Thursday, July 31, 2008


Got an email recently from Looneybird, a licensed-for-three-years architect in Witchita, KS, asking about how Revit conversion in our office is going. First off, thanks for reading, Looneybird! Now I know I have six readers! Yayz!

First, I should explain to any laypeeps out there what Revit is. Most folks are at least mildly familiar with CAD, or AutoCAD. CAD is software used to draw electronically what we used to draw on paper—instead of drawing two lines 4-7/8” apart (but at some scale, like 1/8” = 1’-0”) with pencil on vellum or mylar, CAD allows us to draw two electronic lines, and we can draw them the actual 4-7/8” apart. No more using a scale to figure out how big something is or squinting at your paper—you can draw it “real” size.

Now, the more recent addition to the AutoCAD software lineup is Architectural Desktop, or ADT. CAD was originally designed for use by engineers, and ADT allows architects to a) build in 3D and b) have more tools available that we can really use. For example, in CAD, we used to draw a thin rectangle and an arc to show that there was a door in a wall. With ADT, you click on a tool that gives you a 3D wall (you tell it how long, what it’s made of, and how high it is), then you click on another tool that drops in a door object (which you also tell the software how big it is, what it’s made of, what the frame is made of, etc.). ADT also gave us some tools that allow us to create schedules of doors, room finishes, and the like. This is nice for coordination purposes—in CAD, you have to look at the plan, find all the doors, and then type in each door name and number, what it’s made of, how big is it, what kind of hardware it gets, ad nauseam, into an Excel spreadsheet. With ADT, you put all that info into the door object, then the software makes your door schedule based on all the info you put into the door objects, which makes door schedules a lot more foolproof these days. Nice.

Thing is, ADT and AutoCAD have always been a little clumsy. No matter what, it felt like you could never do just what you needed to do in these platforms. Added to this is how hard it is to manage ADT and AutoCAD. I can’t count the number of times our CAD manager, Sarge, as well as his predecessors have had to fix a problem for me in CAD that I never could have figured out how to solve without their help. Troubleshooting this complicated software gives me an aneurysm, and if it’s too complicated, then folks just quit using the 3D tools and start drawing in 2D again as a shortcut.

Enter Revit. Revit does a lot of thing smoother and better than CAD and ADT. The biggest difference in Revit is that you’re building the entire building in a virtual world. Essentially, you’re building a Sim City version of your building so that you can work out problems in it before anyone ever breaks ground on the site. While you’re building the architectural stuff in 3D, your engineers are laying out piping systems, ductwork, electrical raceways, and structural beams and columns in 3D models that get inserted into your model. When the models are together, you can see problems: oh, that beam is deeper than the ceiling; whoops, there’s a duct running through a beam; hm, we’ve moved that sink to the north wall now, and you’re still showing it on the east wall. Using Revit takes more time to produce drawings for the project, but the idea is that it makes construction go smoother. And frankly, smooth construction means a lot to architects. If we’re gonna lose money on a project, it’s because there are a ton of questions during CA, and we burn all our fee answering them.

So, over the past year and a half, we’ve been getting Revit on more workstations in the office, and we’ve all been getting training for Revit, as the goal is to eventually do all of our projects in Revit. And now to Looneybird’s question: how is the transition coming?

The short answer is…slow. Well, slow and hit-and-miss.

For a while there, it was about every day that someone emailed the whole office “can I get a Revit license please?” because we didn’t have enough for all the users. I haven’t seen that email in about a month, so it appears that we’ve got enough licenses, and evidently enough projects are using Revit now, just like we’re supposed to.

But old habits die pretty damn hard around here, and not just because of us. For example, some project teams have had issues taking a project from CAD or ADT to Revit, so they find that it’s easier to keep working in CAD/ADT. If I bring an ADT drawing into Revit, even if the ADT drawing has 3D wall objects, door objects, and so on, I’m only able to use the ADT drawing as a template for me to redraw or convert everything into Revit wall and door and window objects. So, if I’m doing an interior renovation of project that’s already in CAD/ADT and with the usual piddling-ass budget that we seem to charge with interior renovations, converting it to Revit doesn’t make a lot of sense, budget-wise or time-wise. CAD-savvy owners complicate matters: in larger facilities, like the hospitals I work on, the facilities manager and his staff are fairly comfortable and competent in CAD applications (but not always the 3D fancy-schmancy ADT stuff). Long-time WAD readers will recall that the architect must give an owner electronic files of their drawings once the building is complete. So, if I work on a project for which we already have CAD files, convert them through a laborious process into Revit, work on the drawings, then reconvert them back to CAD at the end…am I really saving any time? Maybe, but it doesn’t feel like it.

The CAD/Revit issue is a problem for me even now. The process I described above is what’s happening on many of the projects I work on, like MHRC. I’ve been trained in Revit and I wouldn’t mind working in it, but when a team needs my help for say, a day or two, I’m useless because I don’t have enough practice in it to be fast and useful. It becomes easier for me to have someone export the part of the Revit model that I need into CAD, then I use that exported file to draw the details the team needs. And then I feel useful and useless at the same time: useful, because I have the knowledge to create a detail out of a simple ceiling plan; and useless, because I can’t even use the freakin’ software we’re supposed to use.

I guess we’ll be keeping both AutoCAD/ADT and Revit on our machines for a long time, at least until we build in enough time and fee into a project to convert their drawings from one to the other.

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