Monday, December 18, 2006

Digital Project: The Fuss

It's finally been announced that we have acquired 100 licenses of Gehry Technologies' Digital Project - a modeling software built on top of Dassault's CATIA platform. As the press release states, "The acquistion is being considered an addition to SOM's technology portfolio, not a displacement of any other software system." SOM utilizes a number of products to yield the most effective results given the team members' skills, the requirements of the project and the overall design goals. As of this post, we are still using Revit (in conjunction with other tools) on over 12,000,000 square feet of projects in development by our New York office. I am just about to complete my initial training on Digital Project and will begin my comparative studies of the similarities and differences between DP and Revit.

I have started to receive messages inquiring about the future of Revit at SOM and I'd like to make it clear that DP is an addition to our BIM toolbox, not a substitution. Let me explain. On many projects, we incorporate complex external structure and curtain wall, while maintaining fairly regular and efficient cores. If we look at the digital deliverables for these two areas, there remains a clear divide. Fabricators in both the steel and curtain wall trades are pioneering the use of 3D deliverables for direct fabrication. Many of the companies with which we've collaborated in the recent past seem to be using similar tools for their 3D BIM deliverables. For the steel industry, XSteel (now known as Tekla Structures) and either Solidworks or CATIA for those in curtain wall - although we have talked to a few starting to implement Inventor as they evolve from Autocad.

While this concept sounds simple enough to implement, it really takes on a whole new life when you actually start to share files with your contractors and fabricators. I believe Graphisoft first started to address the issue of having a variety of representations of the design data (which I like to refer to as the 'onion concept' and described it in an older post). The design model must coexist, but serve a differing purpose than that of the construction model, the fabrication model, and the owner's model.

To this end, we must develop a method of eliminating data loss or production redundancy when our exchanges take place (ala Phil Bernstein's famous 'sawtooth' diagram).

Because models relating to our designs for exo-structures and curtain wall enclosures are the most likely to be utilized as direct-to-fabrication, these would be the likely candidates to use Digital Project.

Why not Revit? The geometric tools in Revit have not had the luxury of evolving along the same path as those of Dassault. Some twists and turns are simply not possible to achieve in Revit or are too cumbersome to emulate. On the other hand, the powerful simplicity of Revit as an 'architectural production engine' allows us to efficiently develop everything inside the exterior shell with blazing consistency and a minimal learning curve.

It is one of my objectives for 2007 to further build upon this translation and conglomeration of data from different platforms. Once further developed (and out of my brain...), I will share some insight into exactly how this all will come together in future posts.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Autodesk University, The Wrap-Up

Thursday and Friday

Finally, the big night! Most presenters will be finished with their classes by tonight and the main event this year features the return of comedian Don MacMillan and a special performance by the world renowned Blue Man Group.

8:00 AM - Revit Rocks: Tips from Around the World

Rich Taylor, an Autodesk Customer Success Engineer for Revit, gave an excellent presentation on some common, but sometimes obscure tips in Revit he has picked up from working with customers across the globe. He demonstrated the [unsupported] use of journal files to generate rooms in the Room Schedule and another technique using room separation lines to create spatial bubble diagrams - then moving each 'bubble' into an actual room and deleting the room-sep lines. The room then 'inherits' its new space! He demonstrated a house configurator which was similar to the one shown in "Expanding BIM" with Emile Kfouri.

10:00 AM - The JamesVan show, Part 2: Effective Collaboration

My second and final presentation was Effective Collaboration with Revit, DWG and DWF. The challenge with this clas? Background jazz being pumped into the house system! Lent to a nice, mellow mood - but was quite a distraction when trying to concentrate on your presentation. My esteemed colleagues Chuck Mies (Autodesk) and Wes Benn (Benn Design - Australia) joined me for this class, exploring real-world scenarios of data collaboration. First looking at the interaction between Revit and Autocad using DWG imports and exports, then a quick review of DWF output and markup using Design Review. Finally, Chuck and I donned the A/E hats and performed a live coordination demonstration between Revit Building, Structure and Systems. That was fun, but we seemed to be running out of time. Next year, I'll probably divide the content into two classes - Revit/2D collaboration and Revit-Revit.

11:30 AM - Building Industry Roundtable: Enabling Process Improvement with BIM

Once again, I found myself running to another function during lunch. This one had the potential of being an informative gathering as a select group of professionals were invited to a private luncheon. First, the logistics weren't the greatest - a propped-up 'corral' at the far end of the dining hall. We were at the mercy of 8,000 people enjoying their lunch, but we had a microphone! Jim Balding and Mario Guttman hosted the event and cycled through some of the hot topics around BIM implementation in the AE community. We shared our experiences, but didn't really propose any action items.

1:00 PM - Revit Detailing

One of my favorite classes is Scott Davis' presentation on Detailing in Revit...and as Scott just pointed out, it was taught by Paul Aubin this year! (Oops) Unfortunately, I fell victim to scope creep once again and missed Paul's class, but I'll be sure to catch the rerun on AU Online! Wound up having a detailed conversation with our Digital Design Director - Paul Seletsky and Andrew Arnold from Tectonic Network about their future products.

3:00 PM - Beyond Revit: Where's This All Going?

Good question. Kudos to Jim Balding for putting this presentation together without much prepared content. It was an open discussion about the future of BIM - risks and rewards, opportunities and challenges. Jim seeded the discussion with some provocative thoughts..."Death of the Architect?"

5:00 PM - Designing Sustainable Building Solutions with Revit

This class was not about using Revit for designing sustainable building solutions. Huh? Yes, in my opinion it deserved a different title such as "Revit's Potential to Impact Sustainable Building Solutions" which might be generous. So why did I stay? I'm an avid supporter of environmental awareness and sustainability and Ken Hall delivered one of the best-prepared and thought-provoking lectures this week. Some call his tactics harsh, but sometimes we have to shake people up. For just a sampling of information, check out these links: Autodesk Sustainability Center, The Long Now Foundation, design:e2, and Architecture2030.

6:30 PM - Dinner and TWO shows!

Some light food and lighted entertainment. While we dined and (as my Mother says) "hob-nobbed with the goober-smoochers," we were entertained by a troop of fiber-optic-entwined roller skaters and jump-ropers - very cool. Then it was up to the main ballroom for comedian Don McMillan. What can I say? I almost passed out from laughing so hard. Be sure to visit Don's website to understand what I'm talking about. Finally, the Blue Man Group gave an outstanding performance for the exhausted AU crowd. I especially liked the "How to be a Rock Star" tutorial.





The Interlude - Thursday to Friday

Legend has it that the best partying occurs through the night from Thursday into Friday and you're advised to just stay awake or you run the risk of being an hour late for your Friday morning class...particularly painful if you're the PRESENTER. You know who you are.

8:00 AM Friday - Advanced Revit Techniques

Ah, Phil Read...he's the man. You're not going to get a better class for a 3 hour, Friday morning, post-party lecture. Easy-going, engaging, witty - I could go on. Greg Demchak and Lilli Smith had end-of-week duty last year and this year Phil brought some cool new tips. Pleated curtain wall panels, using Room Name in a key schedule, the famous void-driven geometry, reference line tricks with blends and exploded axon project views.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Autodesk University - Day Three

It's Wednesday and the AU rookies who haven't paced themselves can barely make it to breakfast. This day is probably the busiest of the week. Most Autodesk networking events occur tonight along with the famous Industry Receptions - the Building Industry will be heading over to the JET nightclub at the Mirage...let's see if I make it.

6:30 AM - Breakfast with a few of my team members. Looks like we're getting the hang of the column grid locating plan. "Hello. We're at D-22! Wait...stand up and wave. Oh, there you are!"

8:00 AM - Building Solutions Main Stage

The Main Stage event for each individual industry has traditionally been the arena to show off new product functionality and/or betas for new products. I was disappointed to hear little new information about BSD products this year. They did demonstrate a "drawing compare" feature in AutoCAD, but it took an awfully long time to compare in relation to viewer products such as Brava and the Newforma Viewer. Armundo Darling demonstrated Revit Systems' integration with IES tools, but that was already displayed in the keynote presentation on Tuesday. Now that Autodesk has moved most of their products' major release dates to the Spring, we probably won't get too many more exciting announcements on the Industry Main Stage in the future.

10:00 AM - I'm on...Techniques for Large Projects in Revit Building

The first of two classes I'm teaching this year. This class used to be called "You Can't Do That in Revit," but based on my evaluations of the past two years, my attendees expected to actually hear about things they couldn't do in Revit! Thus, I re-aligned the course expectations and objectives (without the silly title) and focused the content around my expertise. Hit my mark with the timing of the content, special thanks to Bob Yori for driving. New this ear...MindManager instead of PowerPoint. We'll see what the audience thinks when I review the evaluations. By the way, you can find old content from the "You Can't Do That" classes on WikiHow - click here to search for Revit entries.

11:30 AM - Off to the races...to the DWF Executive Customer Council

I had the honor of joining a select group of industry colleagues in the DWF Executive Customer Council. The Q&A session after my class extended another 10 minutes so I had to run downstairs to the DWF lunch. 4 to 5 members from each industry were selected to present their current and future uses of DWF format and Design Review along with our top 3 wishes for new features/functions. Most of us were focused on scalability for large datasets, yet there were some interesting tangents for those in the manufacturing industry and public sector. Other suggested enhancements included digital signatures, integration of ordering data, dedicated sketch mode for single markups and others.

1:00 PM - Ditching class

Supposed to take Beau Turner's class on Revit Phasing and Design Options, but I wanted to search around for something a little more advanced (sorry, Beau). And that's the beauty of AU Online - worth the price of admission alone! - to return later and download handouts and data from classes you missed.

I slipped into "Extreme Architecture: Complex Geometry with Inventor and Revit." If you set your expectations high, be prepared to have them hit bottom even harder. I was again somewhat disappointed by the overall context of this class as it didn't have enough technically oriented content to learn something extra about using Inventor, and didn't really get to what I would call "extreme architecture." It seemed to be a class focused on sharing data between Inventor and Revit, but I would have enjoyed a really robust class weighted more toward complex design issues and buildability with Inventor.

3:00 PM - Wow.

As a welcome pick-me-up on 'hump day,' the class "Expanding BIM with the Revit API" was probably the best of the week. Emile Kfouri and Miro Schonauer of Autodesk shared some real-world examples of the Revit API in action. The examples were smaller, but completely relevant and expandable to ideas we have at SOM. First was the House Configurator - an ETO (Engineering to Order) solution to give the client/owner a simple interface to choose from many design options with a template residence. Once the options are chosen, the Revit model swaps groups in and out to complete the final design. Obviously, alot of pre-planning has to go into the Revit model, but I can definitely see the potential. Next up, a bi-directional link to MS Project for phasing data. Revit elements are ported out to Project, where a PM might push and pull the timeline for various elements of the construction. The data is then imported back into the project, updating custom parameters for every element in the database.

A VRML exporter was shown, but it was for a specific client request to produce a VRML file format. Not too much use in the general public, but the potential is there to use the API to export your Revit model to any other software (Digital Project, Rhino...) via the API. Next was something I thought was outstanding: collaboration with web services. Miro demonstrated a Revit project consisting of a bookshelf with some book families (which he happily demonstrated their parametric flexibility!). OK, so what's the big deal with a bookshelf and some books? With the books selected, he opened a custom window which allowed you to type in a search phrase which searched Google first - "autodesc rewit"..."Did you mean 'autodesk revit'?" The second module then searched the Amazon website for the top 10 titles matching the phrase and displayed book titles including those by authors Paul Aubin and Chris Fox (who happened to be sitting in the class!). The data pulled from the Amazon web service included the title, author, retail price, Amazon price and sales ranking. This data was then pushed into the selected Revit element with the last part of the app. Cool.

5:00 PM - Raise the Roof

For the last class of the day I was scheduled to take Steve Stafford's Family Lab, but it was already full when I entered so I decided to sit in on the Scott and Scott show on Revit Roofs. As always, the Scotts (Davis and Brown) gave an excellent presentation and I always manage to walk away with a few new tips. The picking order when joining soffits to walls, splitting a roof sketch to work with overlapping eaves of varying heights, and more.

6:30 PM - Networking

Wednesday night is jam-packed with networking events and I had to choose only a few. The DWF Executive Customer Council and Consulting events were both at Canaletto, but I only had time to chat with the DWF team - apologies to Mark, Hunter, Dave, Phil, et al. Next was a fantastic dinner with our Autodesk reseller - Imaginit - at Wolfgang Puck's Postrio restaurant. It was a "wine pairing" dinner where each course had a complementary wine selected by the chef. Thought I was going to make it to JET for the Building Industry reception, but the great food and the fake sky in the Grand Canal Shoppes messed with my mind and it was time for bed before I knew it.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Autodesk University - Day Two

Now the fun begins. For those who have never attended AU before, they are now realizing it's far from fun and games - it is hard work, but very rewarding.

6:00 AM - Rise and shine! I have to say...the Venetian's alarm clocks are the trickiest I've seen yet.

7:00 AM - Gather the SOM team and head off to breakfast. So how do you feed close to 8,000 hungry attendees? Think airplane hangar! Venetian breakfast=delicious! Staff=Efficient and quite courteous.

8:00 AM - Tuesday's activities began with the Keynote Presentation on the Main Stage by Autodesk CEO Carl Bass and the entire presentation can be viewed as a screencast here. We were treated to some unique customer perspectives and demonstrations during this presentation - a departure from previous years. Watch the screencast to check out cool uses of technology such as a highly detailed digital model of a 36 square kilometer chunk of London by GLM, the use of IMOUT in the military, PB Co. 39's 3-D presentation (including kooky glasses!), LivingHomes.net and acheiving LEED Platinum for modular residential construction, Digital Mockup and Alias for automotive design.

10:30 AM - Class #1: Basics of the Revit API

Kudos to Danny Polkinhorn for bringing forth some new, refreshing content to his second year presenting this important topic. In addition to the standard fare of getting your feet wet with the Revit API, Danny shared some examples of useful external tools such as exporting element data to Excel, modifying it and re-importing the data. This has the potential to really help those large-project Revit teams.

1:30 PM - What is buildingSMART?

Informative session by Mario Guttman (HOK) and Frank Moore (Autodesk) covering the meaning of the term "BuildingSMART" - a term coined by the Int'l Alliance for Interoperability. [More info later.]

3:30 PM - Overview of Microsoft Office 2007

I went a bit off the beaten path to take in some information on the latest Office software. Saw some neat new productivity enhancements to Word, Outlook, Excel, One Note and othe tools in the suite. Well worth further investigation.

6:00 PM - Time to rehearse

As a three-time AU Speaker, I've learned the benefits of being prepared and ensuring a predictable demonstration. With that, I hunkered down with my co-presenters Chuck and Bob to ready our classes for Wednesday and Thursday.

7:30 PM - AUGI Beer Bust

Each year, the AU Exhibit Hall opens with the AUGI Beer Bust. Food and spirits share the floor with exciting booths from Autodesk-collaborative vendors representing all the industry divisions.

9-ish to ??? - Catching up with the gurus. I happened to bump into old AU friends and fellow gurus and decided to catch a late meal at the Grand Lux Cafe. Jim Balding, Steve Stafford, Scott Davis, Steve Schell, Cathy Hadley and Mario Guttman had me reminiscing of AU's past...always worth the lost sleep! Finally back to catch the last few numbers from Dr. Ruth - AU's favorite band. Jamming out to Kansas, Journey, and...Wild Cherry! What a blast. I'm tired, time for bed.