 virtual attendees. He even kicked off the symposium personally for the gathering of approximately 150 attendees. The Design Computation Symposium presentations ranged from case studies from engineers, architects and fabricators to an inspiring closing keynote by Enric Ruiz-Geli of Cloud9 on the subject of “particles”.

Media-TIC – by Cloud9

A key takeaway from Enric’s talk being that sustainable design should be embedded in the project, finding innovative ways to reduce costs of structure, and assembly of the project to cove the first costs for solutions such as the Media-TIC building located in Barcelona. The active envelope filled with nitrogen clouds blocks glare and UV light, significantly reducing cooling costs and making it a more comfortable and dynamic space to be in.

Top 7 Digital Practice Trends

What direction is the industry moving that you need to pay more attention to? What will drastically change the way you design and deliver projects in the coming decade? While at Autodesk University, I attended the usual Keynotes, classes and ad-hoc sessions. I began spotting patterns in the innovative way people are working today, and based on glimpses that Autodesk and the vendors in the exhibit hall allowed peeks into our future, I’d like to share some observations.

Not all of these concepts are available or fully implementable today, and others are definitely ready for immediate use. I’d like to explore each of these in detail in future posts. Here’s what I’m keeping an eye on for the future of the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry.

Computational BIM

Adaptive Stadium in Dynamo (Credit: Case and Autodesk)

BIM and Computational Design will rapidly converge together to become a single process. The fact that these separate silos exist is really only because of the tools of choice typically used by project teams. Design Computation is becoming necessary to realize/rationalize complexity in our designs, regardless of the project team’s formal aspirations. You don’t need doubly-curved surfaces to utilize computational design concepts. Since data and parametric behaviors are shared concepts in both approaches, it only makes sense that the dead end hand-off between the silos and tools dissolve.

BIM and Computational Design have traditionally been different tools, and required different mindsets. By these two mortal enemies coming together, everybody wins. The transition from design to documentation begins to blur and allow decisions to be delayed, enabling deeper design exploration, increased accuracy, & reduced costs.

Grasshopper, while inspiring the paradigm of visual programming employed by Dynamo, is at a disadvantage. Revit is a parametric design tool that understands what building components are, and Rhino certainly does not. While some find this troubling, even stifling creativity, I think Revit with Dynamo is the horse to bet on in the long run, and it’s the only tool in the BIM ecosystem that will span concept design, analysis, visualization, documentation and fabrication. Rich ecosystems and faster regeneration performance will come, and then the holdouts will come over to the dark side.

Open Source

github

Github, one of the free code repositories for many open source AEC projects like Dynamo.

With projects like Dynamo and IFC translator trending toward Open-Source with direct support from a company like Autodesk, this will be an interesting space to watch. Since anyone who wishes to (and possesses the skills) can contribute code, you can mold the future to meet your own needs. Dynamo especially is receiving a great deal of attention in the industry as a way of extending the functionality of parametric design tools like Revit and (more recently) Inventor.

Reality BIM

The evolution of reality capture, from the early black and white low-density point clouds, to something that looks more like a photograph and contains data.

Scan to BIM, Photogrammetry, LiDAR, augmented reality… These are terms you should begin to hear a lot more about in the future. This technology is now so refined that you may not ever have to create record models showing an ‘As-Built’ or ‘As Constructed’ condition again. Instead, you can show ‘As Exists’ at this very moment using reality capture and incorporating with BIM tools. By democratizing reality capture, using a tool as simple as an iPhone or collecting data from multiple sources in Autodesk ReCap Photo, you will have the ability to see this information right in the context of Revit. The digital world can consume reality in ways that a tape measure and sketch pad never could. To find out more, watch the New Reality presentation by Tatjana Dzambazova.

Access to Resources

Otoy ORBX technology running Autodesk 3ds Max 2014 in the cloud, accessible through a web browser.

Otoy ORBX technology running Autodesk 3ds Max 2014 in the cloud, accessible through a web browser.

Increased access to robust digital design tools and infinite computing resources will continue to grow, and be at a lower overall cost. The impact of lowered barriers to accessing technology will be beneficial to both large and small firms. I wrote an earlier piece on the Death of the PC, which received a great deal of discussion on LinkedIn and Twitter. There exist strong feelings both for and against this coming change, which I feel is inevitable and a positive thing for designers and collaboration. Fear of change can certainly hinder adoption, whether legal, cultural or embedded workflows push back against it. The technology preview launched in November has had great adoption, and has implications beyond the use of Autodesk design tools. It could also affect the future of gaming.

Design to Fabrication

Autodesk CAM 360, the FIRST professional CAM solution available on the Cloud.

With more access to CAM tools, designers are becoming fabricators. Rapid Prototyping is becoming commoditized through technologies like desktop CNC machines and 3D printers. While simultaneously, physical mock-ups, often expensive to produce are now easier to create digitally, easier to experience and understand with virtual reality gear like Oculus Rift, or prototype with the many Autodesk cloud hosted tools like 123D Make and the newly announced for Beta testing: CAM 360.

Reality Computing

Technology preview of Showcase 360, soon to be on Autodesk Labs

Technology preview of Showcase 360, soon to be on Autodesk Labs

Real-time collaboration and communication will replace asynchronous, inefficient processes. Concurrent Design, Analysis and Visualization will be a reality in the not too distant future. This is especially true if the soon to be released technology preview of Autodesk Showcase 360 looks as good as it does in this teaser video. Could you imagine being freed from the constraints of design and rendering being two silos of activity, often two specialized applications and two sets of hands?

Showcase, the desktop application, is currently an interactive presentation tool, and it’s doubtful the cloud version will be much different at first. Could you imagine how much more productive you would be if the design tools became as fast and interactive at showing physically accurate lighting, textures and reflections? Pixel-based shaders that use the massive power trapped in a GPU already exist inside Revit as part of the ‘Ray Trace’ visual style. It’s just a matter of time before live rendering is possible in working views, constantly updating as you design. Expect simulation and analysis to follow soon after, perhaps as quickly as the next 2-3 years. This will be a holy grail of advanced computing resources and truly allow enhanced communication with our clients as we share our design ideas.

Embedded Workflow

The Revit 2014 Daylighting Analysis (RDA) plug-in, provides feedback in 1/60 the time it used to take in Ecotect.

This last one is a favorite, and came from a discussion with Enric from Cloud9 after his presentation. Design Computation and Sustainable Design as terms will fade as they become deeply embedded in our work. Analysis as a feedback loop to inform design and real-time dashboards will be expected on all projects.

One example of sustainable design feedback in the design environment is the Revit Daylighting Analysis plug-in technology preview available now. This will help you document and visually check for LEED IEQc8.1 2009 compliance.

Another excellent candidate for embedded workflow, proper Interoperability will enable teams to collaborate more effectively and glide between tools effortlessly to enable posing specific hypotheses to test against the project. Moving geometry between tools is trivial. Moving data between tools is key. With the latest IFC (version 4) pending, this looks to be closer to reality than previously thought possible.

When these three key concepts (Design Computation, Sustainable Design and Interoperability) become commoditized, the terms lose their power. Then, maybe we won’t need specialized symposiums or conferences on these topics, they will just be the table stakes of our core design practice. Then, I can retire happy.

A Knight travails under the idea that he/she is striving for a world where they are no longer needed.

Thanks to Shawn Foster of Black and Veatch for that closing thought during my final session of the conference – Design Technologists and Their Impact On The Organization. I hope this article was impactful on your work. Let me know what you think in the comments.

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Nature by Numbers

9-20-2013 9-38-40 AM I decided to get into the Dynamo Package Manager, recently added in v0.6, released just last week. I uploaded my first custom node! It’s probably the simplest custom node ever, however it makes short work of making many things possible. I was inspired by the idea of creating a sunflower pattern on a dome, which is currently a work in progress…

Note: The image is of the latest  daily development builds, found here. There’s a subtle yet useful addition to the zoom in/out icons.

9-20-2013 1-40-50 PMCalled out in this enlarged image: you’ll see a new rectangular icon. It will allow you to toggle between zoom fit and zoom 100%. If you have one or more nodes selected, it will fit them in the canvas window. Happy scripting.

Want to be inspired to create something with math? Watch below (the video that inspired the title of this post), or hop on over and watch the whole Vihart Doodling in Math Class series on YouTube. You will be inspired. Nature by Numbers.

Vasari and Dynamo updates

I may need to start using Siri to dictate my blog posts if I plan to keep up this intensity of writing. Need to save my poor tired digits for more important things, like Form making.

First, Dynamo: This new version 0.5.0 supports both Revit 2013 and 2014 as well as Vasari Beta 2 or 3.

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Above: Dynamic Relaxation sample file in Dynamo

Continue reading

Because, he can!

What is impossible? Go ahead and name something. Now prove it. Ah, It is much easier to prove something is possible. I am simply tired of the haters out there saying Revit can’t do “X”, or Revit isn’t a design tool, etc… Just because you can’t, don’t prove nothin’. (Double negatives are tasty when the teacher’s not listening). Heck, even I can’t create this crazy form called a Möbius Band (sometimes called a Möbius Strip), but he can. I am only showing the construction points as teaser.

Behold:
20120329-224646.jpg

Revit awaits you on a journey of limitless possibilities through mathematical formulas. With the notebook beginning to unfold, even us mere mortals can start building complex geometry with code. I owe Nathan another beer!

Source: Revit API: Parametric Forms – THE PROVING GROUND