Adventures with Revit Plug-Ins

July 19th, 2013

Shaun Farrell and Rory MacTague of Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA), London, UK, examine various plug-ins and add-ons to see what tools are out there and which ones are actually useful. This article covers just a subset of all the tools currently being researched by the practice.

Part One

by Shaun Farrell

I set up the Revit Specialists team within ZHA with the goal of ensuring that tools such as Autodesk® Revit® are used effectively within the practice and that ideas are generated at all levels and acted on. Our team has looked at various tools and continues to do so. For this article, we have selected Chameleon, Geometry Gym, Revit Extensions, Roombook, Model Review, and Smart Sheets.

Revit Extensions 2013

These tools are available as part of your Autodesk subscription in the Products Enhancement section. On first look they seem to be targeted to engineers with reinforcement, steel, bridges, etc., but there are a few items worthy of note for an architect or any other user.

Figure 1: Revit Extension ribbon

The Grids Generator tool lets you create levels and grids through an easy data entry wizard, rapidly increasing the initial set up of large or small projects as well as assigning basic Revit components such as columns to these objects. It does, however, create the level markers to the maximized 3D extents, which may or may not be what you want. Its “older brother,” the Excel-based model generator, is a slightly more complex version that uses Excel instead of the wizard. These tools are only really useful in straightforward structures rather than anything of great complexity.

The Model Compare tool requires you to have two Revit files open in order to compare them. We did this on only small files as an initial test took a couple of minutes to process even the simplest model. The output was a side-by-side comparison of general information, elements, and parameters. This did throw up some interesting possibilities, but we believe that it would take further processing of the output to be really useful for analysing and displaying differences and similarities between files.

Figure 2: Model Compare

We also found the Element Positioning tool potentially useful. This promised to create position-based tags for elements. For all intents and purposes it did exactly that, using the “mark” field. This is a very useful tool for applying data to a lot of objects at the same time, as far as labeling goes.

Roombook and Areabook

Roombook and Areabook are among the more in depth add-ins we tried. The sheer multitude of options available when these two products are combined would warrant an article on their own. These do go some way in overcoming the limitations of the calculation side of the in-built Revit tool with regard to areas and calculation methods. In addition, these products give new users an insight into what is possible to extract from a Revit object.

Figure 3: Roombook and Areabook ribbons

The ability to classify rooms with a sub-area type and apply calculation rule percentages by the sub-area is a very useful, granular approach to the complex task of the rules for space utilisation. There is, of course, the ubiquitous Excel export, whose default template does not do a bad job of giving a well-presented report.

Model Review

If you have ever used standards checker in AutoCAD® then you will immediately know where this tool is coming from. All I can say is download it and use it today! Whilst it can take some effort to configure the checker to your standards, the sheer range of things it can check out of the box (see Figure 3) makes it worth the effort.

Figure 4: Model Review interface

Smart Sheets

Smarts sheets by Tools4Revit is the first of the tools we’ve reviewed in this article that is not a free tool. This caught our eye for two main reasons: the ability to duplicate sheets including layout, views, and alignments, and the ability to make large numbers of sheets in one go.

Simply set up one sheet how you want it to look and then, using the Smart Sheets tool, you can create a series of drawings using your default drawing as a guide. So at long last you can easily do multiple floors of a tower or more modest buildings with just a few clicks. You can also go back and manage the attached views afterward and swap/update across all sheets or a selection set. Well worth a trial—even just to see how the interface works. Once you have tried the interface, you will immediately be familiar with how the other tools from T4R work.

Part Two

by Rory MacTague

Chameleon

Why Was It Chosen?

Chameleon is a lightweight plug-in for Robert McNeel & Associate’s Rhino modeler and its companion open source programming tool, Grasshopper. Chameleon promises (amongst other things) to be able to bring geometry from Rhino/Grasshopper (RH/GH) into Revit. It attracted us on a practical level as it was able to get rational metric objects out of Revit and “parametricise” them within RH/GH. It also attracted us also on a conceptual level as we were able to bring Cartesian information directly from RH/GH into Revit, rather than having to bring in the often non-rational topology from which the surfaces and forms were derived.

What Problem Will It Solve?

A key problem Revit has is with “shapes-created-in-some-such-other-than-Revit-software”—it doesn’t like them and hates you for it, too. Therefore, we experimented with .SAT files from various programs and found that slicing up the forms into surfaces and “panellising” these surfaces to get them into Revit worked, but very slowly, and with often unpredictable results. Linking the .SAT slices into Revit also created headaches with file loading and asset tracking. 

Hiroshi Jacobs’ Chameleon for Grasshopper & Revit plug-in solved this with a minimum amount of fuss.

How Was It Installed?

It is drag and drop into both Revit and Grasshopper, which was perfect for us—a team of Revit users and another team of RH/GH users who could not communicate with each other.

How Did It Perform?

The examples and instructions for the adaptive components and geometry export are very thorough and we were able to transfer from RH/GH a 15-point adaptive component with three levels of nesting (rain-screen panel, secondary strut-work, linings, structure), all of which were themselves adaptive, metric, and producing reporting parameters for scheduling.  It did this in less than five minutes of calculation time, having previously taken upwards of an hour with the .SAT process.

Lessons Learnt from Installation

Firstly, Chameleon is a superb product and its author, Hiroshi Jacobs, should be on your “one-to-watch” list.  The ability to install and use the program within five minutes of downloading was key for us at ZHA. Finally, the clear and concise instructions helped as we were able to understand and adapt our work very quickly.

Geometry Gym

Why Was It Chosen?

Geometry Gym is a series of Grasshopper plug-ins that create within Grasshopper building elements (floor, wall, column…) that are then mapped to their IFC equivalent. This will allow us to export parametrically derived forms, structures, and organisations (le spécialité de la maison Zaha), directly into Revit.

What Problem Will It Solve?

Currently within ZHA there is a disconnection between the creation of form and the creation of documentation to enable coordination. By unifying within a single workflow, the creation of form and its underlying logic/structure, we hope to both improve the quality of the detailed product and also inform the earlier atectonic design stages with more constructible logic, creating a non-hierarchical discussion between the non-linear parametrical design process and the constituted artifact.

How Was It Installed?

We are currently trialing the open source version and a “re-tooled” version made by our Rhino reseller. We have a policy of requiring all new software to be used for a 30-day period, after which a report on its effectiveness is made to the software committee.

How Did It Perform?

We understand that Geometry Gym is both a mature product and is being adapted by a number of engineering firms for their own purposes.

Lessons Learnt from Installation

A practical lesson in that it may be good to earmark a project for trialing a new process, but if the project comes to a halt, so does the research.

Conclusions

There are many plug-ins out there. Some free, some subscription, and some retail. Many do things that Revit really should do out of the box and some delve into specialty areas of modeling or data manipulation/reporting. We continue to look for solutions as long as there are fresh challenges, and we constantly review the way the current tools work to see if they could be made to work better.

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About the Authors

Shaun Farrell

Shaun Farrell is the Practice BIM Manager for Zaha Hadid Architects and an Autodesk Expert Elite with over 20 years’ experience in the architecture, engineering, and construction industry.

 

Rory MacTague I

Rory MacTague is a widely respected BIM Coordinator and Architect at Zaha Hadid Architects with more than 10 years experience in the AEC industry.

 

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