Building Information Modeling

Revit Architecture 2010 (Cadalyst Labs Review)

15 Jul, 2009 By: Patrick Davis

Look beyond the controversial ribbon interface and you'll find some great improvements, including gradient backgrounds, local file creation, conceptual design tools, and a flexible API.


If you've read other reviews about Revit Architecture 2010 or some of the other Autodesk 2010 products, you're aware that they have introduced a Microsoft Office-style ribbon user interface (UI). In the case of Revit, this major change has elicited outcry from many users and has overshadowed many of the other updates in the product. Indeed, there's a lot to discuss about this new UI, and I'm eager to share my impression of it.

What's New in 2010
Before I get into a discussion about the new ribbon-style UI in Revit Architecture 2010, let's first take a look at several of the other new and noteworthy features in this version.

Gradient backgrounds. In Revit Architecture 2010, you can add a background gradient color to 3D views to create some additional depth. Gradient Background is a new option in 3D views under View Properties //var/www/html Graphic Display Options //var/www/html Background. Checking this toggle allows you to define a Sky Color, Horizon Color, and Ground Color. These settings allow you to create a gradient that will blend between the ground or sky color and the horizon color. It's a great addition. Support for elevation views would make it even better.

Gradient background options.

Filter by view type. Users now can filter views by type. This allows you to create a view template to exercise more control over which views are displayed, such as working views (sections, elevations, and details) that are turned off in a sheet view. You also can create a filter that can hide detail symbols in an elevation view but not in a detail view. There's a lot of functionality in this feature.

Local file creation. Revit Architecture 2010 provides a process for creating local files on projects that are using work sets. At first glance, this feature might seem minor and unnecessary. However, if you're involved in BIM management, you know that local file creation or the lack thereof is a major issue for some users. In Revit Architecture 2010, when you open a project file, the application will check to determine if you are opening a central, local, or stand-alone project. If you are opening a central file, Revit will create a local copy automatically in your default user file path location. If a local copy already exists, Revit Architecture provides an option to overwrite the existing file or append a timestamp to the existing filename. I particularly like the the ability to append a timestamp to the existing file to create an archive copy.

Like many other users, I use scripts to control the creation of local files from central files. The script files I use offer additional functionality and keep the users from having to touch the central file to create a local copy. This capability is good first step, but I prefer using the script files. More information about these scripts is available if you search the Autodesk User Group International Revit forums.

Shared coordinates. The shared coordinate system in Revit Architecture 2010 is more accessible and visible than it has been in past versions. When you click the Reveal Hidden Elements button, the new coordinate system icons display. Revit Architecture 2010 has three coordinate systems: internal, shared (survey), and the new project coordinates. As shown below, it has a shared (survey) coordinate and project coordinate icon and a base point icon. The internal coordinates system has no icon.

Examples of survey and base point icons.

 

Halftone/underlay control. In previous releases, the halftone control was limited at best. In Revit Architecture 2010, users can control the specific level of halftone for objects or linked files. Adjusting the line weight, pattern of underlay, and the brightness of the halftones controls this display.

Halftone/Underlay dialog box.

 

Several other improvements also are worth noting. For example, the Type Selector families display thumbnail images, as shown below, and the cursor can be changed from a pencil to a crosshair.

Type Selector thumbnails.

Users can define color selections for the selection, highlight, and error alert choices (see figure below).

Color selection.

You also can resize the Properties dialog box. Tool renaming such as model lines being called model lines and architectural columns being called architectural columns helps eliminate some confusion new users have distinguishing between drafting and model lines and structural and architectural columns. A new Roof Slope tag has been added for plan and elevation views. Revit models can be exported to AutoCAD Civil 3D. Now you also can import content from Autodesk Inventor using the new Autodesk Exchange file format that publishes a simplified version of the part to Revit. The spell checker function also has been improved.

User Interface – aka the Ribbon
The Revit 2010 platform also introduces new conceptual design tools, application programming interface (API) enhancements, and some performance and interoperability tools. But the most noticeable and controversial feature introduced in the Revit 2010 platform is the new Microsoft Office 2007-style ribbon UI.

Revit's new ribbon user interface.

This new ribbon-style interface was introduced in AutoCAD 2009 and in several other Autodesk products for 2010, including AutoCAD Architecture, Inventor, and 3ds Max. Autodesk believes that many customers are using several different Autodesk products and that a common UI should reduce the learning curve and workflow roadblocks. In addition, the new UI is supposed to help new users migrate more easily to Revit Architecture from other products and help existing users discover features more easily.

The first thing users will notice is that the Design bar and all other tools and menus have been replaced and integrated into the ribbon, with the exception of the Project Browser, Options bar, and the View Control bar. The ribbon is divided into tabs that contain the major tool categories. Within these tabs are panels that contain the icons for the tools. The icons for the tools on the ribbon and View Control bar have changed from previous versions to create a consistent look and feel throughout the Autodesk applications.

The Revit Architecture 2010 user interface explained.

 

Toolbars are contextual, meaning that available tool options change based on the operation being performed. This is similar to how the Option bar would change in version 2009 or earlier, except that the entire ribbon with all your tools changes, not just the tool options.

The new UI has brought forward some long-awaited improvements, including multiple-monitor support. This allows you to move the project browser or a tool panel to a second monitor. Certain UI components such as the Project Browser or ribbon panels now have a location memory, so if you change the location of the Project Browser, that will remain constant from session to session until you change it. A quick access toolbar allows you to add any tool, and it can reside above or below the ribbon. Tool tips have been improved to provide more information about each tool.

Revit Architecture now features improved tool tips.

Pros and cons of the new UI. The Revit user community has seen a great deal of debate as to whether the new UI is more efficient or a hindrance. Very vocal users sit on both sides of this fence. I will try to present both sides of the argument in what has become a very sensitive issue.

Those who like the new UI believe that it is more intuitive overall. The tools are easy to find, the workflow is easier to learn, and the customization is an improvement over previous releases, they say.

Those who dislike the UI generally have two major issues. The first is that the workflow of the ribbon does not necessarily improve productivity but in fact reduces it. An example of this would be tool layout. In previous releases, the locations of basic editing commands such as Move, Copy, and Trim were fixed. No matter which operation you were performing, you always knew where to find those commands.

The Revit Architecture 2009 toolbars had fixed command placements.

In Revit Architecture 2010, however, the locations of basic editing commands vary depending on the operation in progress. As an example, note what happens when I select a wall element. The Move tool is located under the Add-In menu and the Copy tool is located under the Modify Walls menu.

The ribbon bar in Revit Architecture 2010 as it appears for editing a wall element.

Now notice what happens when I select a door tag. The Move tool is now located under the Collaborate menu and the Copy tool is now located under the View menu.

The ribbon bar in Revit Architecture 2010 as it appears for editing a door tag element.

You can work around this issue by assigning the Move tool to the Quick Access toolbar, but for many veteran Revit users, the loss of consistency is significant.

Add Move to the Quick Access toolbar to keep it in the same place.

 

The second major complaint about the new UI is that Autodesk didn't provide a method for users to migrate comfortably to the new interface. In new versions of AutoCAD, by contrast, you can continue to use the old UI for day-to-day work and explore the new UI as your schedule allows -- or not migrate at all. In Revit Architecture 2010, there is no such flexibility. You must either use the new UI or go back to Revit Architecture 2009.

The introduction of the ribbon also introduces some problems that could impede productivity. Internet Explorer 8 isn't supported and can cause your Revit session to crash. Display-management software such as NVIDIA's nView can also impede the performance of the new graphics display system. Using the Windows setting to control font smoothing also can result in Revit Application menu graphics not appearing.

Some users might like to bash Autodesk -- some more than others – but I will give credit to the Revit development team for at least admitting that the new UI has some issues and trying to carry on a constructive dialog with users about the original intent of the new UI and how to address the problems. This is a strong indication that the Revit development team is looking for a solution to some of the problems that it has created.

The new ribbon UI is a radical change to be sure. Existing users will need time to adjust to the changes for menus, toolbars, and the design bar and type selector. The change in workflow and constantly changing ribbon will require time to learn. But the UI in previous Revit releases was admittedly outdated, and Autodesk's the premise behind the change has merit. If you recently upgraded from Office 2003 to Office 2007 and were able to make that transition, you should be able to make the transition from Revit Architecture 2009 or earlier to Revit Architecture 2010.

I have been using Revit Architecture 2010 since it was released as a beta version. I was very frustrated with the new UI at the time and was one of the first to express my disappointment and concerns about the new UI's workflow and potential effect on productivity. However, for the past few months I have been working with Revit Architecture 2010 more as my company prepares to upgrade a few projects from Revit Architecture 2009 to Revit Architecture 2010. As I use the product more and become accustomed to the new workflow and tool locations, I find that I am less concerned about whether the Move and Copy buttons remain in fixed positions and more concerned about locating some commands that I can’t find in the ribbon because I am not familiar enough with it yet. Other new users who have completed training in Revit Architecture 2009 and then began working on a Revit Architecture 2010 report that they prefer the new UI over the older version. New users also appear to rely more heavily on the keyboard shortcuts than on the UI to initiate commands.

In short, it seems that users (including myself) who allow sufficient time to learn and become accustomed to Revit's new UI ultimately give it more positive than negative reviews.

Conceptual Design Tools
Revit Architecture 2010 also introduces many new conceptual design tools for creating flexible forms. If you've had the opportunity to see one of the many Autodesk product demos of the massing tools, you're probably aware that these tools have the potential to create some very intriguing geometry. You can still generate masses and blob buildings, but the new features of the conceptual modeling tool also can help you create building components such as curtain-wall forms. Conceptual modeling can be controlled entirely through the API, which could lead to formula-driven form making.

The new conceptual design tools are more intuitive and flexible than those in previous releases. The conceptual design tools are part of a new environment such as the family editor that provides access to the tools to create these massing families. Some of the enhancements over the previous release are:

  • Integrated workflow with the project environment
  • New modeling and sketching environment that automatically detects work planes to simplify the process of drawing directly on surfaces and reference planes
  • The ability to divide surfaces, apply patterns, and define more flexible parametric components

    I was never a heavy user of massing in previous Revit releases, so my transition to the new tools was fairly painless. Creating a shape is fairly straightforward -- not quite SketchUp easy, but getting there. You simply define your profile, click a button, and your shape is created. The sketching enhancements are a welcome addition, andthe automatic work plane detection is a time-saver. Whether you are creating a loft, sweep, or extrusion, you can manipulate the points, edges, and faces of a mass directly. Revit Architecture 2010 also has new tools for creating specialized patterning and panelization techniques, and those tools are more accessible to users of all skill levels.

    Examples of panelization.

    Overall, these tools are generally simple to use, and they provide a higher level of control and accuracy than what Revit had in the past. It's important to note that you aren't just creating masses with these new tools, you're creating geometry that can be turned into building geometry. With the new UI and workflow changes, seasoned users will lose some productivity getting used to the new processes.

  • Performance and Interoperability
    The 64-bit version of Revit Architecture 2010 will run natively on 64-bit Windows XP Pro and all versions of 64-bit Windows Vista. A single installer automatically detects whether you are running a 32- or 64-bit operating system. The 64-bit operating systems such as Windows XP Pro enable workstations to use RAM in excess of 4 GB and manage memory more efficiently than their 32-bit counterparts could do. For Revit users, a 64-bit operating system with a 64-bit version of Revit Architecture means you can design larger and more complex models with improved performance and stability in memory-intensive tasks.

    The graphics display system has been overhauled. DirectX is the primary display engine, but OpenGL remains for backward compatibility for older hardware that doesn't fully support later DirectX features. This change has resulted in improved performance. The workstations I used for testing used gaming cards such as the NVIDIA GTX series rather than the workstation-level NVIDIA Quadro series. These performance improvements are significant, and I found that I could work with shadows enabled and printing performance increased significantly in views with shadows.

    API
    First off, what is the Revit API and why should you care? Well, the application programming interface is the mechanism for customizing Revit. It allows programmers to extend the capabilities of Revit by writing new tools to enhance Revit's functionality. These tools can do a wide variety of things to the Revit database, from accessing the model data to creating and modifying elements.

    Two very prominent sets of tools created with the Revit API are the Revit Extensions from Autodesk (available to subscription customers) and Avatech Utilities for Revit. These tools allow users to renumber rooms, change text case, update door marks, and connect models to Google Earth, among other things.

    An example of Revit extensions from Autodesk.

    In the AutoCAD customization world, you have scripts, AutoLISP, VBA (Visual Basic for Applications), Object ARX, and AutoCAD .NET for developing custom applications. In Revit, you have the .NET languages such as VB.NET and C#. Everything you need to begin programming is included with the basic Revit product (although you will need some experience with .NET programming languages). Revit Architecture provides two paths for developing applications: Microsoft Visual Studio and Visual Studio Tools for Applications (VSTA). VSTA, like VBA, is an environment that lets you create and run macros and save them in a document if you choose.

    When I used AutoCAD, I had no trouble banging out LISP routines. These days, I'm not writing new applications for Revit. Developing tools for Revit requires an experienced .NET programmer who has the time to digest the Revit API. I do oversee the development of custom tools for my company, however, and I am very excited about the many new enhancements in Revit Architecture 2010's API.

    The Revit API was first introduced in Revit v8 and has been enhanced significantly since then. Revit 2010 offers some interesting enhancements, most notably the ability to create and edit families. Before the release of Revit 2010, users could open the family files but not really do anything with them.

    In Revit 2010, Autodesk has added a great deal of functionality for creating families as well as mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) elements and systems via the API. In short, the API now allows users to do anything with families that they could do in the drawing environment. This functionality includes the ability not only to add geometry but to provide access to the parameters, types, and formulas related to the family. A new loading control enables you to control how a family loads into a project, including whether to update the family in the project and whether parameters should be overridden. Want to control element visibility? A new visibility control gives you complete access to the Family Element Visibility settings.

    Pluses and Minuses
    Revit's new UI will require more adjustment time than usual for some users. It's a different workflow than what we have become comfortable with and some improvements are needed. The conceptual design tools are very cool, but they may see limited use by most users. The API enhancements are going to provide developers with new methods for manipulating the Revit database.

    Based on of my experience with the Revit Architecture 2010 beta version and because of the outcry from users upon the product's official release, I anticipated that this version would not fare well in a review. However, after using the product daily and speaking with colleagues who are using it extensively, I have warmed up to it. Revit Architecture 2010 is not the best release ever, but it offers many good features. I ended up liking it more than expected.

    Editor's Note: In mid-August 2009, Autodesk published a method by which Revit 2010 users can revert to the classic, pre-2010 user interface. For details, see Switching to pre-2010, Classic user interface on the Autodesk web site. Autodesk states that it does not provide technical support for this process.

 


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