Revit Architecture 2011 in Depth: Part 2
Sheets have also been improved in
Revit Architecture 2011, 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. This is especially helpful when setting up large projects.
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.
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.
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.
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. The tool 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 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.
On the rendering front, the 2011 release finally allows background images to be added to rendered views, overcoming a longstanding 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.
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 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.
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. This offers more flexibility in visualizing specific parts of the model in different views.
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 multiprocessing on computers for multiple cores for rendering, as mentioned earlier, multiprocessing is also used to speed up operations such as opening files, which I now find 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 (application programming interface), 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.
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.
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 multiprocessing, 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.
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.
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Lachmi Khemlani is the founder and editor of AECbytes, an online publication focused on researching, analyzing, and reviewing technology products and services for the building industry. She has a Ph.D. in architecture from the University of California, Berkeley, specializing in intelligent building modeling; a professional B.Arch. (honors) degree from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur, India; and an M.Phil. in architecture from the University of Cambridge. Khemlani has worked on design projects as a practicing architect, authored books on CAD and modeling, and taught CAD and 3D modeling at UC Berkeley. She currently consults and writes on AEC technology.
This article is excerpted from "Revit Architecture 2011" by Lachmi Khemlani, copyright © 2010, with permission of the publisher, AECbytes.