By the Revit Users, for the Revit Users, Part 2

26 Jun, 2014 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

The Revit Technology Conference showcases technologies and workflows that give AEC users a better look at their projects, both as they are now and as they will be in the future.

Editor’s note: Read Part 1 of this series here.

The Revit Technology Conference (RTC) Australasia 2014 comprised close to 100 presentations, hands-on labs, and social events. As befits an event focused on building information modeling (BIM), many of the technical sessions showcased tools that give users a clearer view of AEC projects. From spotting clashes before they cause problems to giving investors a look inside a building that doesn’t yet exist, professionals are always trying to see projects’ present status — and future development — more clearly.

The keynote address explored the work of a man who had a superhuman ability to envision complex, unique designs without the help of modern hardware or software: architect Antoni Gaudí. His otherworldly Basílica de la Sagrada Família, which has been under construction for more than 130 years, looks like no other structure in Barcelona, Spain — or anywhere else, for that matter. “It’s now seen as the leading project for building complexity … and I think it’s the perfect case study for BIM,” said keynote presenter Mark Burry.

Burry, a professor and director of RMIT University’s Spatial Information Architecture Laboratory and Design Research Institute, has been helping carry on Gaudí’s work for 35 years. When he first visited the building site in 1979, the only solid clues to Gaudí’s plan were plaster models — all of them shattered. But in the intervening decades, Burry and his collaborators have employed modern hardware and software tools to reconstruct and expand upon that original vision. “Because we have new tools, we can do things Gaudi couldn’t do himself,” such as combining multiple parabolic surfaces, Burry explained. “We were the first architectural project in the world to use 3D printing,” he noted.

Those modern tools are also helping accelerate design and construction, making the goal of completion in 2026 seem feasible, despite the complexity of the work. For example, creating an arched colonnade of fantastically twisted, tilted, asymmetrical, 6-meter stone columns seems a daunting design challenge — but a parametric model made it manageable. “If you change anything, it ripples through the whole model,” said Burry.

Although his own mind handled architectural complexities easily, Gaudí sought to create a common language that everyone involved with a project could understand — to “use geometry to explain to the people you’re working with what something is and how it might be made,” in Burry’s words. And he found that language in “surfaces that are described easily through straight lines in space,” said Burry. “Parametric design,” he explained, “is not something that’s just emerged through software.”

Getting a Good Look with Lasers

In this century, however, AEC professionals are heavily reliant on software — and if BIM is to serve as a central hub for a project, users must first get project data into the system. For existing structures and projects under construction, laser scanning is an increasingly popular way to gather that data. “It’s kind of easy … compared to pretty much every other method of capturing information and bringing it into your project,” said Kelly Cone, innovations director at the Beck Group, during his session “Laser Scanning to BIM: Getting from Dots to Plots.”

Of all the measurement technologies that “get the real world into BIM,” said Cone, laser scanning is especially suited to AEC applications because it reduces chain error, captures all the details of a project at once, and is relatively quick and inexpensive. In addition, the typical accuracy of a stationary scanner is +/- 0.25 in., which fits into the tolerances common in AEC projects, he explained.

Laser scanners also provide 3D digital output of data, yielding models that are immediately comprehensible. “It’s a very intuitive way of understanding an as-built condition,” said Cone. “You don’t need a lot of technical knowledge to understand what you’re looking at.” However, he cautioned, “Models are always less accurate than the scan data, because models are always an abstraction.” Cone warned his audience against using the sequential method of culling points (also called data decimation), which strips out too many data points from the areas farther from the scanner.

The technology does have its weak points; shiny, reflective surfaces and transparent substances, such as glass and water, yield bad data. Another consideration is that laser scanning produces very large files, which require local storage for quick response times, Cone explained.


In the Flesh and on the Screen

AEC professionals — and increasingly, nonprofessionals as well — are used to seeing beautiful, photorealistic renderings of buildings, bridges, and other projects. When conveying design intent, however, “even renders are not 100% convincing for some clients,” said Mark Cronin, design systems manager and associate at Peddle Thorp. In “Revit to Reality – 3D Printing for the Masses,” Cronin touted the value of 3D-printed architectural models: “[They do] have a big impact on conveying design intent.” Physical models are more engaging than images, he stated, especially when viewers can interact with the model — such as by removing the roof to look inside a building.

And while renderings created after design completion have their uses, the technology need not stop there. In “Real-Time Cloud Rendering within Revit,” Mark Green of Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope and Dan Chasteen of Perkins+Will demonstrated BIMIQ, a new software tool that creates a live design feedback loop, generating imagery from project data in real time as the designer works, reflecting changes as they are made in Revit. Users can leave this continuously updated view embedded within Revit, or detach it and view it on a second monitor instead.

BIMIQ (in the window at right) constantly updates a real-time rendering of the Revit model (in the window at lower left) while the designer is working on it.

BIMIQ is not intended to create glossy, photorealistic perfection, or to replace a professional illustrator in a design firm, noted Green; rather, it helps the user make better-informed decisions during the design process. The app features accurate material properties and real-world lighting for a physically accurate visualization, said Green: “If the right data’s there, you’re going to get the right feedback.” Users can also view two different material options at once by dragging a slider, called a pin, back and forth across the image to create a split screen.

The software, which can run locally or in the cloud, is currently in beta; pricing “is not resolved yet,” said Chasteen.

Playing the Visualization Game

Jeremy Harkins, director of Ineni Realtime, presented another take on real-time visualization: game environments. “We want to do what we do normally, but gain value from it. … Games can start informing us,” he said. According to Harkins, a game environment is the logical next step for putting data into an environment with real-time information exchange, and can provide benefits throughout the building lifecycle.

Although “people pretty much expect [high-quality imagery] these days, [asking] ‘Where is the pretty picture?’” said Harkins, achieving photorealism in rendering takes “a lot of effort, a lot of time.” Game engines, however, are starting to produce BIM model renders and flythroughs of a quality that rivals those produced in professional tools such as Autodesk 3ds Max, he explained.

Applications include a navigable model of a shopping mall that allows potential shop owners to fully explore the space before committing to a particular location. With integrated sensor feedback, the model of an office building could show facilities managers thermometer data in context with desk occupancy and even relocation options. Users can even control the real world from within the game environment, explained Harkins, sending messages to building occupants and adjusting alarms or lights.

And AEC professionals need not worry about mastering an entirely new skillset to enter the game world. Ineni uses the Unreal game engine, which features visual programming blueprints so designers don’t need the ability to code.

In “Step Inside — Immersive Rendering as a Design Tool,” Tom de Plater, a design systems specialist at Peddle Thorp Architects, gave the audience a taste of immersive rendering; simply put, “it’s when you put yourself into a world that is not actually real,” he said. To create that world, de Plater advocated moving Revit models into the Unity game engine, then navigating them with virtual reality (VR) hardware. The end result is that users can feel as though they are inside their designs, not merely watching a walkthough. And with affordable, non-nauseating VR devices — such as the Oculus Rift — becoming widely available, it’s no longer a dream for the future.

The version of the Oculus Rift included in the presentation felt like a bulky, ill-fitting snorkel mask, but it delivered a seamless, lag-free, intuitive 3D experience. Simply turn your head to look down a hallway or up at a ceiling; manipulate a game controller to walk across the room or step outside — it’s easy to see how effective this technology could be for exploring 3D models. And the fact that it feels like a video game doesn’t hurt. “If you can make work fun, then I’m all for it,” said de Plater.

A View to Next Year

RTC Australasia 2015 will be held at Jupiters Hotel and Casino, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. For information on that and other RTC events, visit RTC Events Management.

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