AECbytes Product Review (June 18, 2012)
A couple of months ago, we looked at the highlights of Autodesk’s 2013 product launch and AEC portfolio, which underscored the increasing importance of its cloud-based services, improved integration between applications, more iPad apps, and increased focus on analysis and simulation. On the Revit front, the biggest change was the availability of an integrated version of the application, with BIM applications for architecture, structure, and MEP all rolled into one. The applications are also still available as separate products, if desired, such as the standalone copy of Revit Architecture 2013 I used for this review. Let’s take a detailed look and see what progress the application has made since its last release, Revit Architecture 2012.
Most of the enhancements in the new release of Revit Architecture apply to the entire Revit platform, which means that they are available in all the three disciplinary BIM applications: Revit Architecture, Revit Structure, and Revit MEP. Some of the key enhancements are on the visualization front. The options for Background now include Sky or Image settings, available in different view types and visual styles. Thus, instead of exporting a Revit image out to an illustration application such as Photoshop, you can bring in an image file as a background and specify how it should be scaled. Figure 1 shows an image file of a sky applied as a background in a perspective view of a Revit model displayed in a Realistic visual style.
Another useful visualization enhancement is that entourage elements appear photorealistic in the Realistic visual style, and artificial lights cast lights, reflections, and shadows as if they are placed in the model. This makes it easier to create more compelling design presentations right within the Revit platform. Additional visualization enhancements include a new visual style, Ray Trace, which is a photorealistic rendering mode that allows you to interact with the camera in real time, and the ability to customize ghost surface and transparency overrides for each building element separately..
An important part of visualizing the model are the materials applied to it, which have also been improved in Revit Architecture 2013. You can now add actual thermal and physical properties to materials in addition to an extended range of additional attributes that will affect the appearance of the model (see Figures 2 and 3). The ability to add real-world properties is crucial for the model to be used for downstream applications such as structural analysis and energy analysis. In particular, the thermal value associated with building elements can be exported to gbXML for energy analysis. Also, the user interface of the Materials Browser continues to be consistent across several Autodesk products, including Revit, AutoCAD, and Inventor.
Figure 1. Specifying an image file showing a sky as the background for a Revit view.
Figure 2. Adding thermal properties to the “Masonry – Concrete Block” material. .
Figure 3. The addition of values to Resistance and Thermal Mass of an assembly after adding thermal properties to its "Masonry – Concrete Block" material as shown in Figure 2. The left image shows the values as 0 before the change.
Some improvements have also been made to Revit’s interoperability with other non-Autodesk applications. Support has been added for Bentley’s V8 MicroStation file format, with a new user interface that provides mapping functionality for levels, lines, line weights, patterns, text, and fonts. Export to the DWF and DWG formats has also been improved, enabling a more configurable workflow and deliverables. In addition, Revit 2013 features improvements for IFC support, which is important for its ability to work with a broad range of other AEC applications from different vendors. The number of surface models exported when saving to IFC has been significantly reduced, resulting in better performance. Also, more elements are supported, such as assemblies, parts, and curtain walls on massing elements; and the exported IFC file size has been reduced for many use cases. Revit is now certified for IFC version 2x3, complying with global industry standards, including GSA standards. In addition, you can now change the IFC export to support regional requirements, better supporting design workflows in other countries.
Recall that the previous version of Revit had introduced support for construction modeling, which allowed constructability to be added to design models, making it easier for contractors to re-use the models created by architects rather than starting from scratch to create their own models. These construction modeling capabilities could be used by contractors, or even architects, to break up a building component into multiple parts based on how it would be actually constructed, or else, combine multiple components into a larger assembly. Revit 2013 has improved both these construction modeling capabilities—to create parts as well as assemblies. New functionality for parts includes the ability to merge parts and to add or remove parts from the merged part (see Figure 4). Parts can now be excluded from the project so that they are not visible and will not be included in schedules or material take-offs, but can be restored when needed. You can also specify a divider offset for part divisions and apply customizable family profiles to a division. Objects can be split and manipulated with linked models, enabling more accurate modeling with multi-disciplinary design models.
Figure 4. The new ability to merge parts for construction modeling in Revit 2013.
For assemblies, six new view options have been added for creating detail section views around the outside of the assembly instance. Assembly views can now be placed on regular project sheets, and project views placed on assembly sheets, making it easier to create shop drawings (see Figure 5). Assemblies now have an origin, which allows the assembly type to be changed for an assembly instance, and also provides a local coordinate system for determining how the assembly geometry is displayed in views on a sheet.
Figure 5. Creating shop drawings with construction assemblies in Revit 2013.
There all several additional enhancements to the Revit 2013 platform, all of which are also available in Revit Architecture 2013, including a new architecture for the Revit Server that allows storage of central models on multiple host servers to which users can connect through locally-installed accelerators allowing a distributed Revit Server network to be created for improved performance; the ability to install Revit Server side-by-side with previous versions and with Autodesk Vault; better AEC workflow collaboration with Autodesk Vault; the introduction of the Revit Exchange App Store that allows easy access to Revit add-ins and content; easier access also for Autodesk Subscription customers to the cloud services of Autodesk 360, including rendering and energy analysis; and various dimensioning enhancements including the ability of dimension instances in equality strings to display segment values, equality text, or a new equality formula string (see Figure 6), a new tool for dimensioning diameters, and the ability of an individual segment in a multi-segment dimension chain to be deleted.
Figure 6. Using a custom Equality Formula to display the equality of multiple adjacent segments making up a larger dimension.
There are also several minor enhancements including the ability to list multiple templates in the File Locations tab of the Options dialog and specify the file locations; a new Search option in the Project Browser dialog; the ability to create custom view types for plan views, 3D views, legends, and schedules, in addition to elevations, sections, and drafting views; the ability to assign a view template to specific views, subsequent to which any changes to that template will affect the views to which it is assigned; the ability to apply divisions onto paths and form edges with nodes in the Conceptual Design environment which can host components and component arrays, facilitating the placement of many instances of the same element in a finite series; improvement of the editing request workflow through dynamic interactive notifications, allowing users to immediately grant or deny permissions and see highlights of the corresponding requested elements in the drawing area; and the ability to double-click the mouse wheel to zoom all the visible project contents to fit within the modeling graphics window.
Of the enhancements specific to the architectural version of Revit, the most notable ones include expanded Stair and Railing tools. Custom stairs can be created by assembling each one of the stair’s individual components—the run, landing, and support components. You can do this in a stair assembly edit mode where you add common and custom sketched components that can then be assembled in a plan or 3D view (see Figure 7). The stair runs, landings, and support components can be modified independently, if required, thus providing more flexibility for modeling stair designs as required. A component-based stair can consist of straight, spiral, U-shaped, L-shaped, or custom sketched runs; landings that are created automatically between runs or by picking two runs, or by creating a custom sketched landing; side and center supports that are created automatically with the runs or by picking a run or landing edge; and railings that are automatically generated during creation or placed later. Annotation and representation of stairs has also been improved based on industry standards.
Figure 7. Creating a custom stair by assembling each of its individual components, including sketching a desired landing shape in plan view.
Railing enhancements in Revit Architecture 2013 enable railings to be created more accurately, including railing transitions, extensions, and supports, and the ability to change the railing profile to control the appearance of handrail and top rail elements. You can now edit the rail path, add extensions to the beginning or end of the rail, specify the transition style as simple or gooseneck, add a termination, such as a flange or rosette, to the beginning or end of the rail, define rail support layout options, and override rail joins to be either miter or fillet (see Figure 8).
Figure 8. Editing the join of a railing to be a fillet and specifying the fillet radius.
Revit Architecture 2013 now offers selection sets, a feature that was previously available only in Revit Structure. Using this feature, you can create a selection and isolate, hide, or apply graphic settings for the elements in the selection. You can also load the selection later to select the elements again, if required.
And finally, it should be noted that in the new version of Revit Architecture, the Home tab is now labeled "Architecture."
The 2013 version of Revit Architecture packs a number of useful enhancements that continue to improve the usability of the application. Most notable are the visibility enhancements, the ability to specify real-world properties for materials applied to building components in the model, the improvements to both parts and assemblies for construction modeling, and the many enhancements that make custom stairs and railings much easier to model. However, unlike the new version of ArchiCAD, which was briefly described in the article on the recent AIA show and will be reviewed in detail later this week, there are no overarching themes or grand visions in this release; in fact, the last version which had some dramatic changes was the 2010 Revit release. It is possible that the application has reached a point where its users do not want any major changes, and while this may be very understandable, it is not very exciting for the overall state of the art of BIM technology.
From a broader perspective, BIM is not just about creating more detailed and accurate models; it can bring about a lot more intelligence into the design process, where it is not necessary to painstakingly model every single detail of the building, but where the application needs only high-level ideas and can then rely on inference to model most of the building details by itself. Admittedly, no BIM application currently offers this capability, but it would be good if Autodesk could use its leading position in the industry to start working on incorporating some of these more advanced capabilities into Revit. The last thing we would want as an industry is for BIM to stagnate as CAD did for so long and hold us back from designing, constructing, and operating our buildings more intelligently and efficiently.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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