Monday, December 03, 2007

AU 2007: The Revit Mixer

Well, we thought we saw the last Revit Mixer in 2006, but it was back this year and bigger than ever. This was the fifth year the mixer was held and the first year I took the reins from Jim Balding, former AUGI Revit Community Chair. We had about 700 'mixing' attendees this year including the newly announced Revit BIM Experience Awards winners - Aedas of Hong Kong.

Several attendees had asked me to post the slide show I created from collected images and random tidbits of trivia. Below is an online version of it:

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

BIM and The Matrix

All work and no play makes James a dull boy...or so the saying goes. I'm a big fan of The Matrix Trilogy - fact: I took an extended lunch when Revolutions came out to see it at the Lincoln Center IMAX! It's about time to begin my comparison of the movie and special effects phenomenon with building information modeling. Think about the idea of bringing the idea of adding time to one of the controls of a camera. This is the fundamental concept of "bullet time" cinematography - FX guru John Gaeta's modern adaptation of the concept that predates cinema itself. Remember all those 'swinging' Gap commercials with "Jump Jive an' Wail"? Even more recent Advil commericals...c'mon!

Now think about BIM...what used to be 2D (plans, sections, elevations) and 3D (renderings) can now have an element of time (4D) as well. In Revit, we can assign building objects to phases - even link them to project schedules in Navisworks. We can use tools like Ecotect to simulate characteristics of space and material. But I digress.

As I make final preparations for AU, I have stumbled across one of my favorite 'viral videos.' Imagine producing The Matrix live - without any special effects? Check out "Matrix Ping Pong"...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Green Design: Project Chicago

While buried in my preparation for Autodesk University (Nov 26-30), I overheard some of my colleagues reporting in from the GreenBuild conference in Chicago about a great presentation from Phil Bernstein, VP at Autodesk, on their latest vaporware effort code named "Project Chicago." Autodesk has recently posted a video of this concept on their website. While the concept relies heavily on LEED credits for sustainability instead of a more open conduit, this demonstration is probably one of the first holistic approaches to the integration of BIM tools for design, modeling, visualization, simulation and analysis that I've seen to date.

Click here to link to the Project Chicago website.

Friday, September 28, 2007

BIM Discussion at Global Design Alliance

I was recently asked to participate in a panel on BIM implementation and experience for the Global Design Alliance (GDA), an "international network of dynamic design, planning and construction firms who are committed to growth and change." Our panel consisted of experts from Zetlin & De Chiara, Marsh, Lexington Insurance, Turner Construction, Beck and KPF along with me from SOM. So what do lawyers, risk advisors and insurance companies have to do with BIM implementation? Plenty.

One of the major factors in collaboration with building information modeling is risk management. As I see it, there are two basic methods of categorizing these types of risk - design/build consortia and design-bid-build. If a single company operates in design/build, risk management from data collaboration is minimal; however, when design firms and construction companies work together to deliver a project, risk management is critical. In many countries around the world, different approaches to project delivery such as the "Project Alliance" are being used to acheive goals and avoid litigation. You can read more about Project Alliances in Lachmi Khemlani's article on the 2006 AIA Integrated Practice Convention. This type of delivery approach is different than design-bid-build and can be described in a simple way.

I've always heard the expression, "throwing drawings over the fence," when referring to collaboration between design team, bidders and contractors. With BIM tools, we are now able to throw a complete (but scaled) model of the building over the fence. Hopefully, the receiving parties will have a much better understanding of the design intent with the model instead of a bunch of 2D drawings. Does BIM eliminate the fence? No. The fence remains and can be seen as a safety barrier if you equate the fence with your Digital Data Disclaimer. A properly written disclaimer ensures that the design team is merely sending a better and more complete representation of the design intent. The BIM data does not imply means and methods of construction and is being shared as a courtesy to the other project team constituents. Results of estimates, schedules and analyses derived from the Architect's or Engineer's 3D model are still the responsibility of the contractors, fabricators and estimators. The design/build or Project Alliance approach eliminates the fence, thus the data is more closely integrated.

While companies such as Lexington Insurance offer coverage for project teams such as "cyber risk insurance," the insurance industry is taking a 'wait and see' approach to BIM. This is not unexpected because new types of insurance seem to appear only after something bad happens. An interesting summary of the most common claims in building project lawsuits include the following:

  • Deficiencies in detail

  • Inadequate coordination

  • Deviations in submittals

  • Excessive changes

  • Failure to meet requirements

Today's BIM tools can serve to address these issues in a variety of ways. Deficiencies in detail are reduced with a better understanding of the proposed design through virtual construction. Tools like Navisworks, in concert with 3D modeling tools, facilitate coordination with automated interference detection. Deviations in submittals should be reduced because the quality of data being "thrown over the fence" is greatly enhanced. There may be nothing a design team can do about excessive changes by an owner/developer; however, these may be reduced by the design requirements being adequately addressed. This can be acheived through integrated program design tools such as Trelligence Affinity and energy analysis tools such as Ecotect or IES <Virtual Environment>. Hopefully, insurance companies will recognize the risk avoidance benefits of BIM tools and begin to offer discounted rates to the AEC industry.

Some other important tidbits and open questions from the discussion:

  • Michael Zetlin Esq. reminds us that "standard of care" is not defined by the client, rather by similarly practicing professionals. Use of BIM does not require architects and engineers to address means and methods of construction.

  • How 'front-loaded' should the BIM process be? Is the design team responsible for coordination? This must be defined in the scope of work!

  • Should risk be allocated across the entire project team including the owner who may have required BIM data delivery in the first place?

  • Is open sharing of model data the best risk management task as is distributes risk?

  • Under BIM, are deliverables now considered 'products,' not 'services' thus exposing the design team to additional risk?

  • Building information modeling is not a standardized process yet. All project teams handle it in different ways.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Archicad vs. Revit

A shootout or bake-off between Graphisoft's Archicad and Autodesk's Revit has been proposed in user forums more times than I can keep track of. A recent thread in the AUGI forums titled "Put up or shut up" outlines some of the inherent flaws in such a demonstration. You would need different types of similar projects, expert and novice users for each platform and a realistic set of criteria to judge the performance of each program. A few years ago, we launched an investigation into the three major BIM platform providers - Autodesk, Bentley and Graphisoft - with a series of questions related to functionality we think we would need based on an extensive inward discovery process. To no one's surprise, the questionnaires returned stating that each vendor could achieve most if not all our requirements. The proof would be in HOW each platform performed these tasks.

When I want to buy a new washing machine, digital camera or television, or perhaps see a newly released movie, I will do some research and dig into user reviews on the most populated websites. I will not go see "Hot Rod" just because the critic in the Post gave it 3 stars (purely fiction, no offense to the Post). In my opinion, surveying public opinion makes for better decicions.

What's this have to do with the post title? After receiving a trial copy of Archicad 11 from Graphisoft, I was recently made aware that they now offer a free 30-day trial to anyone with an internet connection (see link below). Way back around Version 7, I attempted to learn a little about this program to gain a more objective view of competing programs, but Graphisoft insisted on participation in a training program before any testing or trials. I'm glad things have changed and as a result, I'll be embarking on a journey to review the interactive training content and teach myself Archicad. I spend about 2 hours each workday on the train during which I'll be taking copious notes and sharing them here in regular installments.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

Implementing BIM

In a region dominated by Autodesk products, the adoption of Revit has been steadily growing for the past couple of years. According to the Rogers software adoption curve, we seem to be moving into the zone of "early majority" where the program is more commonly accepted and the masses are seeking guidance, information and anecdotes from the early adopters. In recent months, I have been frequently asked in no specific do I get started with BIM? This post will outline some resources and tips to help you begin implementation of a building information modeling tool.

Assuming your company has done its homework and is familiar with what BIM is and how it is transforming our industry, the task of implementing and managing change begins. In my opinion, the best results can be acheived with BOTH a top-down and a bottom-up approach. First, the leaders within your organization must take a public stand on the technology objectives, providing support if only on a conceptual level. A clear and decisive mission statement goes a long way in convincing reluctant project teams throughout the company. Second and equally important is the identification of those individuals within your organization who could learn the new tools, guide project teams and groom future leaders. These needn't be experts in the particular software you're trying to implement; rather people who are fast learners, have excellent communication skills and exhibit some form of leadership ability. These 'mavericks' should be personally involved in the first few pilot projects undertaken during early implementation.

For your first few projects, it is wise to consult with extenal resources offering both technical and business expertise. While most viable sources (see list below) can be costly ($1,500-$2,000 per day and up, not including expenses), we have found it to be a worthy investment. Such consulting resources can analyze your current business practices and help you focus on the results of your first projects by customizing essential elements such as training, best practices and manuals. I've listed a few consulting resources below based on our experience, but you can always start with your software's reseller or dealer.



Other Suggestions

  • Regularly scheduled internal user meetings

  • Monthly reviews of BIM projects

  • AUGI Local Chapter meetings

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Friday, August 31, 2007

Clever Anagrams


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

All Things Navisworks?

These days you can't find a story about BIM implementation in large firms without referring to the use of Navisworks - a robust 3D collaboration and coordination platform. With the recent announcement of Autodesk's intent to acquire Navisworks, I felt it timely and relevant to discuss the potential of this acquisition and give a brief background on this program. A historical examination of Autodesk acquisitions reveals several fates to which a subsumed product can succumb. Think of Softdesk's Auto-Architect which vanished after their purchase...or, more recently of Robobat which was announced, but apparently never executed. Finally, let us remember April 1, 2002 - when Autodesk incorporated Revit Technologies into their portfolio of Building Solutions products. To condense the thoughts of many devoted Revit fans into the words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, "I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened." We all know now that noble intentions were indeed underlying the wallets of big A.

Navisworks is a 3D viewing engine in which one can open and integrate about 150 different 3D file formats for the purpose of model review - or "3D spell checking" according to one of it's main competitors, Solibri. The company is based in Sheffield, UK with representation in several other countries around the world. Their product/module line has some peculiar names and is organized as follows:

  • JetStream: The overall conglomeration of modules. One can purchase a seat of JetStream, which includes all modules listed below.

  • Roamer: The core model experience engine and the minimum requirement for building a collaborative 3D file set.

  • Presenter: Adds the ability to assign photorealistic materials and lighting to imported geometry

  • Clash Detective: Probably the most valuable (and thusly most expensive) module. Provides the ability to automate clash detection between 3D elements, including the ability to perform 'soft' or clearance detection, generate reports, as well as custom views of each clash.

  • Timeliner: Adds 4D or timeline simulation to the Navisworks file set. This data can be imported and synchronize with programs such as MS Project, Primavera or ASTA Power Project.

  • Freedom: The free viewer for clients and other downstream recipients
While JetStream does not have any native modeling tools, it has the ability to construct a "file set" of reference data. As an example, these file sets might be comprised of a CIS/2 structural model, exported Revit Architecture model, and DWG model from Autocad MEP. Some file formats can be opened directly in Navisworks where others must be exported from the original platform with an exporter tool included with the Jetstream installation. In reality, the exporters emulate what happens when Navisworks 'natively' opens a model file (keep an eye on the folder of a file when you open it in JetStream).

The most common question I receive is "where is the Navisworks exporter for Revit?" Older installation packages of Navisworks would automatically find the related installations of Revit and add the exporter to Revit's INI file. For reasons unknown, they have ceased this process - opting to leave it in the hands of the users, but not necessarily telling anyone about it. Through Navisworks customer support, I learned how to enable the exporters for Revit and other programs.
  1. Go to your Windows Control Panel and select Add or Remove Programs.
  2. Find Navisworks JetStream and click Change/Remove.
  3. Use the Modify option and click Next.
  4. Choose the Plugins for the CAD/BIM software you have and click Next.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Keeping it real

I recently had the opportunity to visit two of our projects under construction within one week! Anyone who wonders why Architects do what they do despite the apparent lack of a monster paycheck just doesn't understand the inherent desire to design, construct and experience the built environment. It is the lifeblood of each and every Architect, Engineer and Designer on the planet.

While visiting our Chicago office, we were given a tour of the Trump International Hotel and Tower project along the Chicago River on Michigan Avenue. You might remember this project as the assignment of choice by Bill Rancic, the winner of the first season of NBC's "The Apprentice" with Donald Trump. As of my visit, construction has been completed to about the 30th floor out of 92. It's a concrete structure using PERI formwork. In the slideshow, you'll see some of the rebar cages for columns staged on one of the setback terraces for the construction above as well as the impressive hotel room views of the Chicago River. An interesting design feature is the curtain wall enclosure of the double-helix garage ramps at the rear entrance of the building.


Back home in New York, I attended the topping-out ceremony for the 101 Warren Street project, located just north of the World Trade Center site and 7 World Trade Center. Like Trump Tower, this project is also comprised of a concrete structure; however, it is being erected with more traditional formwork. It was interesting to see both projects within such a short time span.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Autodesk Eliminates Product Confusion...

...While maintaining angst for some small firms and private practitioners.

Autodesk has announced that almost all of their products in the Building Solutions Division will share the same nomenclature - matching the commencement of thier fiscal year. This news is most exciting for Revit adopters ("Reviteers" as the case may be), in that the three discipline verticals - Building, Structure and Systems - will become Revit Architecture, Revit Structure and Revit MEP. All scheduled to be released in April 2007 will bear the fiscal year stamp of "2008;" thus avoiding the requisite version comparison tables to remind ourselves that RB 9.1 was compatible with RS 3 and RSys 1 - but only the last compatability build...

While the name change is comforting to the BIM Managers and Digital Design Specialists of the world, some private practitioners are still upset over the fact they must purchase 3 separate packages or verticals if they wish to perform Architecture and Engineering services. The cost of such a complete package is over $10,000 USD. I can only imagine that Autodesk would bundle the 3 verticals into something like "Revit Enterprise" and sell it for $12,000, but that would be missing the point. Much of the questioning throughout the user forums stems from various features or tools available in one vertical, but not the others. For example, if an Architect would like to model some ductwork - even if he or she is not the Mechanical Engineer of record - they must use Revit MEP. I'm not sure what the answer is to this (probably why I'm an Architect, not a software developer!), so I'd appreciate your commentary.

Finally, now that Autodesk is aligning their major BSD products for an annual spring release, how will this affect developers creating plug-ins or add-ons to Autodesk products? Autocad has a famously robust and well documented API, but the more complex connection to the Revit product line will most likely cause a surge of demand for companies such as Navisworks, Innovaya, Trelligence and US Cost to refine the code for their plug-ins and either release an update or a new version when the Autodesk 2008 product line hits the desktop.

Monday, January 29, 2007

e-SPECS Implementation Part 2

As I've mentioned in my first post about e-SPECS, connecting the design model data to the specifications is all about the Uniformat assembly codes. Well, most of my time for the next month or so will be spent combing through our entire Revit library...making sure every family and type within each family references the appropriate assembly codes set forth by our specifications department. They have completed customization of the Uniformat assembly codes and I have to make sure their new codes fit into Revit's list. Let's discuss that, shall we?

The Assembly Codes Revit uses are read from a text file located at C:\Program Files\Autodesk Revit Building 9.1\Program\UniformatClassifications.txt.

The file is simply a tab-delimited text file which can be opened and edited in Excel. Remember to make a backup copy before you begin editing...just in case. The file consists of the assembly (Uniformat) code in the first column, description in the second, grouping level in the third and the Revit category codes in the fourth. Huh? Those codes don't make any sense, do they?

Notice, when you select an object to edit its properties in Revit (for example, a floor), the assembly codes are filtered to only show those codes related to floors. Drop the pull-down at the top of the dialog to show "All Categories." The filters come from the codes in the fourth column. Here's how they break down:

-2001000, Casework
-2000038, Ceilings
-2000100, Columns
-2000011, Curtain Panels
-2000171, Curtain Wall Mullions
-2000023, Doors
-2001040, Electrical Equipment
-2001060, Electrical Fixtures
-2000032, Floors
-2000080, Furniture
-2001120, Lighting Fixtures
-2001140, Mechanical Equipment
-2001180, Parking
-2001360, Planting
-2001160, Plumbing Fixtures
-2000126, Railings
-2000180, Ramps
-2001220, Roads
-2000035, Roofs
-2001260, Site
-2001350, Specialty Equipment
-2000120, Stairs
-2001330, Structural Columns
-2001300, Structural Foundations
-2001320, Structural Framing
-2001340, Topography
-2000011, Walls
-2000014, Windows

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Collaboration, Disclaimers and Risk Management

From my old blog...

I've been inspired by a recent thread on the AEC-IS Roundtable forum to discuss the topic of collaboration, digital file disclaimers and risk management when employing Building Information Modeling tools. I recently met with Jim Bedrick, Director of Systems Integration for Webcor Builders in California to discuss related topics and I credit the inspiration for this thread to his Roundtable responses.

Most, if not all practicing Architects and Engineers use a Digital File Disclaimer when transmitting CAD files to clients, consultants and contractors. These disclaimers function as the buffer between the designer's intent and the builder's means and methods. To put it bluntly, disclaimers absolve the designer or engineer of any liability due to errors or omissions in their digital data. Most disclaimers also state that the accuracy of such data cannot be guaranteed. Where does this leave the state of efficiency in collaboration? See the NIST Report on Interoperability or Paul Teicholz' article on Declining labor productivity in the construction industry.

Think about what that means to a contractor when you send him/her your CAD files or BIM model and you state that none of the lines or model objects are guaranteed to be accurate. Guess where that data will go... Herein lies the problem: today's liability and insurance requirements restrict the Architect or the Engineer from dictating means and methods to the builder, thus we must take a more focused look at our methods of modeling and documentation in a collaborative environment.

While movements are underway to change the way projects are delivered, in effect distributing risk across an entire project team (result-driven), I believe the A/E sector can begin to re-examine its current collaboration process with upcoming BIM software. To begin, builders like Mr. Bedric are imploring designers to avoid 'fudging' practices such as overwriting dimension string values in CAD files or widely using terms such as "VARIES." If the A/E industry can formulate a loose set of best practices for BIM, we will make great strides towards improving productivity and the usability of our data by downstream consumers.

As far as production cost savings are concerned, Mr. Bedrick believes that reducing the time and effort required to produce shop drawings by reusing design CAD/BIM data is insignificant; however, true value can be harvested by efficient use of a RELIABLE digital model in order to provide faster, more accurate quantity take-offs. This would drastically reduce the turnaround time on estimates and would allow for either lower pre-construction fees or more frequent cost estimates which would potentially "reduce or eliminate value engineering efforts resulting in rework for the Architect."

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Quality Representation

I'm reminded of a Jerry Laserin article titled "Much Vexation about Representation" which, in its simplest sense, remarked on the necessity of maintaining 2D or paper graphic quality while we venture into 3D, 4D, 5D and beyond. The reason for my reminisence is the amount of time I spent recently updating an Excel macro to format our extracted door schedule in a visual manner that exactly matched our legacy standard. Three difficult days were expended (found a neat tip on custom sorting a future post) on this effort because formatting code is far more verbose than data manipulation. The code for the data extraction and sorting is about 100 lines of code, whereas the module for formatting consists of about 1,000 lines! At what cost do we sacrifice our building information modeling?

Believe me, we've had our share of go/no-go discussions on Revit projects when we had difficulty producing a certain graphic quality of plans or sections. No one wanted to hear about schedules, quantities or 3D cutaway views. How many of you have heard..."Let's make sure it does what Autocad can do before we implement Revit"? It's painful, but a necessity to address until we are contracted to deliver the actual BIM data.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The PDF Killer?

DWF (Design Web Format) has been around for some time and is about to gain some traction. I first heard the news at Autodesk University, but it's gradually making its way out into the news...

Cadalyst's Sara Ferris reports:

"DWF files published to the XPS specification can be automatically opened and viewed using the XPS viewer built into Windows Vista, Autodesk reports... Microsoft will also release a stand-alone viewer for use in Windows 2000 through Vista. XPS Viewers will also be available for Mac, Linux and UNIX platforms."

eSPECS Implementation Part 1

It's the start of another exciting year and we're already getting underway on at least 5 new BIM projects in our office. The only resolution I decided to make this year is to ensure 2007 is the 'year of the action item.' By this declaration, I hope to bring some of the multitude of digital design initiatives to fruition and rigorously track the effort along the way (more on that in a coming post). First, it's on to eSPECS.

We had initiated a purchase agreement with eSPECS some time ago, but the implementation never really gained momentum due to the odd state of our Revit projects at the time. With our new projects, it is one of my first priorities to get our system and content library configured for maximum effect with the Revit-eSPECS connection...more on that later.

eSPECS is a software developed by Interspec located in Portland, Maine USA which enables two things:

  • Specification authoring using a relational database instead of mere word processing
  • Connection to the Building Information Model via Revit

The mapping functionality that makes the authoring "intelligent" is enough of a full topic, but I'd like to focus on how the product integrates with Revit. Most architects and engineers in the US organize their specifications according to the Construction Specifications Institute's (CSI) 1995 or 2004 guidelines. The 1995 version contains 16 divisions, while the 2004 version boasts a more robust 48 divisions. These divisions incorporate sections which are mostly relevant to a single trade or product - for example, Metal Fabrications or Cast-In-Place Concrete. These work well when information needs to be separately identified for subcontractors and/or fabricators bidding and executing a project.

In Revit, the digital elements are organized as assemblies. As such, the founders of Revit chose to implement the Uniformat Classification codes as a method to further identify objects such as walls, floors and roofs. If we examine a simple exterior wall in Revit, it is a single object consisting of potentially several layers - interior finish and framing, sheathing, insulation and exterior finish. Elements that are typically only shown in drafted detail might include flashing, anchors, trim, weep holes, etc. - all separate sections in CSI format. These are brought together as bindings in eSPECS - essentially a series of one-to-many relationships. In the previous example, a wall type in Revit as described above might have the assembly code "B2010141 - Ext. Wall-CMU w/ Stone Veneer" which would be bound to sections 04200, 04400, 05800 and so on.

The goal in this transfer is twofold: first, to enhance the communication and collaboration between the design team and the specification writers through the generation of a report from eSPECS showing everything in the model whether it was tagged correctly or not; second, it will automatically generate about 80% of the complete project specifications. The remaining 20% consists of individual material coding and specialty research. With refinement of the product, we will hopefully be able to generate the entire spec with minimal administration from the specification writer - allowing them to spend more time researching innovative materials and construction technologies. Another residual benefit of this implementation seems to be the re-education of our design team, again eliminating the 'toss over the fence' phenomenon. To make the transfer effective, designers must coordinate closely with our specification writers, giving them a higher level of understanding in feasibility and constructability.

View the eSPECS online demo via this link.