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AECbytes Product Review (Aug 26, 2010)

Revit Architecture 2011

Product Summary

Revit Architecture 2011 is the latest release of Autodesk’s BIM application for architectural design that includes capabilities for conceptual modeling, detailed design, documentation, and visualization, and integrates directly with other Revit-based disciplinary applications.

Pros: New release includes a wide variety of useful enhancements across all areas of the application; concerted attempt to fix the interface issues faced by users in the last release and make the UI more modern; new tools and options for conceptual design add to its power and sophistication; several productivity enhancements for design, documentation, and content creation using the Family Editor; removal of four-core limit on rendering allows it to be speeded up on powerful computers; new display options available for working views; Interactive Sunpath tool enables easier analysis of lighting conditions; new ability to add background images to renderings; improvements in linked files and workset visibility control; expanded API functionality.

Cons: Files sizes in Revit are still very large and therefore problematic; no support for multi-processing across all areas of the application; no substantial improvements for large projects and distributed, collaborative workflows; conceptual modeling environment lacks the intuitiveness of other popular conceptual design tools; Help documentation has degraded in quality compared to earlier releases.

Price: Revit Architecture 2011 stand-alone is $5,495; AutoCAD Revit Architecture 2011 Suite is $5,995 (includes Revit Architecture, AutoCAD Architecture, and AutoCAD)

A few months ago, we looked at the highlights of Autodesk’s 2011 product portfolio launch webcast, which summarized the main enhancements in the 2011 versions of AutoCAD, Inventor, Revit, and 3ds Max (see AECbytes Newsletter #44). Subsequently, we took a more detailed look at Autodesk’s 2011 AEC solutions that were presented at the Autodesk AEC Technology Day, including enhancements to the Revit platform as well as each of the individual Revit disciplinary applications, Revit Architecture, Revit Structure, and Revit MEP, along with enhancements to AutoCAD Architecture, AutoCAD MEP, Navisworks, Buzzsaw, AutoCAD Civil 3D, and AutoCAD Map 3D. Let’s take a more detailed look at Revit Architecture 2011 and explore how much progress it has made since the 2010 release of the application that was reviewed in AECbytes last year.

Updates to the User Interface

The 2010 release of Revit will primarily be remembered for the dramatic change to the user interface of the application which was vociferously criticized by many long-term Revit users in several Revit forums and blogs. While I personally liked the new ribbon interface and defended Autodesk’s decision to implement it (see my review of Revit Architecture 2010 and the subsequent discussion related to it on the AECbytes blog), it was clear that too many users had issues with it for Autodesk to ignore. In the 2011 release of Revit, Autodesk has attempted to respond to users’ criticisms with a number of enhancements to the interface. All the tools are now represented by full-size icons and their locations are more consistent, making them easier to find and reducing the amount of switching between the ribbon tabs users need to do to carry out a task. The Home tab has been expanded to also include the Opening tools, which were earlier located under the Modify tab. Each tab on the ribbon now has the Modify tool located first, making it easier to find as it is the same position on every tab. Figure 1 shows the new 2011 Revit Architecture interface in comparison to the 2010 interface.

The Modify tab itself has been substantially overhauled by including all the modification tools at exactly the same positions, whether an element is selected or not. When an element is selected, the contextual modification commands related to that element simply get appended to the end of the Modify tab, as shown in Figure 2. This has the advantage of making the Modify tab more constant and reducing ribbon update time as well as flicker.


Figure 1. The updated interface of Revit Architecture 2011 (top image) in comparison to the 2010 interface (lower image).


Figure 2. The updated Modify tab in Revit Architecture 2011, showing how the tool locations stay constant and how contextual tools (displayed when an element is selected) get appended to the end of the tab.

Another major interface change in Revit 2011 is the introduction of a modeless Properties palette that allows element information to be quickly viewed without needing to select a command to open up the Properties dialog. As shown in the 2011 interface that was illustrated in Figure 1, it is docked by default on the left above the Project Browser, but can be repositioned anywhere else or docked on the right of the interface. When no element is selected in the model, the Properties Palette displays the properties of the current view, thereby replacing the View Properties dialog found in previous versions of Revit. When one of the element creation commands is active, the Properties Palette shows the Type Selector and other relevant properties previously available by selecting the Instance Properties command; when an existing element is selected, the Properties Palette lists all the information previously available by opening the Element Properties dialog. The advantage of having a modeless dialog is that the properties are always visible and can be conveniently edited if required, without having to open up a separate dialog using a command. The changes made in the Properties palette can be applied to the model by simply moving the cursor back into the modeling window, making it a faster alternative to clicking on the Apply button in the palette.

Other interface enhancements include an expanded set of tools in the Quick Access Toolbar (QAT) and the ability to customize it by changing the order of the tools, adding separators, and removing tools from it, as shown in Figure 3-a. Similar to the QAT implementation in Microsoft Office, the default tools that appear in Revit’s QAT can be quickly turned off or on using the QAT menu. However, unlike Microsoft Office, there is no interface in Revit to add more tools to the QAT from a list of all possible commands (as shown for Microsoft Word in Figure 3-b); the only way to do so is to by right-clicking on a tool on the ribbon and selecting the “Add to Quick Access Toolbar” option. This means that some commands such as those appearing in the main Revit file menu such as Export, Print, Publish, Close, and so on cannot be added to the QAT, if required. (As a user, I like to put the Close command in the QAT so that it is possible to quickly close a file without quitting the application, which is what the X button on the top right corner of a window typically does.)


Figure 3. (a) The customization dialog of the Quick Access Toolbar in Revit Architecture 2011. (b) Revit is still missing an interface like this one from Microsoft Word where new commands can be added to the QAT from a list.

In addition to speeding up tasks by adding commands to the QAT, Revit users now have an expanded set of options for creating, managing, and sharing keyboard shortcuts that can further improve their speed and efficiency. It is now possible to assign one or more keyboard shortcuts to every command in Revit. However, most other design applications already provide this capability, so Revit is really playing catch-up on this front.

Other interface enhancements that users should find helpful are the ability to repeat the last command or select a command from a list of recently used commands, both of which are available from the right-click menu. Another new option on the same menu is the ability to restrict the selection of elements similar to the one currently selected to elements only visible in the current view as opposed to the entire project.

The final set of interface enhancements is much less ambiguous and of definite value—it allows worksets as well as design options, if any, to be accessed and switched directly from the Status bar at the base of the modeling window (see Figure 4). Not only does this help to improve efficiency and workflow, it also allows users to see which is the active workset and design option at all times.


Figure 4. The new options to access and switch Workset and Design Options in the status bar.

Clearly, Autodesk has put in considerable effort to fix the performance and usability issues that its power users had with the last Revit interface, and has made some additional interface improvements that should improve ease of use and efficiency for both existing as well as new users. It is possible that the current interface has further room for improvement, and if so, Revit users will be sure to point this out. But it does seem that the tone and the volume of the criticism about the interface have come down. AECbytes readers who are Revit users are encouraged to post their feedback on the interface changes in the 2011 release on the blog posting of this review.

Enhancements to Conceptual Design Capabilities

In addition to the new user interface, another aspect of Revit Architecture that was substantially overhauled in the 2010 release was the conceptual design environment, enabling it to be used to accurately create complex forms, with the ability to tie geometry to reference lines and planes, and add constraints and parameters. The 2011 release continues to further improve Revit’s conceptual modeling capabilities, with a host of new features. A new Edit Profile tool has been introduced, which allows you to select any of the profiles or paths that were used to generate a 3D form and modify it in a Sketch mode, allowing the form to be easily reshaped as desired (see Figures 5-a, 5-b, and 5-c). There is also a new Dissolve Form tool, which removes all the surfaces of a form, leaving only its defining curves behind (see Figure 5-d). These can now be edited or deleted, with new curves created if necessary, and used to create a new form.


Figure 5. The new Edit Profile and Dissolve Form tools for enhanced conceptual modeling in Revit Architecture 2011.

One of the conceptual modeling limitations in the last release of Revit Architecture was that if a form had to be subtracted from another form, it had be created as a void rather than a solid. This limitation has been removed in the new release, so that you can now use solids to cut other solids, making it easier to create complex shapes that involve carving out of forms from each other. Hopefully, at some point, Revit will introduce a Push/Pull capability similar to SketchUp and bonzai3D which will allow forms to be added to and subtracted from other forms even more effortlessly.

Another significant enhancement in Revit Architecture 2011 is the ability to open up a temporary view called the Workplane Viewer to make it easier to draw and edit elements on any selected work plane. This view is not saved in the Project Browser and can be frequently used as a modeling aid to view a complex form orthogonally from different angles and work on it more accurately, as shown in Figure 6-a. The capability to divide and pattern complex surfaces that had been introduced in the last release has been further improved by allowing surfaces to also be divided using levels, reference planes, or 2D lines, allowing for even more complex configurations such as that shown in Figure 6-b. Revit Architecture 2011 also introduces “adaptive” components, which have flexible rather than fixed configurations and can be used to fit into different host situations. They are created using reference points that are adaptive rather than fixed. For example, the curtain wall panel shown in Figure 6-c was created as an adaptive component with three flexible reference points, allowing it to simply be drawn to fit in each of the triangular spots on the edge of a complex curtain wall surface, even though the spots are all slightly different from each other.


Figure 6. Additional conceptual design enhancements in Revit Architecture 2011. (a) The new temporary Workplane Viewer. (b) Further subdivision of a complex surface using lines. (c) Use of an adaptive component.

Design, Documentation, and Family Editor Enhancements

Revit Architecture 2011 includes several enhancements for improving design productivity on everyday tasks. Users now have the ability to specify the text size of the temporary dimensions—also commonly referred to as “heads-up dimension display”—as well as choose whether their background should be displayed as transparent (the default option) or opaque. Also, if the witness lines of the temporary dimensions are relocated, the application remembers their new locations for the rest of the working session, making it easier for users to model accurately in reference to specific objects or points. Another useful modeling enhancement is the ability to use the Align tool independent of the active workplane and even across non-coincident surfaces. Figure 7 shows an example of the Align tool being used to align patterns across two vertical surfaces in a 3D view. Several features formerly available only in Revit Structure software are now available in Revit Architecture as well, such as the ability to create curved beams, slanted columns, beam copings, trusses, metal deck profiles, and some other structural elements. Also, export of AutoCAD DWG drawings is now accomplished through the same methods Revit uses for display and printing, leading to greater visual fidelity between the exported DWG file and the generating Revit view.


Figure 7. Using the Align tool to align patterns on non-planar vertical surfaces in a 3D view.

There are also several improvements in the documentation tools, most of which have been engineered directly in response to user requests. Custom elevation tags can now be created based on office standards— they can have any shape and any number of arrows pointing in non-orthogonal directions relative to the tag body. Several improvements have been made to the text tools including the ability to adjust the location of the leader relative to the text block, control text offsets from the border, format text with bullets and numbering, and the ability to use the Find & Replace Text tool, which is very helpful for large text blocks such as notes. Sheets have also been improved with the ability to turn on guide grids in sheet views, making it easier to place and align views across multiple sheets, if required. Multiple grid options can be created and used for different types of sheets. Another useful enhancement is the ability to include sheets in the sheet list (formerly called “drawing list”) that are not actually in the project. This allows the sheet list to include, for example, consultant drawings, without needing to actually create empty sheets in the project as placeholders for these drawings, as was required earlier. On the other hand, if sheets are required to be created, it is also now possible to select a number of these placeholder rows on the sheet list and batch-create the corresponding sheets in one step, as shown in Figure 8. This is especially helpful when setting up large projects.


Figure 8. Creating a batch of new sheets from the information entered in placeholder rows in a sheet list.

Several aspects of the Family Editor environment for creating custom parametric content have also been improved in the 2011 release to make it easier and more efficient to use. It is now possible to flex family parameter values interactively by directly manipulating geometry instead of opening up dialog boxes and changing the values in them. You can simply drag the geometry, and the labeled parameters update automatically. This allows faster testing of multiple parameter values. A new Related Dimensions option allows all the parameters related to a selected parameter to be visually displayed, which is helpful for complex families or families created by someone else. Another powerful new feature is the ability to create a new type of instance parameter called “reporting parameter” which is used to expose and report geometric values of elements rather than drive geometry like a regular parameter. Figure 9 shows an example of how a reporting parameter has been used to check the surface area of each panel of a complex curtain system for structural viability and highlight those panels that are over a specified area, using conditional formatting in the area schedule. Both Edge1 and Edge2 of the original panel family were specified as reporting parameters, enabling this kind of checking to be done.


Figure 9. An example of how the new “reporting parameter” when creating families can be used.

Visualization and Rendering Improvements

The 2011 Revit release has added two new display options for working views in addition to the earlier Wireframe, Hidden Line, Shaded, and Shaded with Edges modes: Consistent Colors and Realistic. Consistent Colors is similar to Shaded with Edges, except that it uses even lighting and thus avoids dark areas in the model that can be produced by unintended lighting conditions. The Realistic option produces shaded views that include live, rendered textures, allowing it to be used to get a quick preview of textures without actually going through the process of rendering the model. Both these new display modes are illustrated in Figure 10. In addition to the new modes, a new “Ambient Occlusion” option is available for all shaded views for a softer rendered look, along with a slider to control the amount of indirect lighting in a view. Both of these settings offer a more granular control over the visual quality of a view, which is important when using it for modeling as well as for generating presentation graphics.


Figure 10. The two new display styles for working views introduced in Revit Architecture 2011.

Another nice visualization feature that can also be helpful for energy and lighting analysis is the new Interactive Sunpath tool, which allows the sun path to be simulated to study the impact of the sun on the project based on its geographic location. It can be set to show a visual representation of the sun path during the course of a single day as well as for multiple days in a year at a specific time, enabling the lighting conditions in the building and its shadows to be evaluated at different times of the day and year. It comes with on-screen controls that allow the sun position to be graphically manipulated (see Figure 11) instead of having to access a dialog box to adjust its settings, as was the case earlier. The solar studies can be saved as animation files, if required. While we haven’t seen any direct integration between Revit and Ecotect yet, the Interactive Sunpath feature in Revit is clearly inspired by Ecotect and should make it easier for architects to get a better understanding of daylighting and solar shading on their designs.


Figure 11. The new Interactive Sunpath feature to study solar shading in Revit Architecture.

On the rendering front, the 2011 release finally allows background images to be added to rendered views, overcoming a long-standing limitation of Revit Architecture. There are several scaling and positioning options available for the image so that it can be adjusted for the optimal fit to the scene being rendered. The addition of a background image can greatly help to improve the visual quality of a rendering, as illustrated in Figure 12. Another substantial improvement is the ability to create custom procedural textures based on patterns such as checker, gradient, wood or tiles and use them for renderings. Revit now includes the new Autodesk Material Library, which, as mentioned in the article on Autodesk’s 2011 product portfolio launch, is in the process of being implemented on all Autodesk applications, enabling smoother exchange of material data between them as well as a more consistent user experience. It allows Revit Architecture 2011 to seamlessly export materials, lights, or environments to a specialized rendering application like 3ds Max or 3ds Max Design 2011, if required. And finally, the rendering itself in the 2011 version of Revit can be much faster as it can now use all of the available cores on a multiprocessor computer instead of being restricted to only four cores.


Figure 12. Comparing the same Revit rendering with a white background (top) versus an image background (bottom).

Large Project, Performance, and API Enhancements

The Revit 2011 platform has some enhancements specifically targeted towards large projects being developed collaboratively by a distributed design team. Large projects in Revit are typically divided into multiple project files that are linked together into a master model in order to keep the individual file sizes down. Revit 2011 now allows some operations in a host file such as tagging to be performed on all linked files as well, allowing the linked files to behave as one consolidated whole and enabling centralization of all tags in one file. Additionally, it is possible to apply view filters as well as access and control the worksets of linked files from the host model, making it easier to manage data across the multiple files. Worksets themselves—which are a key organizational mechanism to group related elements in large projects to improve ease of use—have been enhanced with better visibility control. It is now possible to override the global visibility setting of a workset with options in the Visibility/Graphics dialog for every view (see Figure 13). This offers more flexibility in visualizing specific parts of the model in different views.


Figure 13. The new options to override the global visibility setting of a workset for a specific view in its Visibility/Graphics dialog.

The general performance enhancements in Revit 2011 include faster speed for operations such as Pan, Rotate, and Redraw, and faster model performance with linked models. In addition to the use of multi-processing on computers for multiple cores for rendering, as mentioned earlier, multi-processing is also used to speed up operations such as opening files, which I now found noticeably faster on my quad-core computer. In addition to the structural redesign of the ribbon interface to make tool locations more consistent and easier to find, the switching between the panel tabs has also been speeded up to the point where there is no perceptible lag.

The final set of enhancements in the 2011 release relates to the Revit API, which has significantly expanded access to objects in Revit models, making it easier for third-party vendors to develop applications that integrate with Revit. This should add to the already large universe of third-party tools that work with Revit, which are displayed every year at Autodesk University—see, for example, the exhibitors from the 2008 and 2009 events.

Analysis and Conclusions

I was impressed with the large number and wide range of enhancements in Revit Architecture 2011, many of which were developed in response to user requests and feedback. It seems that Autodesk is making a concerted attempt to listen to its users and use their inputs to guide product development. The changes to the interface, in particular, were driven directly by the criticism of the dramatic interface change in the 2010 release of Revit, and while it might take several product cycles for Autodesk to fine-tune the interface so that it is accepted and liked by the majority of Revit users, the 2011 release represents a good start to this effort. In some aspects, such as the improved ability to create and manage keyboard shortcuts, Revit is simply catching up with other design applications, most of which have had this feature for a long time. Even the modeless Properties palette is not an uncommon feature in many graphics and design applications, so while Revit may not get high points for innovativeness when it comes to these interface enhancements, they are an important step in modernizing the application and giving its interface—which was simple and functional up until the 2010 release—a 21st century look and feel.

On the conceptual design front, Revit continues to add more power and sophistication to its capabilities with the new Edit Profile and Dissolve Form tools, the ability to further subdivide complex surfaces using levels, reference planes, or 2D lines, and adaptive components that can be very helpful for creating complex curtain systems, structural framing, and so on. In particular, the new Workplane Viewer capability will make it much easier to better visualize and model complex forms. It would be good to see Revit also work towards improving the ease of use of its conceptual modeling interface. The ability to cut a solid with another solid is a good first step in this direction, but the application is still a long way off from achieving the simplicity and intuitiveness of tools like SketchUp and bonzai3D for conceptual design.

All of the design, documentation, and Family Editor improvements in the 2011 release should help improve productivity, and it is good to see the enhancements evenly spread out across all of these key focus areas of the application. The two new display modes for working views are a welcome addition to the standard display options that Revit has been limited to since its first release; however, they still pale in comparison to the rich and varied display styles provided by a competing application like Bentley Architecture V8i (described in its AECbytes review). The new Sunpath tool is the start of some Ecotect-like capabilities within Revit and hopefully, we will see more of those going forward, as Autodesk has more time to work on how best to integrate or enhance Revit’s BIM functionality with Ecotect’s energy analysis tools. The removal of the four-core multiprocessing limit for rendering in the 2011 release should help to speed it up significantly for those who have invested in newer and increasingly powerful computers. On the API front, the changes seem significant, but they can best be judged by the quantity and quality of third-party tool development for Revit that will follow.

The most disappointing aspects of the 2011 release are the relatively minor enhancements for performance, large projects, and distributed workflows. Revit still does not support multi-processing, except for rendering and some operations such as opening and saving files, wall join cleanup, and a few more, so the application has not been dramatically speeded up. While the improved ability to work with linked files and control visibility of worksets on a per-view basis are helpful for large projects, they do nothing to solve the fundamental problem of large file sizes in Revit. There is no real improvement to better support distributed teams working on large projects, not even in response to the server-based collaboration capability Graphisoft had engineered in ArchiCAD over a year ago (described in the review of ArchiCAD 13). I also found that Revit’s Help documentation—which had seen some improvement over the last few versions—has actually degraded in quality in this release and seems to have a completely new format rather than building up on the previous release. 

Let’s hope that Autodesk can follow up on the interface fixes and the wide range of improvements for all types of users and firms that have been implemented in the 2011 release with a substantial overhaul of its capabilities for large projects and distributed, collaborative workflows in forthcoming releases.

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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