Codeless Revit Customization

So I received a call inquiring if I'd write an article about customizing Autodesk® Revit®.  My initial response was, "Golly Gee.  I don't know anything about writing code.  Why would I want to?  I'm an architect."

Ironically, I had spent much of my young professional career learning how to use LISP so that I could make AutoCAD® do the things I wanted it to.  I switched to Revit and most of those difficult tasks were no longer a part of my life.  Productivity went up and frustration slid right down the back of the learning curve!

I don't use Revit right out of the box.  There are ways to make the production of drawings faster, easier and less expensive!  If you're a design professional, follow along with this article and we'll explore how to "customize" Revit without knowing code. 

With what method shall we "Customize?"  We shall use our template.  If you're new to Revit, keep right on reading.  If you're more of a Jedi Revit Master, skip ahead.

Getting down to basics; Lines, Fonts, Dimensions, Title Blocks, Tags

"I opened the box and started working.  But the drawings look so very different!"

Well, of course they do.  If you've not had a chance to work in another office, then you may think there is only one way to communicate a design with drawings.  Customizing your template should start with the items that take the least amount of effort to understand.  Those would be the line weights, fonts and dimensions.

Fonts and dimensions can be modified by selecting a font (or dimension).  In Properties, select  .  Like most things in Revit, you then duplicate it and make it yours (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Property options for dimensions.

In our office, we decided to make life simple by using only one font. This font is different from our previous “archaicCAD” fonts.  We selected Arial because it takes up the least amount of real estate on the sheets and everyone who uses Windows has it.  An unintended consequence is that we can very quickly tell which program the drawings were made in because the fonts don't match our previous 2D life.  Dimensions get modified in a very similar fashion.

Lines are a different beast.  All the line customization tools are found in the Manage tab, under the button Additional Settings.  Start with line weights (see Figure 2). We used our old plotter configuration file.  You cannot import it, but you can open the file and transpose the numbers from one program to the other.  The provided line patterns will probably prove to be enough, but you can always add to the list.   The culmination of weights and patterns come together in Line Styles.

Figure 2: Line tools are located under additional settings.

Title blocks are the next thing to work on.  Your title block is a family.  Families are made and edited outside of your template, then imported into it.  I would recommend starting with one that is already populated with stuff.  Stuff is good.  Stuff would be things such as parameters and schedules.  For maximum efficiency, bring the line styles and fonts that you just established into your title block family.  You can do this by making samples of each directly on a sheet.  With both the template and the family open, you can copy and paste between the template (sheet view) and the title block family.

The default tags in Revit may or may not match your office standard.  The choice is yours (or perhaps it belongs to your superior).  Decide if you're going to use the defaults or if you're going to customize the tags.

Customizing the tags also requires editing families.  The best advice I can give is to make small changes and load the family into your template often.  This lets you do quick evaluations and minimizes the potential for big screw-ups.  For clues on the best way to edit families, use the Revit Families Guide.

Where is the template?

Set the default template in Options (Big purple R, Options in the lower right corner).  Under the Files tab, you can select the template you want to use every time.  If you're setting up a customized template for your office, make sure this is set on every Revit machine in your office.

If you have multiple templates (perhaps one for each project type), you can manually select the template you want to use (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Select Open/New Project from the big purple R to choose to a specific template file.


"It's time to schedule those general notes; or perhaps it's time to generally note the schedules. Let's do both!"

If your firm is like mine, you have a plethora of general notes that you've grown over the years.  Heck, you may even have conflicting notes, just like I do.  Well, let me tell you (as well as myself), "It's time to sort this out."  Gather your general notes and place them in your template.  Where do you put them? You have three choices.  1) Type the notes directly onto the sheets (bad idea); 2) Create a legend for your general notes so that you can place them on multiple sheets (not a good idea); 3) Create a drafting view for your general notes and place them on one sheet (the best idea).  In case you missed the hints, use option 3 because it allows you to easily move the notes to the final location and prevents you from accidently placing them on multiple sheets, a major (and common) infraction of the proper way to prepare drawings.  I only mentioned the first two options so you don't fall into these traps.

I'm confident that your firm also has a certain look for schedules.  It may take a lot of effort, but you can either achieve the same look or create a new (and improved) look that communicates the same information.  This is the best example for why we should make templates.  Go ahead and track the amount of time that it takes to customize your door schedule, room schedule, window schedule, ceiling schedule, wall schedule, and all of the miscellaneous schedules your firm uses.  You could end up with a few hours or a few days of work.  By placing these schedules in the template, you’ve deducted that time from the production time for each project!  According to Hakki's Theory of Revitivity, "The shorter the amount of time spent with the mundane will directly impact the financial standing of your project and the size of your bonus."

Adding Content

"God is in the details!" – Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

How many ways are there to build a stud wall?  Not many.  Chances are that you or your company has a standard set of preferred practices or materials.  You may already have a library of details that go far and beyond stud walls.  If you use them, then you should continue to use them!  The difference is that they're now going to be included in your template and you'll no longer need to go looking for them.

Import your CAD details as dictated below.

Prepare your AutoCAD detail for importing.  The line work will come in just fine.  Hatching will not.  If it's a simple hatch that you'll never need to use again, you can choose to explode it.  If it's a hatch you that you need to be modifiable (perhaps the detail scale will be changed), consider creating a region in Revit after you've imported it.  Annotation should be set to a windows font and should have a width factor of 1.  You're going to lose leaders and dimensions.

In Revit, create a drafting view with the correct scale and a good organizing name. Import the CAD file and explode it.  Select your lines and change them to Revit line styles.  (Hint; if you insert with color, you can filter your selection by color.  This allows you to change red lines to wide lines or yellow lines to thin lines.)  Select your text and change it to a Revit style.  Re-establish your dimensions, annotations, and regions.  This could be time consuming, but it will be rewarding.  Ask your coworkers to join in the fun and good times.  Not only will it make the task go much easier, it will expand your company's collective Revit experience.  Be selective about the details you choose to convert.  If you have a detail that has caused issues during construction, maybe it gets left behind.

Another method to get details into Revit is to draw them.  After all, Revit 2D is very quick and intuitive.  By drawing the details from scratch, you can take advantage of the detail families that come with Revit.  If you haven't used them, give it a shot.  You'll thank me!

Establish Phases

"I saw a Star Trek episode where Captain Kirk was transferred into a different phase of reality!"

Interesting, but that has nothing to do with construction phases.  In our current economic reality, there are a lot of building owners who would rather spend construction money to fix things up and reuse them, rather than to build from scratch.  Well, Captain Kirk, set your heading to that big bright star called Revit. We have a tool for you to use!

This is one area that Revit does seriously well.  There is no 2D ArcaicCAD program that can compare.  When you model something in the existing phase, it is existing.  When you model something in the new phase, it is new.  If an existing something needs to be demolished so that a new something can be built, then it gets demolished in the new phase.  If you're not familiar with Revit Phases, then this will sound like Klingon.  We need a Rosetta Stone. Let's use samples and examples.

Here's the situation.  Our client has an existing office building and wants to reuse it. The bathrooms and conference room work well, so we're not going to change them.  Our Reviteer (let's call him Spock) spends some time measuring and modeling.  Perhaps his budget can afford a laser scan (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: Everything modeled so far is in a set of views set to Existing, Show Previous + New.

Spock now makes a new plan view of the same level.  (Perhaps he duplicated the existing view to save a little bit of time.) This view will become the demolition plan (Figure 5). The first thing he does is change the property of the view.  All of the items modeled in the existing phase now appear grey. Spock selects items that will be demolished to make way for new construction. He changes their property so they are demolished in the new phase.  Items may need to be selected by object type, rather than as a complete group.

Figure 5: Spock's demolition plan after selecting items to be demolished.

Spock now makes another plan view of the same level.  This will be the new construction phase.  He quickly models the new construction (see Figure 6).

Figure 6: All of the objects set to be demolished in this phase are no longer visible.  The existing items to remain are visible and grey.  New items are shown solid.

Being the clever Reviteer he is, Spock has a complete graphical record of the space from existing to new.  He'll go back to that record as he does quality control through the rest of the project.  As the owner's finances change, Spock will be able to add or remove items from the scope by modifying when they get built/demolished.

And you, my Revit customizing friend, are the true genius behind Spock's success.  You were the one who set up the template with the phases and views that Spock used for this project.

Setting The Views

As you know, Revit is a 3D program.  We spend our hours doing fun stuff, like building a model.  When it comes time to show your work, you should not show the 3D model, no matter how cool it is. (Believe me, your owner doesn't want to spend time watching you pan and zoom around the model. I know this from experience.) It is much better to show fixed views that represent the model.  After all, when you're ready to submit your design for all of those prestigious awards, you don't submit the building, you submit photos of the building.

So let's consider the views to be snapshots.  With Revit, we can have multiple views of the same image used for multiple purposes.  For example, we have a plan view of LEVEL 1.  This plan view can be used to generate an egress plan, construction plan, furniture plan, flooring plan, and presentation plan (see Figures 7, 8, and 9).  In addition, each plan can represent multiple phases.  Using Revit terminology, we are looking at views.  A view is any plan, section, elevation, or detail that represents a portion of the model.

What type of building does your company design most often?   Determine what types of views you're going to need for most projects.  Go ahead and make the views you need.
Now, you have to ask yourself, "What do I want this plan to look like?"  Edit the view Detail Level, Visibility Graphics (model and annotation categories) and Graphic Display Options to show all you need to see.  Below are some samples of what you can do, using Spock's model.

Figure 7: A construction plan.  

Figure 8: A furniture plan.

Figure 9: A Presentation Plan.

Establishing these views in your template will not only eliminate the time needed while you're producing the drawings, it will give a more uniform look to your drawings, creating a signature.  More importantly, as you modify the model in one view, each of the other views is REVised InsTantly.  (What should we call this software?)

View Templates

"Sometimes I want pretty, Sometimes I don't."

We've spent a lot of time setting up views.  What happens if something happens?  We would need to go back and recreate those view settings.  It was not terribly fun the first time and you're not looking forward to doing this again.

The good news is, you're smart.  After you set the view, you created a view template (Figure 10).  Now, you can simply reapply the view template and all is saved.  You're back to having fun.

What happens when the building doesn't match your template?  Perhaps you're working on a five-level building when your template is based on two levels.  Did I mention that you're smart?  It dawns on you that you can take this process to a whole new level by applying the view template to your brand new levels!

But wait, there's more. It turns out that you're not just smart, you're seriously intellectually gifted! You have view templates that are set up for design and construction drawings.  Your design templates are color with shadows turned on and solid filled walls.    Your Construction Document template is fine and clean and has no shadows.  The detail level is set to fine.

Figure 10: View template settings.

Lay out your drawings!

"A thumbnail sketch, a jeweler's stone
A mean idea to call my own"

REM said it well, way back in 1986.  Stipe was foretelling how we'd use Revit to lay out our sheets in a way that could not be perceived in ArcaicCAD.  You can add your company's typical sheets into your template.  It's a quick way to see how your set will lay out, in thumbnail format.

In the end, most of us will place our views on a title block before we issue it.  This keeps the lawyers happy because we can include things like ownership, issue date, authorized use, and so on. You're setting up the views (as noted above) so why not place them on the sheets? (See Figure 11 for a super secret tip.) While you're at it, add those schedules, general notes, and generic details.

Figure 11: Here's a tip that is not well known.  If you add reference lines to your view, you can snap to them from the sheet view.  This allows you to line up your drawings from sheet to sheet.  Rumor has it that you can do the same thing with scope boxes.

Having your sheets set up in your template will allow you to go from nothing to something in a lickety-split second.  It also establishes a certain, coherent order to your drawings that will propagate itself across all of the projects in your company.  If you've ever worked in a larger company, you'll find that every design team has a different way of drawing.  After all, architects are always seeking a better way of doing things.  It's in our nature.  Revit will unify your company's output.

Figure 16: Some pre-established sheets with views.

Once your sheets are set up in the template, go back to doing the fun part.  As you make your model, your drawings are "self-populating."  As you rough out the walls, floors, ceilings, and roofs, you'll see your sheets filling up.  Add rooms, doors, and windows and your design will become apparent.

Of course, my lawyer reminds me to disclose the fact that this self-populated drawing is not ready for issuance until you review the set.  But you can print a set of drawings that is ready for markup.  Let's call this 20 to 30 percent complete.  If your contract is coordinated with your template, it's time to bill the client.

Interlude: this has nothing to do with setting up templates, but does fit into this part of the project process.  All of those views that you've made will be customized for whatever use they're designed.  You'll need to add notes for sure.  Perhaps you'll need certain tags or dimensions.  Maybe you need some enhancement with 2D linework. 

If your office is just starting to get into Revit, there will be those folks who do not want to get on board.  Don't blame them, because it’s human nature to be afraid of new things.  It's best to ease them into the process.  Dimensions, tags, annotations, and line work need to be done and do not require 3D modeling experience.  Ask them for help and give them the one hour of 2D training they need to complete these tasks.  Most likely, your coworkers will find that working in Revit 2D is better and more intuitive than working in archaicCAD, whichever program it may be.

I didn't know that I didn't know. What else don't I know?

There are those who are willing to share knowledge.  Do a quick search on the AUGI forum for templates.  You can download a template to use for reference.  Chances are that you will not be able to use any of these templates directly, unless you happen to work for the same company, but it is nice to see what others have done.

Ibrahim Hakki is an architect at ka in Cleveland, Ohio.  He uses Revit, Studies Tae Kwon Do and Kumdo, likes to Geocache, and does a few other fun things.

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