Revit Architecture 2012: Part 2
The AEC-specific version of Vault integrates with popular Autodesk applications including Revit, Navisworks, AutoCAD, and Civil 3D, as well as Buzzsaw, Autodesk's online project management and collaboration solution, allowing users and firms to better manage the large volume of data that is generated on projects. The integration with Revit, for instance, allows Vault to manage all the linked models in a Revit project, providing functionality such as version control and project history. It can be used to manage Revit family files in addition to project files. If a Vault account has been set up, files can be checked in and out of Vault directly from Revit.
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With the introduction of Revit Server and Vault, there are now three options for collaboration and project management in Revit. The first is file-based worksharing, which has been the only option available until September 2010 and is still the most compelling option for small firms. The Revit Server option, where the central server sits in one location and local servers sit in other firm locations, will be attractive to medium and large firms. And finally, large firms can get additional benefits from the Vault offering, which can work with the Revit Server so that the files between them stay synchronized.
Visualization and Rendering Improvements
There are several visualization enhancements in Revit Architecture 2012 which can improve its on-screen display capabilities as well as the rendered images that can be created with the application.
There is a new semi-transparent option for selection, which can be set in the Graphics tab of the Options dialog. It is a neat feature, as it helps to see the complete object that is being selected and also helps you to look through it at other parts of the model. There are some new settings for the display of the entire model, which can be set in the Graphics Display Options dialog: the Realistic mode now includes the ability to show edges; the Consistent Colors mode includes the option to display shadows; and the Ghost Surfaces option, which displays all surfaces with a 30% transparency, is available for all the display styles. It is now possible to print displays that are set to the Ambient Occlusion mode.
The other visualization enhancements in Revit Architecture 2012 are related to materials. Recall that the Materials Library available in Revit is the same one that has been implemented across all the Autodesk applications, enabling better compatibility between, say, Revit Architecture and 3ds Max. While the materials themselves cannot be changed, it is possible to customize materials by applying different "property sets" to them, which can also be shared across different rendering applications. A separate tab in the Materials dialog is available to manage these Appearance Property Sets, allowing you to modify a property set, load a property set from a library, or delete all unused property sets and materials from a project.
The Paint tool has also been enhanced. It now works in perspective view as well, which it did not do before. You can open the Materials Library and select a material from it to apply to a surface with the Paint tool; previously, you could only see the list of materials rather than the actual Materials Library, which made it difficult to choose materials unless you knew their exact name. There is now no need to select an edge first to use the Paint tool — you can apply it directly to a surface. It should be noted that there is a difference between applying the Paint tool to a surface and the underlying material of the element, which is part of the element type selected when it is created. The Paint tool simply applies a "coat" of another material on to a surface — it appears in the schedule as "paint" and is thus differentiated from the materials comprising building elements. There is also a new Remove Paint tool to remove a paint that is no longer needed.
There are several additional enhancements in Revit Architecture 2012 in various aspects of the application, some of which have been made directly in response to customer requests.
These include several enhancements to the Dimension tool that enable the appearance of leaders and text to be customized. For example, when dimensions are pulled off of a dimension line, the line leaders can be placed inline or above the text; they can also be displayed with a shoulder by specifying a shoulder length parameter. You can override the default EQ label for equal dimension segments and specify a custom global alternative as well as override an individual dimension segment value, which was previously not possible. These enhancements also better support the documentation needs of users around the world, as they may have different local standards they need to follow.
Another enhancement that came from user requests is support for 3dconnexion's devices for 2D and 3D view navigation, enabling them to be used along with a traditional mouse simultaneously without interrupting the workflow.
The DWG export options from Revit have been significantly expanded. The Export dialog has eight different tabs, and it now supports different layer standards. You no longer have to go with the Revit defaults but can customize how the DWG file is exported. There are new options for mapping Revit categories and subcategories to layers in DWG files, providing more control over layer naming. In addition, you can also map Revit lines, patterns, and fonts to their DWG equivalents.
While Revit does not yet support full multiprocessing like ArchiCAD, it is implementing multiprocessing on a case-by-case basis, and every new release has additional operations that use multithreading. In the 2012 release, loading elements into memory is now multithreaded, thereby helping to reduce view open times when elements are displayed for the first time in the session. Multithreading is also enabled for computation in perspective 3D views to make them faster, and for parallel silhouette computation that calculates in parallel the exterior outline of multiple objects seen from a particular viewpoint. Additional performance enhancements include more granular regenerations to avoid updating elements unaffected by editing changes, which helps reduce time significantly, and the ability to purge unused categories and object styles.
Some enhancements made to the user interface include the ability to lock a 3D view, which is helpful when you would like to annotate and tag elements in the view and retain it for better communication of design intent. When a view is locked, the View Cube is deactivated and the Orbit tool cannot be used. But you can still zoom in and out of the view. Many such locked views can be created, if required.
The Type Selector has been improved to make access easier, enabling it to be used to change the type of an element even in Sketch mode, and being able to add it to the Modify ribbon.
The Keyboard Shortcuts dialog has been enhanced to provide a faster and easier way to assign shortcuts to tools, including single key entry, warning on duplicate shortcut creation, and the ability to export all commands rather than just those to which shortcuts have been assigned.
You can now open a file in the view that was last saved by simply specifying this option for the Starting View setting in the Options dialog.
The Rotate tool has been revamped so that you can now redefine the rotate point rather than navigating the view to find the default rotate point.
For working with large files, Revit has improved the tagging capability across linked files that was introduced in the 2011 version. You can now tag many more elements including rooms, spaces, areas, keynotes, beams, and beam systems.
And finally, the Help system has been completely overhauled in the new release with the introduction of the online Autodesk Wiki Help site, which contains help topics, videos, and tips. The Help button in the application directly takes you to this site by default if you are connected to the Internet; if you are not, it opens up a local Help file, ensuring that you still have access to product documentation. The advantage of the online Wiki Help is that it is not static but dynamic and can be constantly updated. Being a wiki, it is open to contributions by users, which can lead to a richer learning resource, provided Autodesk monitors it carefully to make sure that the content posted by users is accurate and really adds value.
Analysis and Conclusions
Revit Architecture 2012 features a solid set of enhancements that will continue to strengthen its leading position as an architectural BIM application in the AEC industry. Unlike in some of Revit's past releases, the improvements this time are not focused on one or two main themes. (In contrast, Graphisoft has continued its thematic update approach with the recent release of ArchiCAD 15.) Instead, the improvements in Revit Architecture 2012 have been made across several aspects of the application, ensuring that most users will find at least something that will improve their efficiency and productivity.
Autodesk does not score very high on originality here — Bentley has had the point cloud support for some years now, and its ProjectWise application that provides capabilities similar to Autodesk's new Vault offering also has been around for many years. Even the worksharing display enhancements in Revit that allow you to see which elements belong to what workset are similar to those ArchiCAD had implemented all the way back in its 2009 release. But from the Revit user's perspective, it is great to finally have these capabilities in their application of choice — it probably does not matter that another BIM application had them first.
I do hope, though, that Autodesk can at least lead in the area of laser scanning for BIM, by developing automatic feature recognition of point clouds and eventually automatic conversion of the data captured by laser scanning devices into BIM models. This would be a huge time-saver for all those working on renovation and retrofit projects, which are, by Autodesk's own admission, becoming increasingly common in the AEC industry. The ability to import point clouds into Revit and use them as a reference for modeling is a good start, but let's hope it leads to bigger and better things from the Revit development team.
One major development in Revit 2012 in which Autodesk has shown itself to be a true leader is construction modeling. The ability to break up a construction element into parts in different ways, as well as being able to bring together multiple parts in one assembly, seems to be a capability that would be very helpful to contractors, enabling them to reuse the Revit models created by the architects rather than starting over to create construction models. I was impressed by how well this capability had been implemented in Revit and how easy it was to use. It remains to be seen how contractors take to it and whether they start using it to create virtual mockups and fabrication models.
Revit continues to have the problem of large file sizes, with the concomitant performance issues, and Autodesk seems to be relying more on computing developments such as 64-bit processors, multicore processing, virtual computing, WAN acceleration, and so on to address it rather than undertaking any fundamental retooling of the application. I haven't heard many users complain of this issue lately, so perhaps it seems that firms have just become reconciled to it and are finding different ways of dealing with it.
Revit's conceptual modeling environment, while being extremely powerful, still lacks the intuitiveness of other popular conceptual design tools, and it could do with some improvements on this front. Also, while I found the new Wiki Help quite useful, it did take me a while to get the information I needed, and I missed having a set of good, solid manuals to refer to for help. I also missed not having a set of training files, which used to be installed by default; I wasn't even able to find a set online to install with the new release and had to rely on the sample files from earlier releases to test out different aspects of the application for this review. The concept of a wiki Help as a resource is a good one, but Autodesk should not be expecting users to contribute to the wiki and thereby absolve itself of the responsibility of providing comprehensive documentation for its different applications.
In conclusion, Revit Architecture 2012 is a solid release featuring many substantial enhancements across several different aspects of the application, thereby giving its vast set of users at least something each of them will appreciate. The application continues to improve at a steady pace every year instead of featuring any dramatic overhauls, which, given Revit's leading position in the industry, seems to be exactly what it needs.
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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 2012" by Lachmi Khemlani, copyright © 2011, with permission of the publisher, AECbytes.
With Revit's longstanding rendered perspective view mode, an object's material properties can be quickly previewed and changed.
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Now, in Revit Architecture 2012, the Paint tool functions in perspective view mode, which allows users to change an element's material properties and immediately see the rendered result.
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Normal object selection works as it has in previous versions, by highlighting any selected objects.
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Revit 2012 allows users to manage the appearance of materials through the use of saved property sets.
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Dimensioning tools in Revit Architecture 2012 now support the customization of some properties, including leaders and text.
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Another enhancement in Revit Architecture 2012 is support for "locked" 3D views, which then allows for annotation tools to be used as an overlay to the view.
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The DWG Export command in Revit 2012 offers more extensive customization than previous versions. The eight-tab customization interface is accessible by clicking a small ellipsis ("...") button in the first window that appears after the DWG Export command is selected.
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The Keyboard Shortcuts customization interface has also been improved for Revit Architecture 2012. Accessible via the View tab, from the User Interface dropdown menu, the interface supports a keystroke definition for nearly any command or tool, and can elegantly manage the use of the same key combination to invoke multiple commands.
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