Gain Control with Project Navigator

September 16th, 2013

The Project Navigator in AutoCAD® Architecture is the main point where you work with a project.  The Drawing Management environment within the AutoCAD Architecture Project Navigator helps you organize, create, and access all your project drawings in one unified interface.  Creating sheets for plotting is easier with the streamlined coordination that is built into the Project Navigator.  The Project Navigator has four tabs that you can use to enter project data.  These tabs correspond to the main phases of project creation: general project information, creating building data (constructs), and creating building documentation (views and sheets).  We will look at an overview of each and then will look at them more in depth.

Project Categories Overview

Each of the basic categories is represented by a folder in the Drawing Explorer within the project structure that helps you to organize your project files.  For every building project in AutoCAD Architecture, the following basic category structure is displayed on the Project tab of the Project Navigator palette:

  • <ProjectName>:  This is the top node in the project and is represented by a folder with the project name.
  • Constructs:  This is the default category for constructs within the project.  When you create a construct, it is saved into the Constructs category.
  • Views:  This is the default category for view drawings in the project.  When you create a view drawing, it is saved into the Views category.  It is important to note that if you create model space views within a view drawing, they will be placed under the view drawing in the same category as the view drawing itself.
  • Sheets:  Sheets in the project can be viewed in two ways: the Sheet Set View and the Explorer View.  Each of these views will be discussed in more detail later in the article.

The main category structure listed above is fixed, but you can create subcategories and subcategory trees within this structure.  Subcategories typically represent aspects of your workflow.  These subcategories can be set up in different ways.  For example, you might set up subcategories by discipline, by view type (presentation, section and rendering) or by sheet type (floor plan, ceiling plan and elevation).  It is important to note that you cannot mix basic category types.  For example, you cannot create a Construct subcategory within the Views category.

Categories offer excellent organization for a project.  Even small building projects contain a large number of individual drawings that can be difficult to track.  By putting them into descriptive categories, you can quickly find the correct files you need for your project.

The Project Tab

The Project tab on the Project Navigator tool palette is where you enter information that pertains to the entire project.  The Project tab allows you to do the following:

  • Change project properties
  • Launch the Project Browser
  • Launch the Content Browser to access the project library
  • Add, modify, and delete levels
  • Add, modify, and delete divisions
  • Synchronize the project with project standard styles and display setting
  • Enable and configure project standards
  • Refresh the project
  • Close the current project

Figure 1: Project tab

The Constructs Tab

The Constructs tab of the Project Navigator tool palette is where you add the basic building objects for your project.  Constructs are basically the main building blocks of the building model.  A construct represents one unique portion of a building, such as a building core or an entire floor.  You will need to assign a construct to a level (floor) and a division (area of the floor) within the project.  For example, you could assign an architectural construct named Interior Partitions—Second Floor/West Wing to the second level and the west wing division of the building.  Constructs can span more than one level, which is useful for objects such as curtain walls.

The Constructs tab allows you to do the following:

  • Open and close existing construct drawings
  • Add, modify, and delete constructs within the project
  • Create categories for constructs
  • Launch the Content Browser to access the project library

Figure 2: Constructs tab

The Views Tab

The Views tab of the Project Navigator tool palette is where you can create individual views of your building data.  Views contain constructs and are the primary location for you to add annotation like notes, tags, and dimensions within the project.  After you have created a view drawing, you can then create model space views within it. 
After the structure of the building project has been defined and constructs have been assigned to both levels (floors) and divisions (area of the floor), you can then start to create view drawings within the project.  A view drawing references any number of constructs to present a specific view of the building project.  In order to create a view drawing, you must first decide which portion of the building you wish to look at and which type of view you wish to generate.  View drawings will automatically reference the appropriate constructs in accordance to their level/division assignments within the building.  For example, to create a floor plan of the west wing of the second floor, you would create a view that references all constructs that are assigned to the second floor and the west wing. 

The Views tab allows you to do the following:

  • Open and close view drawings
  • Add, modify, and delete model space views
  • Add, modify, and delete general views, detail views, and section/elevation views
  • Change the contents of view drawings
  • Create categories for view drawings
  • Launch the Content Browser to access the project library

Figure 3: Views tab

The Sheets Tab

The Sheets tab of the Project Navigator tool palette is where you create and organize sheets for your project.  Sheets reference views and are used for plotting drawings.  The Sheets tab is also where you manage the project sheet set.  This is where you will perform tasks such as creating a table of contents, managing page setups, or publishing to a plotter, a PDF, or a DWF file.  The buttons at the top of the Sheets tab let you view sheet information in either of two ways:  the Sheet Set View or the Explorer View.

The Sheet Set View is a tree view of the project sheet set in which you have access to all publishing capabilities.  The Sheet Set view allows you to do the following:

  • Add, modify, and delete sheets in the project
  • Open and close sheet views
  • Assign numbers to sheet views
  • Insert a table of contents
  • Electronically transmit the sheet set
  • Archive the sheet set
  • Create sheet selections for specific tasks
  • Manage page and publishing options
  • Launch the Content Browser to access the project library
  • Publish the sheet set to a plotter, a PDF, a DWF file, or to an alternate page setup

The Explorer View is a view of the folder structure and sheet drawings in the project.  The Explorer View allows you to do the following:

  • Open, close, and delete sheet drawings
  • Create categories for sheet drawings
  • Launch the Content Browser to access the project library

Sheets are organized into sheet subsets in the Sheet Set View.  Sheet subsets are a logical structure.  The sheet folder category does not need to be identical to the sheet subset in which the sheet is placed.  To avoid confusion, however, it is recommended that you have parallel structures in the sheet set and the sheet categories.  You can rearrange sheets into different subsets within the Sheet Set View, but that will not change their physical location in the category or folder.  Also, when you remove a sheet from a sheet subset in the Sheet Set View, only the reference of the sheet to the subset is removed.  The layout itself and its containing sheet drawing are not deleted from the Sheets folder or subfolder.

In the Explorer View, sheet drawings are placed in folder categories. When you create sheets or sheet views within a sheet drawing, they are placed in the sheet drawing.

Figure 4: Sheet Set view

Figure 5: Explorer view

The Drawing Explorer

The Drawing Explorer is a tree view that is common to the Constructs, View, and Sheets tabs of the Project Navigator.  This is where the drawing files are organized.  With the exception of the Project Tab, each tab of the Project Navigator has a Drawing Explorer tree where the associated project drawing files are displayed.

Drawing files belonging to a project are displayed on their respective tabs in the Drawing Explorer tree view.  This tree view lists the drawings within their category. You can drag and drop or copy and paste drawing files in the Drawing Explorer.

External References

The Drawing Management feature uses external references (xrefs) as a means to create a project and maintain it.  Elements are referenced into constructs, constructs are referenced into views, and views are referenced into sheets.  The mechanism of referencing is identical to the regular AutoCAD External References Management feature; however, the background methods employed have additional features.

Xrefs that are created in drawing management can automatically make use of project data, while those that are created manually through the xref palette or command line cannot.  If you are working in a project environment, the best practice for referencing project drawings into other project drawings is to use the Project Navigator rather than the standard AutoCAD Xref Manager.  The AutoCAD Xref Manager cannot differentiate between project drawings and non-project drawings.  If you reference a non-project file into a project file by mistake, you cannot use the full Drawing Management functionality on that file.

It is important to keep the following considerations in mind when working with a project:

  • Do not delete any XML files generated by the Drawing Management feature as they are vital for the project.
  • Use the Project Navigator to create, modify, and reference project files within the project.  If you want to use existing non-project files in a project, convert them to project files first.
  • Drawing Management supports the use of relative paths for external references.  In the project setup, you can decide whether to use full paths or relative paths.  Working with relative xref paths makes moving the project and transmitting it easier and reduces the need to repath the project.

Refreshing the Project Navigator

When multiple people are working on the same project simultaneously, one person’s Drawing Explorer view on the Project Navigator palette can become out of sync with the changes of another.  To prevent this situation, refresh the Project Navigator by clicking Refresh Project so all items are updated to reflect the current project status.  It is highly recommended that this is done frequently during a project session if there are multiple people working on the same project.

On the Quick Access toolbar, select Project Navigator.  Next, select the tab where you want to refresh the file tree.  Then select Refresh Project.

Repath the Project

A repath is necessary after you make any of the following changes within the project:

  • Rename a project file
  • Move the project to a different location
  • Move a project file to a different category
  • Move a subcategory from one category to another

In addition to updating the project files, repathing will also update the paths of support files, images, and schedules that are referenced in the project drawings.

When you zip a project and then send it to another user who unpacks the project to a different location on another computer, the project will be updated in its new location when it is set current for the first time on the new computer.  However, this will update only if all project paths were correct and current when you zipped them.  If you have moved the project to another location on your computer before zipping it and not repathed it before zipping, the repathing on the new user’s machine will not work correctly.  Before you zip and send a project, you must make sure that all external reference paths in the project are valid.

You have the choice of repathing a single project file, all files in a category, or all files in the project.  On the Quick Access toolbar, select the Project Navigator.  Next, change the name or the location of a project file or project folder in the Drawing Explorer.  The Project Navigator - Repath Project dialog box will display (see Figure 6).  Specify when you want the repathing to be done (Repath Now or Repath Later).

It is important to note that when you repath a project that was saved in a version of AutoCAD Architecture prior to 2010, the drawings are saved in the new file format.  You will no longer be able to open these drawings in a version of AutoCAD Architecture prior to 2010.  Synchronizing a project with the project standards will also save the project drawings in the new file format.

Figure 6: Repath Project dialog box

Conclusion

The Project Navigator is a useful organization tool provided in AutoCAD Architecture.  I have found that the complexity of the organization is scary to many people, but don’t be intimidated.  Once you have incorporated the use of the Project Navigator, you won’t be sorry!

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About the Authors

Melinda Heavrin

Melinda Heavrin

Melinda Heavrin is a CAD Coordinator & Facility Planner for Norton Healthcare in Louisville, Kentucky.  She has been using AutoCAD Architecture since release 2000.  Melinda can be reached for comments and questions at melinda.heavrin@nortonhealthcare.org.

 

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