Sunday, October 13, 2019


I have a structured set of folders on my hard/cloud drive containing all the material used to create blog posts here over the past 9 years. A while ago I decided to take snapshots of the folder contents to create a visual overview of how my work has evolved. I started by working backwards from the present & got about halfway.  Recently I began another push & on a whim, reversed my method, intending to meet in the middle. After a little while I realised that I was telling myself a story as I went along and that it was quite interesting. So here is the story of my blog, serialized, with pictures.

It begins with the Quick Access Toolbar I had recently developed. Part of the justification of my blog was to disseminate ideas to other Revit users at GAJ. 9 years later almost no one makes use of the QAT, except for cases where I have done it for them. Seems strange to me. It’s such a simple thing but it’s saved me thousands of clicks over the years. Just decide which commands are buried too deep for your liking and bring them to the surface.

I had been using Revit for 5 or 6 years, following several blogs (Dave Light, Steve Stafford, Zach Kron who else?)   Dubai has a great need for shade structures, and a long tradition of hanging cloth over spaces where people sit and drink tea, smoke shisha.  Tension structures have become popular as a modern equivalent, so I had a go at creating a family with three angled posts and a triangular sail.  I think adaptive components were not yet invented so this was rather a dumb, in-place effort. I made an adaptive version a couple of years later which we have used on several projects.  Actually this was never used as a blog post, but I did use some of the images on a page called “experiments” that is accessible from the row of buttons just below the title banner.  It’s a static page that hasn’t been updated for several years.  Just a dumping ground for stuff that didn’t merit a formal post really.

So here’s another local tradition to do with extreme climatic conditions: the musharabiya.  We had a project with a large number of these, different sizes but all the same basic pattern.  You can make an array, no problem, but what about the intermediate sizes.  So this solution uses a void to cut the edges of an oversized array.  It’s a crude solution in a way, but it did its job.  I used a sweep for the module, with a profile and a very short path to control the depth.  Apart from making it easy to swap in new patterns, this defeats the tendency of extrusions to distort when the reference planes controlling the void move across to form different sizes.

Soft furnishings are a recurrent them in my posts.  It’s not what Revit was designed for, but if you have a rendering engine, and if the idea of BIM is to provide continuity from concept design all the way to facilities management, surely you need a way to represent pillows and curtains and bedspreads in a semi-convincing manner.  So this post applies the “lofted series of parametric profiles” idea (probably derived from Zach) for the first time.  Pillows of various sizes and shapes.  A weird looking building with triangular windows, and of course … a toilet.

Another early attempt at adaptive form.  This was one that I shared with the office via my “Revit Lunch” series, which flourished for a while and died a death.  I guess I felt that support from senior management was somewhat lukewarm.  Anyone else ever had that feeling?

There is a curtain system by face, based on an in-place surface which adapts to changes in the support structure: 3 instances of a family with a radial array of 4 poles & some parametric control.  Crude stumblings in retrospect, trying to achieve something fluid, dynamic, exciting that lay just beyond my grasp.

Another Revit lunch.  I was following the metaphor of “starter, main course & dessert” which I thought was rather effective.  Show off a couple of news items while the audience is settling down.  Then do something substantive for say 20 minutes.  Finish with e.g. a short video from the web.  The main course here was a Greek temple that I had modelled one weekend.  The post itself is mainly about the temple, but makes reference to my Revit Lunch sessions.  And thereby I hoped to get Revit users at the office to follow my blog, because it would contain the write-ups of Revit Lunch sessions.  Good ideas don’t always survive the ruthlessness of natural selection.

Of course there is the first stirrings here of Project Soane and Project Notre Dame, but how could I have predicted that?

Stairs are a constant challenge.  They have improved, but nobody is really fully satisfied with what this tool can do.  It could be easier, and it could be more versatile.  Creative solutions will continue to be devised.  Here are a couple of mine.  Another weekend striving to improve my competence and to explore the “way we build” at the same time.

Cars.  These days, if you have Enscape3d, there are some excellent vehicles available for Revit.  Other solutions over the years have included CAD mesh files that look awful in shaded views but render quite well.  RPC (Archvision) is another solution, and you get a few free starters with Revit.  This was my attempt to create a quick “architects sketch” of a generic family saloon.  It’s a modelling challenge for its own sake, with a practical end in mind.  I though it was quite cute, in the way that quick sketches by architects often are.

There was this thing called 123D.  It was one of those freebies that Autodesk put out from time to time to test the waters.  I saw it as a possible tool for creating acceptable geometry for sanitary ware items.  It’s been a longstanding gripe of mine how awful most of the bathroom content is (getting better gradually) Either you get clunky shapes with sharp edges, or you get mesh objects with horrific triangulation. (I have a solution for that now)  So this was a successful experiment, but I never took it further, and 123D expired.

Around this time I was acting as host to CPD sessions by suppliers who gave a free lunch to 20 or 30 attendees who listened to a talk of some kind, supposedly with educational content.  Current management doesn’t see the value in this, so it’s fallen away.  But for a couple of years it provided a way for me to interact with the supply side of our industry, many of whom knew little about BIM.  I learned a lot, and my ideas about how to integrate suppliers and manufacturers into the BIM venture have evolved as a result.  Here is an attempt to develop a 3d family for movement joint products.  It’s a line-based family with embedded detail items.  I’m not sure anyone has taken this up in a serious way.  We’ve never really used it in practice.  Maybe one day everyone will incorporate this level of detail/information in their model.

My first pillow was a) in the mass category b) too regular to pass as a real pillow.  I came up with a vanilla Revit version and then stumbled across a solution that was still resizable but featured a kink along the two short sides. I love these simple little tweaks that fool the eye into seeing more complexity than is really there.  Once our brain gets the right kinds of clue, we hallucinate the rest from previous experience.  Magic … or as close as you can get.

Reference planes.  Classic love-hate relationship.  They repay the effort of learning to use them effectively.  The deck chair was an excellent learning exercise for me, and I also think it’s a really cute object.  Haven’t had much opportunity to use it though.  All the same, the feeling I get now, looking back at the first 12 posts on my blog, is that I was starting to find my voice.  The posts are growing in confidence, and the major themes have been laid down.

So that’s the first phase of my blog, leading up to my first Pumpkin competition.  Towards the end of this period I met Tim Bates from Newforma.  He found my blog interesting and passed it on to Dave Light who gave me a brief mention.  Up to that point I had been lying low, with very little traffic, but the timing couldn’t have been better.  I had no idea that the pumpkin adventures were about to begin, or just how crazy an obsession they would become. Amazingly, an audience popped up, just at the right moment, and this blog has been a central reference point in my life ever since.

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