Category Archives: Opinion

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!

Shall we play a game?

How can we learn to be better at using resources? Can we all be a little more consistent at turning out the lights when leaving a room, (our family was obsessive about this) — or barring the presence of an all seeing eye of the Google Nest Thermostat in your home — remember to turn down the heat before bedtime? Use less gas, without driving less?

Gamification

I’ll admit to having a little bit of a lead foot and I’m working on it. Games can help solve complex problems. In 2011, a group of gamers solved some difficult AIDS protein problems. Can gamified experiences in life go too far? Sure. Everything in moderation.

The gamification of learning is becoming popular to help shape behavior through positive reinforcement. This is probably much faster (and less frustrating) than having someone telling you how to drive properly. A good instructor, like my Great Uncle Emile, will go that extra mile and use story-telling and metaphor to help you ‘get it’ quickly with little frustration. Image a room temperature raw egg between your foot and each pedal. I’ll never forget that lesson. Most people do not have the knack for teaching that he has.

Since I started taking an occasional Car2Go for some trips to the office, I noticed I could actually enjoy seeing how well I could do on what they call their Eco Score. The little reward is seeing the images develop (only looking at the screen when the car is stopped in Seattle’s famously snarly traffic).

When you get a perfect 100 in all three Car2Go Eco Score categories, there’s a little reward. For the holidays it was Santa riding in his sleigh. Now, it’s a very unseasonably warm looking scene with a rainbow. Although, if memory serves, flowers should start popping out of the ground here in about three weeks.

Anyway… Here’s my high score for the new year. I hope to keep this up, and use the learned behavior in my own car. I can always fall back on the memory of the potential for scrambled egg shoes, in a pinch. Hopefully this tip will help put a little money back in your pockets. Gas prices are rising again. Oh, and don’t forget to check and maintain proper tire pressure… That helps save gas too.

See you in traffic.

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multitaskingdemotivator

Words to bid farewell

We’re all guilty of it: using jargon to wave our hands over complex ideas. I won’t even discuss the way architects make up their own words. Others have already done a fine job of pointing that out with clever wit. Yes, architects, engineers, general contractors and especially software executives, please pay careful attention.

We use jargon in everyday speech and presentations at the office. Often these verbal crutches mask their true meaning to soften the blow, and have long ago lost their impact (I’m looking at you “Value Engineering”). Other examples can be so obscure, that sometimes it’s required to step off the soap box to explain.

Heck, even my blog’s name ‘Paradigm shift‘ may be considered out-dated. Bear in mind I did start writing this blog in early 2006; so it’s grandfathered in.

Here’s a list of phrases, words and general business jargon we could do without ever hearing ever again:

  • Multitasking (thanks despair.com)
  • Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
  • Table Stakes
  • Thinking Outside the Box
  • Value Engineering
  • Blue Sky Opportunity
  • Boil the Ocean
  • Take Offline
  • Utilize, utilization, usage and other variants… Just say ‘use’
  • Empower
  • CAD, drafting, or (my personal favorite) CAD it Up!
  • Peel the Onion
  • Working in Silos
  • BIM Model – thanks James for that important public service announcement
  • “We’ve sent your request to the development team for consideration in future versions of the product” – ’cause we all know that generally means: “don’t count on it”

For the residential architects and designers out there:

  • Bonus Room
  • Great Room
  • Foyer, unless it’s the classic ‘All Foyer House
  • Man Cave — drink, Betsy

Last but not least: one of the most offensive, and winner of Forbes 2012 viewer bracket “Drinking the Kool-Aid”. Because nothing motivates a team to be loyal and work hard more than reminding them of an over 900 person mass suicide / massacre in 1978. Go ahead, and read for yourself before you ever utter that phrase again at the office. If you do, be accurate at least and call it Flavor Aid.

I’m looking forward to a more thoughtful and thought-provoking 2014. Did I miss anything? Please add your thoughts to the comments or reply on Twitter using the hashtag: #JargonBeGone

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.

Revit on Windows 8

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Dear diary,

These are the rambling words of a weary traveller, about to embark on the frozen waste that is Windows 8. Normally excited to try new things, I have reached a point in my career where the marketing hype around a product has little excitement any longer. I must admit, I volunteered to put myself through this, so hopefully you won’t have to. Buckle your seat belt.

I admit, I was very afraid after watching Chris Perillo’s dad struggle with the new experience (above). This did not bode well, and made me feel like I am too old for new things. But I soldiered on.

Day 1

With a shiny-new laptop, loaded with powerful specs, I admired it sitting there as an inanimate object for a short while. I think I apologized to it, for making it take this journey with me. I dove in with some hesitation. Expecting to find an interesting and new experience, I quickly discovered that it’s not for me, and those who don’t use keyboard shortcuts will forever be perplexed on how to find the desktop, err second desktop. Enough about the OS itself… this is about running Revit on it, in it, around it… or something. So here goes:

I installed Revit 2013 on my shiny Windows 8 computer and although not a touch-enabled screen, I knew there would be little to gain from it with Revit without a UI redesign. I am playing the role of tester for this configuration. Initial experiences were good. The RFO Benchmark utility works just fine, and the machine I tested had admirable results. Note to self, run in Safe Mode for really good results, and you’ll see how much baggage the OS carries.

Day 2

Revit opened fine that first time. Now that I’m actually using it and actually tried to make and edit things that I realized why Revit is not yet on the Autodesk Windows 8 compatibility list. Below is what I’ve found you might experience, and why I strongly recommend against upgrading to Windows 8 until or unless these issues are addressed in a product upgrade. Otherwise, we will have to wait for a future release that may be designed for Windows 8. No timeline for that has been made public at this writing.

I’ve categorized and captured my comments in the following format. Impact – Description

Ribbon

  • Low – Panels cannot be pulled off the ribbon to make floating in the workspace.
  • Critical – Contextual ribbon does not display any panels or tools. Try clicking family, and there is no load family or model in-place tool. Try selecting a family, and there is no edit tool. Select a wall and there is no edit profile, attach, etc… The non-functioning Draw panel shows up instead!
  • Medium – Similar to above, enabling Raytrace means you have no way of stopping the process or exporting the image. You have to close the active view and re-open it to return to the previous visual style.

Vasari

  • Critical – Beta 1 does not run at all. This is known and easily discovered on the discussion forum, however what you don’t know, you don’t know.

Day 15

API

  • {Varies} – The Python for Revit tools don’t function at all. More accurately, Revit hooks don’t work. Standard Python commands work – my usual test is:
      import this

    I wonder if some libraries are simply not found in the new OS. Given I’m only beginning to learn Python, I can only rely on my experience trying (unsuccessfully) to run the samples provided by the highly admirable Nathan Miller.

After tinkering a bit, I realized that the contextual ribbons will return if you cycle through the display of the tabs. This sometimes take more attempts to make it happen, and I’ve found that each time I edit something I need to repeat the process. Oddly, this does not seem to occur in the family editor.

Day 18
Add-ins

  • Medium to Critical – Most of the Add-ins written for Revit 2013 rely on the dotNET framework 3.5 or earlier. Windows 8 comes with 4.0 however, you have to jump through serious hoops, and in some cases you would need to work with your IT department to set up exceptions to group policies that are in place and get your hands on a Windows 8 disk or ISO (something that OEMs do not provide with new computers any longer). All in all, if you require any Revit add-ins, including the free ones available from the Autodesk subscription, good luck to you. You may be in for a bumpy ride, aka a very long Microsoft whitepaper on the subject..

Day 20

So, I’m ready to face reality. Time for a downgrade or at least create a Windows 7 virtual machine to continue to do my work in Revit. For that matter, maybe I don’t need a PC at all… if only I could do all my work from an iPad, that would feel way more civilized. At least the UX would be predictable, and simple to understand. I did after all, find more gray hairs on my head this morning.

Your results may vary
Others, Like Robin Capper have had good results with the upgrade.

Still, my favorite ranty (perhaps even NSFW) review of Windows 8 is…this: Windows 8: The Animated Evaluation – YouTube

BTW, Chris Perillo’s dad did indicate which OS he preferred recently…
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Happy trails.

(this post was written entirely on an iPad)

Not all tools are created equal (Opinion)

“Before we use any power tools, let’s take a moment to talk about shop safety. Be sure to read, understand, and follow all the safety rules that come with your power tools. Knowing how to use your power tools properly will greatly reduce the risk of personal injury. And remember this: there is no more important safety rule than to wear these — safety glasses. And also hearing protection when necessary.” – Norm Abram, The New Yankee Workshop

Don’t get me wrong, when working on a woodworking project, I love a good quality hand tool – but nothing beats a wood shop full of precision power tools. CAD is like hand drafting, minus the soul of that craft. BIM takes things to a whole new level. Having been through both of these transitions, I can honestly say that the process is not smooth, or painless. Sometimes, you lose a thumb.

In the case of the wood shop – the same product can be manufactured with each. Hand tools are amazing if you have clients who can afford your work, you are Amish, or you don’t mind only making a few things in your lifetime. With power tools, like those used by Norm, that hobby becomes possible to make a living.

Steve Stafford, hitting the nail squarely on the head, again with his post titled “Due Diligence“. Why would those who rally against BIM want to make this an ‘us’, versus technology battle? Revit is a tool, and a BIM process that supports the end goal of helping to make making buildings better. Why anyone thinks they can continue to live in the 2D drafting past and continue to get work as fees and schedules shrink is beyond imaginable, it’s irresponsible. Read more on Steve’s blog. I really like the analogy he presents.

Most of the naysayers I’ve encountered feel so strongly because they either don’t comprehend the shift in process and team organization BIM enables, or they went through an attempted implementation without a solid plan. Don’t believe the anti-hype. It’s human nature to be afraid of change. Change happened in 2008, and if members of the AEC profession that managed to survive that catastrophe still think business as usual is good enough, they won’t be around to make noise for long. By sure to sweep up the sawdust before you close up shop.

Read Steve’s take here: Revit OpEd: Due Diligence.