Event Report: RTC 2011 North America21 Jul, 2011 By: Nancy Spurling Johnson
The Revit Technology Conference made its U.S. debut in California, where attendees experienced extensive BIM education opportunities and a little Australian-style hospitality.
The Revit Technology Conference (RTC) 2011 North America was a bright spot during a stretch of "June gloom" in the Los Angeles area. Overcast skies didn't keep attendees from enjoying the beautiful Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa venue, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, or soaking up the opportunities to hone their Autodesk Revit skills, optimize building information modeling (BIM) workflows, and network with fellow Revit fans.
Held June 23–25, the conference was making its first-ever U.S. appearance. Australian architect Wesley Benn founded the conference in his home country in 2005, and the first event drew six speakers and 89 attendees. The conference has grown every year, and RTC 2011 Australasia drew 60 speakers and 450 attendees this past May.
Like the devoted base of Revit users, RTC is led by a dedicated group of volunteers and described as "by users, for users." The event's small size and independence offer opportunities for attendees to really roll up their sleeves, take an honest look at the software, and tackle challenging issues around it.
RTC could not ask for a more perfect leader than Benn, or perhaps more likely, the scope and feel of the event is a direct reflection on the values of its founder. Benn is as open-minded and laid back as he is passionate about Revit and about educating others about how to make the most of the software.
In his well-attended welcome address at RTC North America, Benn cited a Chinese proverb, "It is better to be a dog in a time of peace than a man in a time of war." He half-jokingly went on to offer the famous extension of that theme, "May you live in interesting times" — that is, be cursed to endure a time of turmoil.
Benn was referring to the economy, of course — in particular how it has devastated the field of architecture. "It's a very hard time, but that makes it a time of opportunity," he said. "This is when I learn, this is when I move forward, so when things do turn around, I'm ready." Don't stick your head in the sand, Benn told attendees. "Capitalize on change, capitalize on opportunity. This is the time to push forward and prepare, because it takes a while to be ready."
Autodesk CEO Carl Bass gave a warm welcome of his own when he agreed to give the keynote address at the inaugural U.S. event. Before an audience of a few hundred, Bass was relaxed and engaging. His demeanor might have been a reflection of his history and appreciation for Revit — he was a guiding force behind Autodesk's purchase of the software — or, as he put it, he was speaking to a room full of people who knew more about the software than he did.
For the latter reason, Bass said, he would not focus on Revit specifically. Instead, he discussed how computer technology in general is radically changing the way we build. He spoke of infinite computing, a concept surfaced by Autodesk last year. As Bass explained, infinite computing means the world has access to computer power that is becoming so affordable that it is essentially infinitely available. He was referring to the cloud, of course, wherein centralized server farms are accessible via the Internet.
To illustrate his point, Bass explained that the amount of computing is doubling every year. The amount of new computing this year will equal the sum of all computing ever created before, and the same will hold true next year, and so on. This march of technology is leading to a "mentality of abundance," Bass said. People today assume there is more than enough computer power to do whatever they need, or they don't think about it at all. "If I had infinite computing," Bass asked rhetorically, "what would I do with it?"
Project Photofly from Autodesk Labs is an example of using infinite computing resources, Bass explained. The experimental technology creates a 3D digital model from multiple photographs of an object; the heavy computing is done on the cloud.
3D scanning is another example of this trend, Bass said. It involves huge files and huge amounts of data and processing power — but is becoming very fast and cheaper all the time. Autodesk Labs' Project Neon, available standalone or as a plug-in for Revit, enables rendering in the cloud. Stratus is a new Autodesk project where users can take structural designs created on a desktop computer and upload them to the cloud for structural analysis.
"Too often to me, design starts to seem like the game of Battleship," Bass said. "The architect says, 'B-2,' and sends it over to the structural engineer who says, 'Miss!' You rethink and resubmit and again — 'Miss!'" With infinite computing, Bass explained, time, cost, and available resources are such that designers can ask lots of questions and explore many different choices to see which are optimal.
Bass concluded his presentation by saying, "Revit has come a huge distance in the last ten years. The next ten will be equally exciting."
Designing a Revolution
I attended numerous sessions throughout the Huntington Beach event. My personal favorite was that of David Conant, a founder (and still a developer) of Revit, titled, "Designing a Revolution: Reflections on Designing Revit from a Napkin Sketch to BIM."
We're in the midst of a "Revitolution," Conant observed. "As Carl [Bass] said, there is as much transformation to come as we've seen."
Explaining the popularity of Revit, Conant said, "Revit gives us the power to think and work like designers again, [to] put away the low-value activities … so the professional can put energy into the things that have the highest value." Revit (and BIM) can help designers provide value for building owners by leveraging all this rich information we're producing, he added.
RTC is as much about networking and socializing as it is about learning, and the California event offered many opportunities for the former, including several extended tea breaks (presumably in the Australian tradition); unstructured lunches on the conference center terrace; a welcome reception in the exhibit area the first evening; a barbecue dinner the second night; and a gala dinner to wrap up the event — all very well attended.
The conference portion of RTC 2011 North America concluded with a closing keynote address by Paul Doherty, senior vice-president of software developer Screampoint and a well-known strategist and integrator of process, technology, and business. Doherty's address was titled, "BIM 1.0 to BIM 2.0: The Path Forward."
When the event was said and done, Benn was enthusiastic. RTC North America will likely return stateside in 2012, Benn said, and he talked of a possible East Coast venue such as Boston. Regardless of venue, attendees can probably count on two things: the timing of the event, which unlike Autodesk University (which is held in the fall each year) will remain in the June timeframe to more closely shadow the annual release cycle of Revit; and the size of the event, which organizers are committed to keeping on the small side to maintain the a sense of intimacy.