Category: Revit

Journey into the Energy Code

So part of my list of things to do for 2017 was to tackle a better workflow for documenting energy compliance when our designs go to the city for permit review.

The City of Seattle has a 2012 requirement to ensure buildings meet, and hopefully exceed energy performance. As Architects we work with our consultants and team mates to determine the buildings are adequately insulated, properly ventilated, heated, cooled and well lit. There is a little horse trading with design to get the space we want with the appropriate energy performance. After all, you can’t get a naturally well ventilated, day lit space without windows!

The Architect’s job is to show compliance to the Building Energy Code. They do this either by a component or prescriptive method. The component approach is by calculating all the external building envelope areas and multiply them with the U-Value. At the end of the calculation your building needs to be less than the benchmark set by the City. If this is not the case, you are in full building energy simulation and into the prescriptive approach.


Is it easy to document? The answer is no! Your building is constantly changing through design and the current process of checking compliance is time consuming and works better with a static envelope. Calculations are usually performed at milestones; but wouldn’t it be better if you could get feedback from your model in real time, really informing your design rather than complying?

The documentation in itself is time consuming. As with everything in Revit, there are multiple ways of approaching a task; but what’s the best? There is the laborious process of creating every wall assembly, adding the thermal conductivity and specific heat to all the materials, entering each components thickness to calculate the R and U values. It gets complicated when combining multiple elements into an assembly, such as a glazing and mullions. The advantage with this approach is that when the building changes, so too does the schedule. It does however mean that the team really needs to be integrated and understand what is happening to the assemblies, materials, schedules and model appropriately. A tall order when teams are scrambling to get the work done and members have varying skill sets with the tool. The other approach involves an individual to demarcate areas of building assemblies and assign the appropriate U-value – currently performed in Revit as Region Fills with scheduled material areas.


There are some that feel incumbent to create their own unique approach. This week I heard a colleague export elevations to CAD and reinsert these back into Revit within area plans to trace boundaries for the specific assemblies. I applaud the ingenuity, but to rely on a method that requires manually importing/exporting to another format and exhaustively tracing lines does not help in the workflow. Multiple area boundaries also have a tendency to hinder model performance and in turn, grind the laborious process further.

So what are our options? My current idea is to have a mass, split its face and assign the corresponding wall assemblies as painted materials with U-value parameters built-in. If the mass model could smartly update to the building envelope and somehow read the materials from the facade, projecting them onto the mass to schedule, we would be in business. I am hoping we can crack this nut as it will be a huge time saver to our Seattle teams. I believe this will start with massing, journey into Dynamo and probably end with some Rhino and Grasshopper.

If you have any bright ideas, please share as I would love to hear your thoughts. I will continue to post developments, so come back soon to how this project is progressing.

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Scheduling those damn doors

The bane of any architects job is to schedule those doors. Trust me, I’ve been there. Some poor sap has to deal with it, usually the BIM Lead on a project. Why, coz they are the most organized and care about data management. Looking across my colleagues desks at work, you can tell those fastidious employees from the more ‘creative types’. Those that possess the zen are the ones that you want to target for door schedule duty. This duty should not be scoffed at. There is something really nerdy about it: ensuring you get all your parameters organized and your data contained.

For those working on large complex projects, the nightmare of doors accidentally being deleted can make even the seasoned professional nervous. Precautions are instigated: pinning doors and not allowing for re-selection, using BIMLink to record the parameters and push the data back into the model; have back-ups, even checking out a ‘DO NOT DELETE’ Workset. The list goes on. Wouldn’t it be cool if Revit doors maintained their information, much akin to room information remaining in the project? I digress…

Back to our doors… they were like a clipper with barnacles. We needed some deep clean to make the ship run smoothly again. The years had added parameter on parameter and were confusing – who added what and what did they do? Compounded to this was that some of the fields are hard wired to Revit. The ship would certainly flounder in troubled waters with parameters coded incorrectly to either Instance and Type Parameters, such as Fire Rating and Frame Type. Even our families were a challenge for the novice to edit with multiple panels nested into the door family. This caused even further confusion with having only one thumbnail to preview multiple panel types. So it was time for a change, especially during the cathartic time of the beginning of a New Year.

First we compared the parameters we needed scheduled and aligned them to our Shared Parameters. We outlined those parameters that were redundant or could be deprecated. Those that were hardwired we used (except Door Rating which we added a ‘Rating’ instance Project Parameter to the template). We created separated render materials to those materials and finishes that were scheduled as instances.door-families

Rather than alter our existing doors, we decided on rebuilding from scratch using Assa Abloy’s Opening Studio. Their application created great looking doors that did not use much system resources. We named the doors to our convention, tweaked parameters to avoid user confusion using CTC’s Family Processor and ensured the thumbnails looked decent. After a final QA, we uploaded our finished articles to our content management portal at Unifi. A little documentation on our Wiki to which parameter did what, followed by ensuring our template file referenced the appropriate parameter in the schedule, completed our task.

Hopefully our ship sails a little more smoothly and the operator gets to where they need with minimal confusion.

 

What Dynamo Needs?

So having dabbled in Dynamo on an off for the best part of the year, I am in no position to greatly comment on what Dynamo needs. It is a complex animal and seems you need a good bit of Python to tweak what is on offer. There is a good smattering of custom packages out there that can really aid in productivity and open avenues within Revit that were seemly impossible to do.

 

From newbie with no virtual computational experience, to having created a number of successful graphs either interoperating with Rhino and adaptive components, placing complex railings equidistant over a curved floor perimeter, or generating site plans with Open Street Map data, I am now in a position of understanding, yet having frustrations both at the same time.

 

It is a great feeling to nerd out and get a graph to function, minimizing the nodes and playing with Dynamo’s logic. It is frustrating to see those little yellow error messages appear without explaining very much, or that the definition seemingly works, only to find out the next time you run it, it inexplicably doesn’t; trying to locate that node to do something simple or that the Revit API isn’t exposing itself.

dynamo-confusion

Arghh! Those error message, deprecations and unresolved statuses

 

My colleague Dane Stokes, a Grasshopper whizz and Rhino jockey, gets easily frustrated with Dynamo. He likens Dynamo to a British car: finicky, powerful but good luck getting it started and seemingly in the shop most days. 

The functionality and polish of Grasshopper attract many graduates, who typically aren’t constrained to producing construction documentation. Given a choice, most simply gravitate to Rhino and Grasshopper for their needs, leaving few that can aid with Dynamo in the professional setting.

 

Dynamo is a great tool to Revit, but best practices, workflows or documentation have not been developed in industry. The standalone Dynamo Studio is being used with FormIt to create geometric shapes and change their properties. Josh Goldstein at Autodesk has provided tools that generate louvers on a building or create a staircase in FormIt. Yet this added functionality provided by Dynamo already exist in the Revit product with parametric families and tools. So when is it appropriate to implement Dynamo with Revit? What are the best workflows if you are pushing data back into Revit in a Work Shared and live model? How can we share and document our custom graphs that we create?

dynamo-studio-with-formit

Dynamo Studio Properties in FormIt

 

Dynamo Player has arrived as of Revit release 2017.1 which helps, but varying inputs need to be incorporated for the Player to function effectively. When we get input functionality, should we create a Dynamo graph or create a dedicated Add-in tool using the Revit API? I feel Dynamo works well for custom situations that require hacking Revit’s stubbornness, yet if there is a repetitive task or a function that is being used consistently on all projects, it is probably wiser to create a tool using the API to share with your entire firm or industry.

I realize that you have read all the way to here and I haven’t addressed what the title of this blog asks, What Dynamo Needs?:

I feel Dynamo would benefit by:

  • Improving search functionality speed.
  • Filtering a list of compatible inputs from an output.
  • Make error messages make sense.
  • A Python debugger.
  • Inputs to Dynamo Player in Revit – akin to the how Dynamo Studio interfaces with FormIt. I have been told by sources that this is coming soon!
  • Dynamo Studio communicating with a headless Revit in the Cloud.
  • Increasing mobility with an iOS application.

 

Kudos by the way to the Dynamo team to having done a great job on the Dynamo Dictionary and the new list level functionality. I look forward to future developments. It is fun to get under the hood!

What FormIt wants?

What has informally been dubbed the “SketchUp Killer“, hasn’t quite delivered up to its full potential. Certainly within our office, Trimble SketchUp users that dictate early schematic design workflow have casually rejected the threat.

The ease of modeling that the designers enjoy, frustrates those that are working further downstream. The SketchUp model cannot be used effectively and remodeling efforts undoubtedly occur. This is true the reverse direction, when the updated Revit model is imported back for further iteration within SketchUp. There is no-live linking within SketchUp or sharing of efforts. Even materials do not talk to one another.

 

sketchup-model

SketchUp design model

revit-non-materials

SketchUp model linked into Revit – where did the materials go?

sketchup-model-link-plan

Linked SketchUp model does not cut in plan?

 

So why is SketchUp still a market force? It has been around a grand old time, over ten years in my career, which in software terms is a lifetime. It has had multiple development cycles and the financial support of Google. What makes is so compelling is the ease of use, even my father of 79 years is a keen user! However things shift and newer kids on the block want in. My 10 year old son every morning fires up Autodesk FormIt on my aging iPad. Tweaks and builds his fantasy baseball stadium at Rat Field. Even his 6 year old younger brother is competing, modelling his police cars and bus stops, although scale can still be somewhat of an issue!

For me, I want an intuitive and efficient workflow that really talks to Revit, our tool for documenting and modelling our designs. It should maintain parametric data and interoperability, not wasting effort in remodeling or sharing assets. If this can be done on a mobile, non complex application that can create forms that make designers happy, we have hit the jackpot. We may not be there yet, but not having to think of file format or be restricted by what the tool can and cannot do, is something we should ask software developers in the AEC industry to produce.

I think FormIt has potential. I really do. It is no Rhino for modeling or SketchUp for intuition and speed, but it does provide a cheaper, nimble, efficient, mobile, analytical, iterative (combined with Dynamo Studio) platform that in someway can inter-operate with Revit. It is relatively young and needs some work to be a mainstream architectural application. For that to occur, FormIt needs to seamlessly work with its mature uncle: linking between one another and sharing the same resources.

formit-workflow

A potential FormIt workflow to Revit?

I don’t think it is too much to ask to have our multi-generational teams work in the same sandbox, never having to remodel, work in isolation or be dictated to by the tool’s functionality.

Ways to partner in Revit

There are many ways to have multiple teams work Revit. Within the office over a network you work share with your colleagues, all synchronizing your respective local files to a central model. Nothing new here. Your external consultant teams send you their detached central model via FTP and you link these into your central model. Once again, nothing new. If you have colleagues that are not local, you will utilize a Revit Server. What happens though if you are working with external teams remotely and they need to work in your model, such as an architect of record partnering with a design lead architect? You don’t necessarily want the other architect perusing your other projects and files? You also don’t want to pay for their Revit licenses or setup dedicated workstations for them to remote desktop into. Luckily for you there are a few options.

Collaborate for Revit (C4R)

A simple solution is to utilize the “Cloud”. Autodesk have created such a product, linking multiple Revit users to their respective models via their BIM360 integration. Setup is relatively simple and intuitive. Communication is handled via their proprietary chat engine.

c4r

Imaginit Clarity

Hosting in the ‘Cloud’ may not be for everyone. You may even be worried that access at times may be spotty. You may be right!

cloud-difficulties

Wouldn’t it be great to host the all Revit files on your Revit Server restricting user access to other folders? Now you can! Imaginit have done a nice job of overlaying permissions onto your Revit Server using their product they have coined ‘Clarity’. The remote firm can use their Revit Server and sync the files. Setup is a little more complicated as firewalls need to be navigated, IP addresses white listed and users need to be managed. Yet when all is set up, it works great. There is even the bonus of scheduling Revit tasks such as exporting files, printing drawings etc. Want the communication of C4R, federate your Skype for Business and you have a more enhanced experience. The cost is competitive also, with only the host paying for the service, all others need only set up their Revit Server, if they haven’t done so already.

collab

Here is a précis of Revit collaboration methods

Remote Desktop

  • Free for partnering firm
  • Not a good user experience due to bandwidth
  • Utilizes hosts hardware
  • Licensing concerns
  • Have to restrict network folder access

C4R

  • Easy to implement
  • Can be pricey – subscription requirements
  • Communication platform restrictive
  • Cloud offering could go down

Clarity

  • Little cost for non host
  • Files host on servers rather than Cloud
  • Perform scheduled tasks
  • IT departments need to typically set up

Need to know partnering firm IP address, Revit Usernames, Autodesk ID’s, email addresses of users.