Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Just for the record I'm not a big ACDC fan, but I've been developing some approaches to roads and paths that wind their way around a mountainside over the past couple of months.  One or two challenges on the way.

The first attempt was based on the idea of circles in plan that guide the spacing of points and dropping down from these points one metre at a time to give path gradients of 1:10, 1:20 etc depending on the diameter of the circles.

It's an adaptive component. A rectangular profile hosted on the lower point sets the width & depth of the path.  You can adjust the points directly in the project to make the road/path snake around the contours.  I made a pad to cut a channel through the mountain for my snake to rest in.

The sketch of the pad uses splines so I can adjust the edges of the cut, then painstakingly create bits of topography to simulate cut and fill slopes.  I was helping a design team to study alternative routes for an entrance road and get some feedback on how this impacted on the mountainside.  By the time we reached option 4, we needed more points and I decided to try a different, looser approach, just modelling directly in place.  Still massing, but just setting up a 3d spline by points, then hosting points on that and adding profiles as needed.

One of the challenges was how to keep the road from twisting.  This is where the title comes from.  Minor adjustments are fine, but if you make a major change to the route, the road starts to lurch around like a drunken man.

You can fix this by selecting the profiles one by one and rotating them back to a more horizontal position.  It's almost as painful as the point-by-point adjustment needed for the topography.  Roll on better site tools.  (We live in hope)  But we got what we needed from the exercise and I learnt some important lessons along the way (as usual).

That was 3 or 4 weeks ago.  Now we have to create a network of paths within the site itself and linking together the various elements within the resort.  So I wanted to come up with plan C that would have the freedom to add more points easily and also keep the path perfectly level during the adjustment process.

So I am starting with an in-place mass, setting the work plane to zero (sea level in this case) and drawing a spline.  Then I host points on the spline and change their "measurement type" parameter to "segment length"  This gives me a string of beads spaced at regular distances along a freely adjustable path.

Next step is to select all the points and change "show reference plane" to "always".   This allows me to  place a profile family on each point.  Then select all the profiles and "create form" 

Because all the points lie on a level plane, their reference planes will not twist when the path is adjusted.  So my profiles remain level, and an instance parameter allows me to set the height above sea level. 

Now I am in business.  I can adjust the centreline of my path in a plan view with the countours of the site visible.  I have points at regular distances (say every 10m) and I can set the height of the path at each and every point.  The profiles will always be at right angles to the centre line and remain level.  If I want a 2% cross-fall then I can build that into the profile family which is a based on a Mass template and set up very simply in a plan view.

I'm very happy with the result.  Next step is to start placing these on the site.

And here's a link to the download  "key to the highway"

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Not finding time to do a proper post.  I've been hard pressed dealing with one Revit job reaching a crucial marketing deadline (billed as the first new Dubai property to be released "after the recession" ... well it's nice to know the recession is over :-) ... and meanwhile the schools team have a shirt load of work coming in and want to ditch 2d drafting in the belief that Revit will allow them to achieve the impossible.

So I've been burning serious night oil, preparing training sessions, making families, getting my head around a totally new project, finding my way around sets of drawings that have taken a team of 8 people about 8 months to create using snail-draw technology ... but enough of the complaints.

This will be a rough snapshot of what I have been up to, which itself is a rough and ready, cobbling together of families that can get a team going with the intention of polishing the rough edges later on.

First up is the last family of today.  Ideal-Standard "silver" wall-mounted taps.  Start a new "Plumbing Fixture".  Drag in some CAD files downloaded from the web.  3 views attached to their corresponding views.  They come into 3d space if you drag & drop, but that's OK, I'm just going to delete them once the modelling's done.  It's all extrusions at first.  Jump between plan, front & side views to get it right.

There's a sweep in there for the spout.  Then I have a standard set of subcategories that I use for assigning materials for plumbing fixtures.  Start the names of with an underscore to separate them from other random nonsense that might get pulled into the project.  _Chrome is the usual one for all the taps & stuff.  So I create this subcategory and assign all the geometry to it.  Add a material parameter as well just in case we ever need to over-ride the object styles settings for some reason.

Checking out the image that was left on the server by whoever specified this item, it's not quite right.  OK so this is the long-spout version, but the flanges also seem to be different.  I'm going to stick with the CAD file version.  Yesterday I made a water fountain.  Missing some finer details, but it will do for now.  Both these familes read quite well in orthographic views just from the 3d geometry so I haven't bothered with masking regions and symbolic lines.

That render also has a soap dispenser from Bradley, who have great Revit content downloadable from their website.  I think this is actually the first time I've had a manufacturer-supplied family for a washroom that I can actually use on a real project.  Whoopee.  Please can the guys at Ideal Standard UK wake up and provide some Revit content.  The other point about this image is the tile material.   I made this today, from scratch ... and was quite proud of myself.

Had to revise my Hatch pattern file skills, because we can't rescale Revit patterns.  I made a 300x100 to while I was at it, and left a note to remind my how to tweak the numbers to get different proportions of stretcher bond.  All this in my special "fill patterns collection" which resides in our Revit library here at GAJ as a shared resource.

The second part is to get the bump map to match.  This is where I did a "quick and dirty" that worked surprisingly well.  Zoomed in to an elevation of a wall faced with the material in question.  Use the "snipping tool" built into windows (my favourite) to carefully grab a repeating module, then save this straight into my custom rendering materials folder.  So fast !  Part of the trick was to select the scale of the view so that the joint thickness looked right.

From there is was an easy job to assign that jpeg to the materials bump map and scale it to the right measurements. 

I've just about run out of words & time now, so I'm going to pop in a couple of images of some of the other stuff I made this week.  Cubicles and the like.

The WC families do make full use of symbolic lines and masking regions in all 3 orthographic views, because the 3d geometry that's in their for rendering purposes looks awful in plans & sections.  Plus it's a lot gentler on the processor ... assuming you might have a couple of hundred toilets in your project if it's an apartment block.  This one is a 3d mesh downloaded from Ideal Standard website.  The symbolic work is all native revit, but I did use the 2d cad downloads as a guide.  I'm happy with the results, nice crisp plans and sections and I made a keynotes file for the project that gives all the codes used on the drawings.

But please, you guys at Ideal Standard ... not that you are listening ... but why should I labour away making these families when you are the ones making the profit from the sale of the merchandise.  Maybe your first attempt won't be that great, but encourage feedback from your users, listen to what we say, and it wouldn't be very hard to achieve "best Revit content available for plumbing families"  the bar is pretty low at present, why not take a leap at it ?

And like a good movie, I will finish at the start ... this is my little A5 title sheet and opening advice for users of the collections files here at GAJ. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Freebies are nice, but the "open source" ideal goes beyond nice.  It implies belief in a bettter world based on sharing.  You've probably noticed that money is not equally distributed in this life.  Free access doesn't solve Global poverty, but it is a small step in the right direction.

The NBS is an offshoot of the RIBA, which is a fairly exclusive club.  NBS offers a specification system that is British in outlook, very well thought out & (in my view at least) much better than the american system that is gradually taking over in much of the world.  All these systems cost money, and are targetted at fee-charging consultants.

The NBS BIM library, however, is a free access service.  You have to register, but there is no charge.  It's too early to say how good this service will become, but a very positive start has been made with generic families for walls, floors, ceilings, roofs, doors & windows.  They come with very well written guidance manuals and are well worth checking out.

Manufacturer content is under way, and it will be interesting to see how well the NBS is able to standardise thise.  We all know how disappointing manufacturer content can be.  The NBS has a fine record for taking a chaotic world (the building industry) and imposing a clarity and logic that is based on the wisdom of experience.  Can they do the same for BIM ?

Their door families are interesting: a separate family for each type of door, no nested components & quite scary when opened in Family Editor.  I don't think you're supposed to fiddle with them.

By coincidence I came across SuperDoor this week also.  This is an american product, from an AEC software company.  It's a plug-in that helps you to create many different kinds of door family.  The approach could hardly be more different.  

I haven't bought a copy, so if you want to know more, watch the video here.

Some time ago, I downloaded the trial version of Door Factory, from a very dynamic outfit called Revit Works, based in New Zealand. 

The nice thing about this is that it has no expiry date.  This is ideal for me, because I find things, download them, then get distracted by a million and one other commitments.  So it was great to come back to my installation and take a more detailed look.  You can only make single doors with the trial version, and other advanced features have been disabled, but it's a valuable tool as it is, and gives you sufficient insight to decide whether you want to buy the full product.

I don't know why New Zealand is such a hot-bed of Revit innovation.  Maybe it's just a few inspired individuals working within a tight-knit community with a tradition of doing things their own way.  But from Kiwi Codes to Product Spec & Revit Works ... it's just very impressive.

The Door Factory uses an approach reminiscent of other BIM programmes, using a series of dialogue boxes to talk you through the process of building a door family.  Basically this gives you the best of both worlds.  The ease of use of say Archicad, plus the flexibility of an object that opens in family editor.

I was intrigued by the hinge-swing family that is a standard nested component.  You get the elevation & plan swings bundled into a single object which is highly adaptable.  Clever stuff !

 Andersen's window studio is a plug-in somewhat similar to SuperDoors or Door Factory.  Despite its name, it does make a wide range of doors, (in-swing, outswing, sliding patio doors) with a great variety of glazing patterns. 

Unlike the other 2, there isn't much scope for altering these doors in Family Editor.  The reason for this is obvious.  These are proprietary doors with embedded information including the product code.  If you mess with the oject in family editor, that information will no longer be correct.  So you can't type in a different width, for example.  If you need a different width, go back to window studio and make it. 

The downside is that you don't have the economy of types.  All your windows are stand-alone families with one type.  There are memory issues here perhaps, but it's not a deal breaker.  More disappointing is the lack of joined geometry.  Maybe this was difficult to do through the API, but it results in unwanted lines in elevation view.

Something else they might consider in the next edition, would be use of symbolic lines in section, plus visibilty settings for coarse. medium & fine views.  It surprised me how rarely manufacture content uses these features, which are so fundamental to the way Family Editor works.

Despite these minor grumbles, Andersen have taken a huge stride ahead of their competition by making their content available in the form of a plug-in.  As far as I am concerned,, this is the future.

Downloading hundreds of families from a website, unzipping, organising into folders ... it's an unnecessary chore, and how do you keep track of updates ?  Forget it.  Give me a plug-in that informs me when an update is available. 

Better still build into it the capability to check a project and tell you if your families are out of date ( or have been tampered with)   It's a no-brainer and the competition had better wake up fast, because if Andersen continue to improve their plug-in, they will have a huge competitive edge a couple of years from now when BIM really takes over at every level in the industry.

So many different approaches ... and I've barely scratched the surface.  It's easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer variety and to become disillusioned by the patchiness in quality.

We need a Guild of Revit Modellers, because as long as we remain GORM-less, chaos will reign and manufacturer content will continue to disappoint.  In the UK, NBS may succeed in combining standardisation with inclusivity and so lift BIM to a new level. 

Who knows what tomorrow may bring ?  As they say in South Yorkshire where I grew up  "As one door shuts another on closes"

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


This is a pretty unstructured collection of stuff I've been messing with. It started with a shade structure I needed for a real project.

The triangular sail is an adaptive component rigged up in the usual manner using spline-by-points to create reference lines.  Hosting points on these and controlling their fractional position along the line.  The main aim being to get a concave curve along the edge.

I had a nested post component with instance parameters for the height so the 3 posts could be popped up and down.  X & Y dims were also instance.  Gives a nice little family that can be copied around and varied, grouped etc.

Pretty simple stuff, knocked up on the fly in family editor, but it served its purpose.

There are lots of simplifications here.  The sail is completely flat & there's no connection detail.  This item was in the landscape consultant's scope of work so I didn't need to spend time on details.  Just get a simple representation into the model so we can see it in relation to the architecture.  But late last night I decided to take a shot at a better connection, with a cable & ring.

This is another nested adaptive component hooked up to a modified rig, with a few more points and lines to push the triangle away from the post so there's space to expose some cable.  I was trying to put a sweep along the curve to represent cable bound into the edge of the cloth, but I kept getting an error message and gave up around 11pm.  But it's getting there.

Then tonight it struck me that I have a 3 point adaptive component that is functionally equivalent to the Y columns I used in the previous post on divide & repeat.  So I took the sail just as it was and started playing with repeats.

It's all a bit random.  Not sure what the real-life application of this would be, but I had fun.  Which is usually a good sign.

Played with ellipses also. 

Instance parameters again so I can copy around freely and explore different combinations quickly.  Fairly quickly anyway, cos there's a bit of a recalculation delay as my laptop tries to figure out the revised geometry.

Maybe I will get a brainwave at the weekend about how to make these into useful construction elements, but at the moment they are looking more like lamp-shades or waste-paper bins maybe.

I went back to using 3 lines in the hope of getting some kind of extreme awning.  This time it's a family with 6 adaptive shape handle points.  You can vary the number of blades and push-pull both ends of the 3 defining lines to your hearts content.  Lots of fun was had, but its more like an Anthony Caro sculpture than a shading device I could use on a real building.

I'm starting to think there's too much going on.  Too many variables all at once and all you see is lots of weird triangles.  So what ?  Maybe I'll try again later and use more subtle variations.  But not tonight.