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AECbytes Product Review (July 9, 2009)

Revit Architecture 2010

Product Summary

Revit Architecture 2010 is the new release of Autodesk’s BIM application for architectural design that features a redesigned user interface and a brand new conceptual design environment.

Pros: New ribbon-based interface is sleek, better organized, maximizes screen real estate, and is easier to learn and use; new conceptual design capabilities are powerful, enabling the accurate creation of complex forms; ability to tie geometry to reference lines and planes, and add constraints and parameters to forms, allows quick and easy exploration of multiple design variations; includes ability to divide and pattern complex surfaces, to which building detail can be added that can later be fabricated; API enhancements allow many more complex building forms to be created; enhanced interoperability with Civil 3D and Autodesk Inventor; better gbXML export allows improved interoperability with external energy analysis applications; additional enhancements related to worksharing, visibility and graphics, and documentation.

Cons: Conceptual modeling environment is sophisticated but lacks the fluidity and ease of use of other conceptual design tools such as SketchUp and Bonzai; modeling interface for creating a mass component in a family is more advanced than creating a mass directly within a project, which is confusing; documentation, while improved, is still inadequate for mastering the application; tutorial files are not installed with the application but have to be downloaded separately; the potential for better inferencing and smarts to cut down on modeling steps remains largely unexploited.

Price: Suggested retail price for the standalone (non network) version is $4995.

This year’s annual release of Revit Architecture marks the first time in the history of the application that its interface has been dramatically changed from the time it was first released in April 2000. Revit Architecture 2010 now sports the ribbon interface popularized by Microsoft in its 2007 release of Microsoft Office. While this interface was, and still is, unpopular with many users of Microsoft Office that I know, I personally adjusted to it very quickly and found many of the interface enhancements extremely useful. Autodesk started the process of implementing the ribbon interface in some of its applications such as AutoCAD and AutoCAD Architecture last year (see the review of AutoCAD Architecture 2009), and it is Revit’s turn this year. No doubt, many existing users of Revit are going to have trouble with the new interface, at least initially, as it is usually difficult to adjust to a new way of using an application after many years of learning and getting comfortable with its interface. Let’s explore the new interface of Revit Architecture 2010 to find out if it has made the application easier to learn and more efficient to use, as well as other key new features such as improved conceptual modeling and performance and interoperability enhancements.  

To compare notes with previous releases, see the reviews of Revit Architecture 2009, Revit Architecture 2008, Revit Building 9, and Revit Building 8. Those studying the evolution of Revit can even go as far back as Revit 7 and Revit 6 from the days when Revit was still a single application rather than a platform of multi-disciplinary products.

Revamped User Interface

The new ribbon in Revit Architecture 2010 running across the top of the application window, as shown in Figure 1, combines the functionality of three separate interface components of earlier versions—the menu, toolbar, and Design Bar. This has the advantage of more screen real estate for the drawing window and quicker access to tools and commands, once you learn where they are located. The ribbon itself is organized into task-based tabs and panels that align with typical workflows. So, for example, the Home tab includes many of the tools needed to create the building model; the Insert tab has tools to add and manage secondary items such as raster images and CAD files; the Manage tab provides access to project and system parameters, design options, phases, materials, and other settings; and so on. The tab names are self-explanatory for the most part. When third-party tools are installed, a new Add-Ins tab is displayed on the ribbon through which these tools can be accessed.


Figure 1. The new ribbon-based interface in Revit Architecture 2010.

The panels containing the tools can be re-arranged as desired in the ribbon. It is also possible to collapse the ribbon when a larger drawing area is required. This is done using the triangular button located to the right of the ribbon tabs, as shown in Figure 2-a. This button toggles the ribbon between three states: full visibility (as shown in Figure 1), showing tab and panel labels, and showing tab labels only. Another aspect of the ribbon is that some of the buttons drop down to indicate more options (see Figure 2-b). Also, some of the panels expand to display additional tools and controls, and these are indicated by drop-down arrows at the bottom of the panel (see Figure 2-c).


Figure 2. Different aspects of Revit’s new ribbon-based interface. (a) Toggling the ribbon through different states of visibility. (b) Drop-down buttons. (c) Drop-down panels.

When you use certain tools or select elements, a contextual ribbon tab is displayed that contains a set of tools specific only to the context of that tool or element. For example, when you click the Wall tool, the Place Wall contextual tab opens on the ribbon, containing the wall drawing tools, Element Properties and the Type Selector, and the Modify tool for selecting an existing wall in the model (see Figure 3-a). Selecting a wall opens up the Modify Wall contextual tab containing the extensive set of wall modification tools (see Figure 3-b). The Options Bar, located just below the ribbon and above the drawing area, continues to provide additional options and settings for the current tool or selected element. A contextual ribbon tab automatically closes when you exit the tool or deselect the element.


Figure 3. Examples of contextual ribbon tabs for creating a new component and modifying an existing component.

Other components of Revit’s new interface that are based on the Microsoft’s 2007 Office interface design are the Application menu in the upper left hand corner, which provides access to commands for creating, opening, saving, exporting, publishing, and printing files, as well as licensing; and the Quick Access toolbar right next to it, which can be customized by the user to hold their most frequently used tools. On the right hand side of the top bar are the InfoCenter tools including Search, Communication Center, Subscription Center, Favorites, as well as all Help functionality. Another useful interface enhancement is the addition of Tooltips that provide the description of a tool when you move your cursor over it. If you continue to hover the cursor over the tool, the brief description of the Tooltip expands to provide more detailed information about how to use it along with illustrations (see Figure 4). The Navigation Bar, which provides tools for navigating views of the building model including zoom functions, SteeringWheels, and the ViewCube, is now neatly docked on the side of the drawing window, as shown in Figure 1, allowing quick access to its functionality.


Figure 4. An example of an expanded Tooltip that opens up when the cursor hovers over a tool longer.

Overall, I found the new interface of Revit Architecture a definite improvement over the older one. It is more attractive, better organized, and makes much more efficient use of the screen real estate. Also, it brings Revit in line with all the Autodesk applications that have already switched to the ribbon-based interface, as well as with commonly used applications such as Microsoft Office, providing for a more standardized and familiar user experience that can help to reduce the learning curve of the application.   

New Conceptual Design Capabilities

One of the limitations that all BIM applications have had in common so far is poor conceptual design capabilities, forcing users to continue using applications such as SketchUp and form.Z for the preliminary massing stage. Revit’s own massing module was functional but far from intuitive, and except for Revit Architecture 2009 when a new Swept Blend massing tool was introduced to enable the creation of more complex forms, the massing module had remained untouched for several releases.
 
Fortunately, that has changed in Revit Architecture 2010, where a concerted effort was made to overhaul the conceptual design capabilities of the application. A new modeling environment has been introduced for conceptual design. You can use it to create an in-place mass directly in the project or create a conceptual massing family for commonly used forms that can be loaded into projects. The application ships with some mass families for primitives such as box, cone, cylinder, dome, gable, etc. Figure 5-a shows some of the massing families opened up in the Family Editor. The top two families are custom-created, while the lower two families came with the application. You can use the “Load into Project” button in the ribbon to load the active family into an open project. Similar to other family components, massing components in a project can be edited based on the parameters that were defined when they were created. This is illustrated in Figure 5-b, which shows the family displayed in the top right location in Figure 5-a placed in a project and edited by reducing its “Twist” parameter from the default of 23 down to 5, resulting in a shape variation dramatically different from the original family component.


Figure 5. (a) Viewing some out-of-the-box as well as custom-created massing families in the Family Editor. (b) Placing a family component in a project and changing one its parameters to modify the shape.

When it comes to the actual creation of forms, I found the new modeling interface of Revit Architecture 2010 very powerful but not as easy and intuitive as SketchUp and form.Z’s new Bonzai application for conceptual design (see an overview of Bonzai in my recent article on the AIA 2009 Convention). While you can create 3D forms from 2D shapes and sculpt them as required in Revit using graphical manipulation tools, the process is a little more roundabout. For example, to subtract a form from another form in Revit, you have to create it as a void rather than a solid and then cut it from a solid form. You can draw shapes directly on the surfaces of forms, but you would still need to use different tools—Solid or Void—depending upon whether you want to add to or subtract that volume from a form (see Figures 6-a and 6-b). This is a far cry from the speed and simplicity of SketchUp’s Push/Pull capability (also available in Bonzai) where you draw shapes on faces and simply push them in to subtract them from a form or pull them out to add a volume to the form, without selecting any additional tools. One advantage to Revit’s approach, though, is that the original subtracted object is still available, as shown in Figure 6-c, so that it can be selected and modified or deleted at any time.


Figure 6. Drawing a shape on the face of a form and converting it to a void to subtract it from the form.

Another aspect of Revit’s new conceptual design environment that I had trouble with, and which could be quite confusing to users, is that the actual modeling interface changes depending upon whether you are creating an in-place mass within the project or creating a mass family. The Family Editor for massing has many more capabilities, and the same form can be created there a lot more easily compared to creating it directly within a project. It even has better viewing capabilities of the reference lines and planes that are critical to form creation. Figure 7 shows a similar form created first in the Family Editor and then directly in a project. It was created by drawing three concentric circles, moving them to different heights, and then applying the Create Form tool to them. In the Family Editor, reference planes are visible and can be quickly copied for locating the circles at different heights. However, in the project file, different levels have to be first created outside of the massing environment and only then can the different circles be moved to the different levels. To create a different level or change a level height, you have to exit the massing environment, which is highly inconvenient. Ideally, there should have been no difference in the two interfaces, whether you are creating a mass in the Family Editor or directly in a project. But currently, you would be forced to create a mass as a family since the Family Editor interface is more advanced, even if you need that mass only in one project rather than across multiple projects.


Figure 7. The same form modeled in the Family Editor (top image) and directly as an in-place mass with the project (lower image).

Once you get used to some of these quirks and limitations in the modeling interface, you can start to appreciate the power and sophistication of Revit’s modeling capabilities. For example, in the form shown in Figure 7, I simply had to activate an option called “Is Reference Line” in the Properties dialog for the three concentric circles after placing them at different heights; subsequently, the form can be quickly modified as shown in Figure 8-a by simply moving the reference planes to different heights. Also, rather than have separate tools for creating different kinds of 3D forms from 2D shapes, there is only one Create Form tool which automatically creates extrusions, revolved shapes, sweeps, and lofted forms by intelligently inferencing the source shapes selected. Figure 8-b shows an example where the Create Form tool created a revolved shape based on the two 2D shapes selected. Once a form is created, you can further graphically manipulate its individual points, edges, and faces to shape it as required, as shown in Figure 8-c, where the revolved shape from Figure 8-b has been modified almost beyond recognition by simply moving some edges. The graphical manipulation maintains all associations and parametric behavior, making it very powerful.


Figure 8. Various additional capabilities of the conceptual modeling environment in Revit Architecture 2010.

With the use of splines, more complex surfaces and forms can be created, as shown in Figure 9-a. Revit Architecture 2010 goes a step further and even provides the capability to divide and pattern complex surfaces, to which building detail can be added that can later be fabricated. Figure 9-b shows a Rhomboid Checkerboard pattern applied to the surface created in Figure 9-a, and Figure 9-c applies an actual building panel to the pattern. The panel comes from the family shown in Figure 9-d.  The Element Properties dialog for the glass pane in the building panel family is also shown in Figure 9-d. These curtain panel families behave like regular building components—they can be counted and their materials can be scheduled. With this new capability, very complex curtain systems can be created in Revit, with non-rectangular as well as non-planar panels. They can have parameters that drive their shape in a way very similar to tools like Generative Components or Rhino.


Figure 9. Creating a complex surface from a series of spline curves, and subsequently dividing and panelizing its surface to create a curtain panel system.

Other strengths of Revit’s conceptual design environment include the ability to add geometrical constraints and parameters to the model, such as in the example demonstrated earlier in Figure 5-b, where a Twist parameter allows many variations of the complex building form to be easily created and explored. And then, of course, there is the Building Maker functionality, described in my review of Revit 7 when it was first introduced. It allows a massing model to be analyzed, with the ability to calculate and schedule floor perimeters, areas and volumes, and exterior surface areas. Once the massing model has been fine-tuned, the Building Maker can also be used to convert it to actual building elements such as floors, walls, curtain walls, and roofs, enabling a head start in the creation of the detailed BIM model. The Building Maker works not just with forms created in Revit but also with geometry imported from other modeling applications.

Performance, Interoperability, and Other Enhancements

All of the Revit 2010 applications, including Architecture, Structure, and MEP, now feature native 64-bit support, which enhances their ability to handle large projects and improves performance and stability for memory-intensive tasks such as rendering, printing, model upgrading, and file importing and exporting. They also include expanded API (application programming interface) support, better interoperability with Civil 3D and Autodesk Inventor, and gbXML (green building XML) improvements that can improve interoperability with external energy analysis applications. In the case of Revit Architecture 2010, the API enhancements are primarily focused on the conceptual modeling environment and the Family Editor. Some examples of conceptual design models created using the new API enhancements are shown in Figure 10.


Figure 10. Conceptual models created in Revit Architecture 2010 using the API enhancements. (Courtesy: Zach Kron, QA Analyst at Autodesk)

For interoperability with civil engineering, the digital design geometry (including the BIM data) created in Revit Architecture can be exported to civil engineers who are designing the building site using AutoCAD Civil 3D or other applications that accept Autodesk Exchange (ADSK) files. Also, Revit Architecture 2010 now has a project base point and a survey point to correctly orient the building geometry in the coordinate system of the civil engineering application when it is exported. Building components created using Autodesk Inventor or other applications that create Autodesk Exchange files can be imported into Revit Architecture. Integration with Autodesk Seek has been enhanced, making it easier to find Revit content and product design information. You can also publish Revit families, products, or design information directly to the Autodesk Seek website, so it can be shared with others who are searching for manufacturer-specific or generic building products online.

On the analysis front, Revit Architecture 2010 allows you to examine an analytical model of the project before exporting the model to a gbXML file. The new Export gbXML dialog helps to ensure that surface types and openings are correctly identified and verify that the entire volume for the building is being exported, which is important for accurate energy analysis. Also, you can now choose between various settings for Export Complexity, including Simple, Complex, Complex with Shading Surfaces, and Complex with Mullions and Shading Surfaces. Two of these are shown in Figure 11.


Figure 11. The new Export gbXML dialog allows the analytical model of the project to be verified before export.

Other improvements in Revit Architecture 2010 include the ability to open a workshared project file as a local file from the Open dialog. A copy of the central file is made and renamed as a local file. Also, for a workshared project, you can now specify which worksets will open by default when the project is next opened. For example, for a project with a small team, you may want all worksets to open by default. For a large team, you may want users to specify the worksets to open each time. There are a number of enhancements related to visibility and graphics, including the ability to define gradient backgrounds for 3D views; the ability to control the line weight and pattern used for underlays and the brightness of halftone elements; use of visibility filters for sections, callouts, and elevations; anti-aliasing for 3D views that allows curved lines to appear smoother; and the option to enable hardware acceleration for graphics display to improve performance. For detailing and annotating, a new type of spot dimension called spot slope, similar to spot elevation, has been introduced that allows displays of the slope at a specific point on a face or an edge of a model element.

Analysis and Conclusions

One of the biggest strengths of Revit compared to other BIM applications has been its relative ease of use, at least for a basic building design—you can get started very quickly and put a project together in a matter of hours. The sleek new interface design, with all the tools and commands nicely organized in a single ribbon, further contributes to this ease of use, in addition to providing more screen real estate for the graphics windows and being more visually pleasing. Autodesk doesn’t get any points for originality here, as the interface design is borrowed from Microsoft, but it does get credit for doing a good job of implementing it in Revit. I had little trouble getting used to the new interface and finding my way around it.

The new conceptual modeling environment, however, is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it lacks the fluidity and ease of use of tools such as SketchUp and the new Bonzai, and I don’t see it replacing the ubiquitous use of SketchUp in architectural design, given the fact that there is a free version of SketchUp readily available. On the other hand, Revit’s conceptual modeling environment is much more powerful and sophisticated. The heads-up dimension display that shows the dimensions as you are modeling and allows them to be edited—which is so helpful in the detailed modeling stage—also allows conceptual masses to be created to the exact level of accuracy desired. The ability to tie geometry to reference lines and planes, and add constraints and parameters makes it easy to iterate through many design variations easily and quickly. The new surface dividing, patterning, and panelizing capabilities makes Revit’s conceptual modeling environment even more compelling. The ultimate, of course, is the Building Maker capability, which allows the massing model to be converted to actual building elements so that you don’t have to start over to create the BIM model.

The other enhancements in Revit Architecture 2010, while not numerous, do help to further advance the state of the art of the application. The API improvements, in particular, will be widely appreciated, and will add to the universe of third party add-on applications which is already growing substantially, as evidenced by the number of third-party vendors that exhibited at Autodesk University 2008.

I was also happy to see that a couple of the limitations that I pointed out in my review of Revit Architecture 2009 have been fixed. You can now use the Rectangle option of the Wall tool in Revit to quickly create a series of rooms and have the application automatically take care of the wall overlaps, as shown in Figure 12—you are no longer forced to use the Polyline option to avoid the error messages related to the wall overlaps. This may seem like a minor feature, but it can be very convenient when modeling. And more than anything else, it points to the application becoming smarter at understanding user intent. Sadly, the smartness does not extend fully to all aspects of the application yet—for example, doors and windows can still overlap with each other, with no error messages warning you about an illegal operation.


Figure 12. The wall overlaps are now taken care of when the Rectangle option of the Wall tool is used.

The documentation in Revit Architecture, which showed some signs of improvement in the last release with better organization of the content and more images to illustrate the concepts, has continued to be improved further in this release. A new chapter called “Architectural Workflows” has been added to the documentation, which provides a high-level introduction to Revit Architecture by mapping typical architectural tasks to software features and functionality. This information would be extremely helpful for new users. A few video tutorials have been added to illustrate the new conceptual modeling capabilities of the application, which is a good start, given the otherwise complete lack of video tutorials. However, it was still a challenge for me to try to figure the nuances and subtleties of the conceptual modeling environment, which indicates that the documentation was not up to the mark. Another minor source of annoyance was that the tutorial files are no longer installed with the application—they have to be downloaded in multiple Zip files from Autodesk’s website and then used. In general, more substantial improvements are needed to the documentation before it can be rated as excellent or even sufficient to master the application.

In conclusion, I would rate Revit Architecture 2010 as a fairly substantial and compelling release, with the interface redesign and the brand new conceptual modeling environment. Let’s hope future releases can address some of other pressing issues with Revit such as file size challenges and better collaboration. It would also be nice to have more integrated space planning tools, and if those could be somehow tied to the conceptual design environment, it would make for a killer combination. I am also still holding out for more inferencing capabilities and smarts that minimize the amount of modeling users actually need to do, but it’s possible that this might have to come from a brand-new BIM application rather than an existing one like Revit.

About the Author

Lachmi Khemlani is founder and editor of AECbytes. She has a Ph.D. in Architecture from UC Berkeley, specializing in intelligent building modeling, and consults and writes on AEC technology. She can be reached at lachmi@aecbytes.com.

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