AECbytes Product Review (September 5, 2013)
This review takes an indepth look at the new version of Revit, the key product in the 2014 Autodesk Building Design Suite which was released a few months ago, in the annual release of Autodesk's product portfolio. The article on Autodesk’s 2014 AEC products published at that time provided an overview of the key updates to existing products like Revit and Navisworks as well as new products such as AutoCAD Raster Design for vectorizing scanned drawings, and Autodesk Recap for working with point clouds. Let’s look at Revit 2014 in more detail to see what additional BIM capabilities it can provide to AEC professionals across all the three design disciplines it targets: architecture, structure, and MEP.
My introduction to Revit 2014 was unfortunately, not so favorable. Instead of the DVD or USB key that I usually receive for the software installation every year, this year I was sent the link to download the software. While I commend Autodesk’s efforts to “go green” and do away with any kind of hardware for installation (which eventually becomes obsolete and has to be disposed of), the electronic download came with its own set of problems. To start with, it took several hours on a Wireless network, and my initial installation failed because my computer was still running Windows XP, which is no longer supported by Revit. So I had to upgrade to Windows 7, which was inconvenient, but which I would have to do at some point, so no complaints there. (I do hope, however, that the next version of Revit does not require an upgrade to Windows 8, of which my current impression is not very favorable!) My second attempt at installing Revit 2014 (about a 7.5 GB download) did not work because of an error. I finally had to download the entire 2014 Building Design Suite (about a 60 GB download) on a computer with a wired connection to the Internet and then copy that download to my computer (which again took time because of its size) to finally get Revit 2014 to install on my computer.
Secondly, I found Revit 2014 noticeably slower on my computer, which was a top-line computer when I bought it a couple of years ago (Intel quad-core, 2.33 GHz, 8 MB RAM, 64-bit OS). It has worked very well so far for all the other applications I use and review, including BIM applications, and it’s only after running Revit 2014 that I am forced to consider whether it might be time to upgrade my computer. (It should be noted that this perceived slowness was based on my personal experience alone and I did not conduct any formal tests on the speed of Revit 2014. It also contradicts internal Autodesk tests which compared Revit 2014 to Revit 2013 and found the 2014 version faster in many key areas and at par in nearly all others.)
And finally, it seems as though this version of Revit 2014 has many more enhancements for structure and MEP rather than for architecture. While this is great news for structure and MEP professionals, it also indicates that Autodesk may be reaching the end of its capacity in coming up with innovations in Revit for architects. This would be a pity because there is still so much potential in Revit for making BIM much easier and less painstaking—and not just for architects, but for all AEC professionals. The current avatar of Revit now works for architects in pretty much the same way as it did when it was introduced 12 years ago. While Autodesk deserves kudos for recognizing the promise of Revit when it acquired it and developing it into a multi-disciplinary BIM application, the Revit development seems to have slowed down in recent years and focused more on nitty-gritty details than on any fundamental new capabilities. For instance, what does it take to have the design-scripting capabilities of Autodesk’s new Dynamo application integrated within Revit so forms can be created with scripts? Taking this one step further, imagine creating an entire building model automatically just by specifying the number of levels, number of rooms, and possibly, building shape and orientation.
Now that the usefulness of building models has been established and everyone can agree that BIM is superior to CAD in representing and construction buildings, we need to re-think BIM and ask if there are better ways of modeling a building than to create each building element individually. I hope this is something that all the developers of BIM applications start to focus on now that BIM has been firmly established in the AEC industry. We need to continue to have radical innovations rather than everyday run-of-the-mill enhancements, which is unfortunately what Revit 2014 seems to be all about. Of course, for most AEC professionals working on BIM on a day-to-day basis, these enhancements will certainly make their work a little easier. However, for the long-term progress of the industry, it is important for these everyday improvements to be balanced with a broader, far-reaching vision as well.
For now, let’s explore the enhancements in Revit 2014 and see how it can make the everyday work of Revit users easier, whether they are architects, structural engineers, or MEP engineers.
One of the most impressive new features in Revit 2014 is displaced views, which allows you to temporarily displace building elements from their original position to better illustrate their relationships with other elements and to the building as a whole. As shown in Figure 1, this is done using the new Displace tool in the Modify toolbar, which is activated when an element or a group of elements is selected. You can then displace the selected elements in the X, Y, or Z direction, and can specify an exact distance for the displacement, if required, in the Properties palette. Elements in the displacement set can, in turn, be displaced from their parent elements in a recursive fashion. You can also choose to display the paths of the displacement and select their color, lineweight, and linetype. By default, these path lines are straight, but you can choose them to be jogged, as shown in Figure 1. Displaced views can be created in 3D view, including perspective views. The elements can be reset to their original (undisplaced) position using the accompany Reset tool.
Figure 1. Using the new Displace feature to show exploded views of a model. The path lines of the displacement have been set to Straight for the first displacement and to Jogged for the second element which has been further displaced from the original set.
Other key improvements for architectural users of Revit 2014 are the integration of the material browsing as well as editing capabilities in a single dialog instead of in two separate dialogs (see Figure 2), and improved stair and railing functionality that makes it easier to model, edit, and document stair and railing designs, with new tools for editing rail patterns and customizing stair winder patterns (see Figure 3). There are also some useful documentation enhancements including the ability to create non-rectangular crop regions, improved management of split-line elevations, and display of alternate dimension units along with the primary units.
Figure 2. The new Material Browser in Revit 2014, which combines both browsing and editing of materials in a single dialog.
Figure 3. The ability to model, edit, and document stairs and railings more easily in Revit 2014.
Revit 2014 also has noticeable improvements to its ability to work with point clouds, courtesy of Autodesk’s acquisition of the Netherlands-based Alice Labs, a point cloud innovator, about two years ago. While this acquisition resulted in the creation of a dedicated tool, Autodesk ReCap, for working with the point cloud data captured by laser scans (see the article on Autodesk’s 2014 AEC products), for those who don’t need its full-fledged reality capture tools, the improvements in Revit’s own point cloud capabilities will be welcome. These include a new point cloud engine that can be used to index raw format point clouds to the RCP/RCS formats and link them into a project (RCS is a scan file, while RCP is a project file comprising multiple scan files), and new visibility and graphics override options that allow you to control the color and appearance of a point cloud as desired.
While the enhancements that have been described in this section can be used by AEC professionals across all disciplines, they are most likely to be used by architects. Let’s now look at enhancements that are specific to structural and MEP engineering.
Revit 2014 includes several improvements related to the structural analytical model that are critical to structural engineers, such as better visibility and greater control over the analytical model. Filters can be created based on the Connection Status parameter of elements. Analytical nodes whose status is listed as “unconnected” can be displayed in a different color than “connected” nodes. Analytical walls can be adjusted in relation to nodes of analytical floors and analytical foundation slabs. There is also the ability to schedule analytical and physical element properties together in a single schedule.
For the structural physical model, it is now possible to reverse or unify the order in which elements, such as structural floors and beams, join with each other. There are also an expanded number of options when modeling and documenting concrete reinforcement. Rebar can now be rounded with specific rounding parameters; the overall length of rebar shapes can be calculated using formulas; rebar can be assigned to disregard hooks when specifying shapes (which is very important for the European market); tangent hook length parameters for a rebar type can be defined; and you can now apply overrides to the default host constraint behavior on a selected rebar element. Also, there is a new multi-rebar annotation capability for linear rebar sets, allowing them to be annotated with a single tag, as shown in Figure 4.
Figure 4. The multi-rebar annotation capability for linear rebar sets.
There are also several improvements in the area of structural framing that provide greater control over the location of beam and brace geometry in relation to the location line and the position of beam ends (see Figure 5). The location line is now visible when you select a beam or brace, and you can justify the geometry of a beam element in relation to its location line. It can be offset from its location line; you can increase or decrease its length from the end of the location line of a non-joined beam or brace end by using built-in parameters; or you can increase or decrease its distance from the face of a joined element by using new parameters. All of these options enable structural engineers to precisely define element geometry and position for beams and braces.
Figure 5. Improved positioning of beams and braces in Revit 2014.
Similarly, MEP engineers can also use Revit 2014 to further improve the accuracy and detail of their models through several new features, including the ability to model duct systems to reflect real-world installations; restrict the available angles when adding or modifying pipe, duct, conduit, and cable tray with controls to model according to industry standards; automatically add endcaps to open segments of pipes and ducts when using automatic routing solutions; and place unhosted air terminals such as grilles and diffusers directly on a duct (see Figure 6). A plumbing systems template is now available when creating a new project to speed up the design—it includes systems for drainage (rain water) and waste water (soil, waste, and vent). The “lookup tables” that are used when working with Revit MEP components to define parameter values in an external CSV file can now be embedded into the component families, which allow them to be managed more easily.
Figure 6. Placing an air terminal directly on a duct.
Also new is the ability to divide a duct or pipe system consisting of multiple systems into individual systems, making them easier and faster to work with. In the example shown in Figure 7, two physical MEP networks are detected by the Divide Systems tool, and they then divided into separate systems.
Figure 7. The new Divide Systems tool in Revit 2014, which can detect multiple physical networks in one system and divide them into multiple systems to make them easier to work with.
An additional new feature, which also demonstrates the usefulness of the Revit API, allows MEP engineers to use calculation methods for straight segments of duct and pipe created by third party developers, which are installed as add-ins, instead of the default calculation methods within Revit. For ducts, you can specify a method for calculating pressure loss, while for pipes, you can specify methods for calculating both pressure loss and flow, as shown in Figure 8.
Figure 8. The new ability to use third-party calculations for ducts and pipe, installed as add-ons in Revit 2014 through the API.
There are several enhancements to the underlying Revit 2014 platform, which would be helpful to all the different disciplinary professionals using the application. Independent windows, such as the Project Browser, Properties palette, and others can now be grouped into a tabbed interface so that they occupy the same space on the screen. Selection has been enhanced with new options that allow you to determine whether you can select link elements, underlay elements, pinned elements, and elements by face in a model. There is also an option that enables to you to drag elements on selection, so you can move an element without selecting it first. A new user interface option allows you to configure the double-click behavior when editing families, sketch-based elements, views and schedules on sheets, assemblies, groups, and component stairs. Several improvements have been made to schedules, including enhanced schedule formatting with the ability to display graphics and present a more spreadsheet-like user experience (see Figure 9). The type of categories that can be scheduled has been expanded to include families such as generic models, entourage, levels, grids, reinforcements, and other building elements, as well as phase properties such as creation and demolition.
Figure 9. Improved schedule formatting in Revit 2014.
One improvement that is especially noteworthy is the ability to temporarily apply a different view template to an existing view to check some aspect of it without affecting the saved view settings of that view. When a temporary view is applied, the graphics window is shown bordered by a thick blue line and no modeling changes can be made to it, as shown in Figure 10. This feature is activated by a new Temporary View Properties tool on the View Control Bar, which then allows you to select a different view template to temporarily apply to the current view. To exit the temporary view mode and return to the normal project view, an accompanying Restore View Properties tool is provided. This handy feature enables users to quickly check different aspects of the model without actually having to change its view settings.
Figure 10. The new ability to apply temporary views in Revit 2014. The original model view is shown in the top image, while the lower image shows the temporary view applied to it to check the underlying structure.
As mentioned in my earlier article on Autodesk’s 2014 product launch, there were three main areas the Revit development team focused on in the 2014 release: enabling the design model to be taken more easily into construction and fabrication, unlocking the BIM data and making it easier to access the information in the Revit model, and enhancing user productivity and efficiency. The first objective has been addressed by enabling the design to incorporate an increasing higher level of detail, as evidenced by the improvements in the structural and MEP capabilities of the application. The second objective involves making the data model richer and opening up the Revit API further to make downstream consumption of the data easier. The 2014 version has a great example of the potential of the API that was illustrated in Figure 8, where MEP engineers could use calculation methods by third party developers, developed using the API, instead of the default calculation methods within Revit. While there are other examples of the use of the API for aspects such as conceptual modeling, visualization, views, worksharing, etc., most of these have been developed in-house by Autodesk. We need to see many more examples of third-party development using the Revit API to be truly convinced of its efficacy. (Most of the Revit-related products that are exhibited at the annual Autodesk University conferences such as Trelligence, Ideate BIMlink and Explorer, CodeBook, etc., are independent products rather than add-ons like the MEP calculation demonstrated in Revit 2014.)
The third objective of the Revit development team— enhancing user productivity and efficiency—is the one most in evidence in this release, with many improvements such as the ability to create displaced views, the improved user interface for materials, better schedule formatting, the ability to apply temporary views to a display, improved selection capabilities, and many documentation enhancements. All of these should make the everyday work of Revit users faster and easier, and are important to the continued development of the application.
One aspect, however, which seems to have worsened in Revit rather than improved, is the documentation. There are relatively few online videos, and for the few that exist, they are not integrated with the new description features and are therefore not very illuminating. There is no separate Help documentation for Revit; there is only the online Wiki-style support documentation (introduced in Revit 2012) termed WikiHelp, which I did not find very helpful as it had too few illustrations and way too much text. Also, it was extremely slow, and very often the pages did not load at all. I don’t think Autodesk’s reliance on only a Wiki-style Help for Revit is a good idea. Also, the overview of features listed for Revit on Autodesk’s website does not have much useful information, with mostly screenshots of the listed features. It’s ironic that Autodesk, given its leading position in the industry, has not devoted sufficient resources to developing Help documentation that is at least decent, if not stellar.
In conclusion, Revit 2014 has some useful enhancements, but which are mostly incremental improvements to the product rather than anything earth-shattering or revolutionary. And there is no progress on the file size problem that has dogged Revit so far—it is still as humungous as ever. I hope Autodesk can get back to the drawing board and engineer some visionary new capabilities in Revit, leading the AEC industry to a better way of doing BIM.
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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