SketchUp & Revit, Part 2

Continued from yesterday.

Let me start today by saying that I should have prefaced all this by saying that I only have elevations of the buildings (no floor plans, no sections, no details); the elevations don't have any dimensions. I should have also clarified the purpose and "LOD" of the model (purpose - for a preliminary pre-schematic estimate; LOD - minimal).

I started by modeled Building 2; it wasn't too hard.

Then I moved on to Building 3. Building 3 was slightly more complicated than Building 2, mostly because of the roof shape. After several attempts at trying to perfectly recreate the roof of Building 3, I got cranky. I had opened the SketchUp model to better visualize the buildings, so I started to rotate the model - play a little. I'm not used to SketchUp, so I ended up click on the building instead of rotating around it.

That's when I realized that I had selected the building. I got an idea. I type CTRL + C, CRTL + N, CRTL + V. I had create a SketchUp file with only Building 3 in it.

In Revit, I repeated the steps I used yesterday to import the SketchUp model as a mass. It worked.

I continued my experiment by clicking Roof by Face on the Mass design bar. Then I clicked a few of the roof surfaces on the imported mass.

After getting the "hard part" done, I modeled the walls, windows and doors of Building 3 myself.

After that I continued modeling other buildings in the same manner. 11 buildings down. 24 to go.

So having the SketchUp model ended up being a lot of help after all; although I don't understand why an architect would waste their time modeling in SketchUp when they could spend the same amount of time and model in Revit.

However...I'm still waiting for the BIM file format.

SketchUp & Revit, Part 1

This may be old news for most SketchUp/Revit users, but I am not a SketchUp user, so it was new for me!

Last week, I was given a new project to model: a complex of 35 buildings. I received DWG and PDF from the architect, along with their SketchUp model. I've heard that SketchUp & Revit are interoperable,
so I decided to give it a try. If it worked, it would save me days of modeling in Revit.

In Revit, I did the following:

First, I clicked Create Mass on the
Mass design bar. Then I clicked through File > Import/Link > CAD Formats. I navigated through to the folder where the SketchUp model was, selected the file (after making sure that files of all types were appearing) and clicked Open. Then I waited. Then...

Then, I saw this on my screen:

I opened a 3d view:

It worked! I was ecstatic. Then I clicked Finish Mass.

There was nothing I could do but sadly click Cancel. Since I'm not a SketchUp user, trying to fix the model to "remove unnecessary geometry" seemed impossible.

So I started modeling the individual buildings. All 35 of them, with their 35 different gabled roofs and 35 different layouts.

To be continued...

versions in Revit

When Revit v 9.1 came out earlier this year, I didn't really care. Although Tocci has a subscription to Revit, we chose not to update because so many of the firms that we partner with were still using v 9.0.

The Problem
In November, we received a v 9.1 model from an architect. First, I worried. Then, I realized that I could have both v 9.0 and v 9.1 on my computer.

Earlier this month, when I was working on setting up the link for a new middleware, I realized that it wasn't working because the export from Revit was written only for v 9.1. Luckily, they were able to write some code to export from v 9.0.

Yesterday, I started looking into utilizing Green Building Studio. I read the tutorial, got excited, exported a model to gbxml and then tried to run an analysis. But it failed, because I wasn't able to include zip code and building type in the model. Why? Because that feature is only in 9.1.

I haven't figured out what I'm going to do about this. Do we upgrade everything to 9.1? Do we upgrade models to 9.1 as necessary? What if I need to do an energy analysis on a project where the architect is using 9.0? I don't know why I am so against upgrading. Perhaps because there is no going back. Once a file is 9.1, it can never be opened in 9.0 again.

The (Potential) Solution
The short-term solution for this would be for Green Building Studio to modify their software, so that in the case of an analysis of a 9.0 export, it prompts you to manually enter the missing information.

However, can I really blame Green Building Studio for wanting to utilize new features that improve the results of an analysis?

The real solution for this has to come from Autodesk. I should be able to open a 9.0 file in 9.1 (or any higher version) without it converting. And I should be able to open a 9.1 file in 9.0 (and some lower versions).

Autodesk, when you are marketing Revit as a BIM product, please remember that BIM is about collaboration. So please, make it easier for us to collaborate!

on the lookout for cool BIM images

The BIMForum is having a little contest to find the best BIM images of projects, large and small, complex and simple.

We are looking for images of your BIM projects - the best ones will be featured on the new BIMForum website (which will be launched by February of 2007).

Best is loosely defined, so e-mail as many images as you want of as many projects as you have. Image is also loosely defined: please feel free to send in any form of multimedia.

Technical Requirements for Images
  • File format: JPEG
  • Minimum file size: 3" x 5"
  • Minimum DPI: 72
With your submittal, please give the following information:
  • Name (Yours; Company Name if Applicable)
  • Software(s) Used to Model
  • Project Name
  • Anything else you think we should know!
Please e-mail pictures to me by January 5, 2007.

DCR: the new (improved) RFI

Over the past week, I've put in about 20 hours modeling structure for the aloft in Lexington. As with any 2D conversion, questions come up that are not answered in the drawings. (This is due to the fact that I'm virtually building the building - rather than just reviewing the drawings to ensure that a subcontractor has covered everything in his bid.)

Instead of inundating the architect and engineer with a list of RFIs, which have a kind of negative connotation, I have prepared a list of Document Clarification Requests

I know. I know. "Isn't giving the A/E a list of DCRs
TM the same thing as providing them with a list of RFIs? Isn't this just putting lipstick on a pig?"

No. It isn't. Here's the difference.

According to OR Design & Construction, an RFI is
a document submitted by the contractor to the architect in charge of construction administration requesting clarification on any matter pertaining to construction requirements.

A DCRTM has a slight (but crucial) difference. Yes, a DCRTM describes issues relating to construction requirements that require clarification. However, DCRsTM don't just identify problems; they offer solutions (which has become some what of a mantra at Tocci). DCRsTM often come with visual representations of the issue, so that the A/E can quickly understand the problem and solution.

DCR Excerpt

DCR 5 . Block Wall
Reference Files: S101, S102
Description: The 2nd floor block wall indicated on sheet DCR-5 appears to be unsupported.
Suggested Resolution: Confirm current design or supply Tocci with a modification to the design.

Finding issues prior to construction is one of the values of modeling in-house. Issues don't just mean the results of a clash detection report; issues can be missing, conflicting or confusing information.

cost of a clash update

A few months ago, I did some calculating to find out the cost of a particular clash. Since then, we've used it in several presentations and have added some updates (click on each image to view it larger):

Now the question becomes: Which would an owner rather spend on one beam:

$26,932 or $1,410

model ownership

I haven't quite figured out why everyone worries about "who owns the model". This (much like when people think that BIM is a software!) is one of my BIM pet peeves.

Normally, I don't think about this at all; for me, it's a non-issue. However, this came up today at a meeting with a non-BIM architect who is interested in implementing.

If anyone "owns" the model, it's the building (therefore, the owner). As I've stated on many occasions, I believe that all of the project participants should be able to extract information as well as add information to the model. I don't understand the concern that some have about collaborating and sharing which relates to what I think should be the goal of the team.

I think my new answer to this question will be: who owns the construction documents?

structure in building

To avoid purchasing Revit Structure, we are using Revit Building to model structure. Currently, I am working on modeling the structure of aloft (a new prototype hotel from Starwood).

Revit Building does have structural modeling capability, but as I model the structure of a fairly simple block & plank building (with some mildly semi-complicated roof structures) I am reminded of something that Paul Aubin said about modeling in Revit (although he was referring to architectural objects).

Paul said (and I'm paraphrasing here) that the initial learning curve for Revit is steep. However, after a short time, a user gets to a point where they want more (usually custom families). At that point, they are halted until they learn how to create families.

The problem with modeling structure in Revit Building is similar in theory; although, it doesn't relate to a lack of objects. I can model beams, columns, footings, etc. However, to model structure in greater detail, I need Revit Structure.

If you look closely at the wood structure (which is the support for the roof of the pool enclosure), you can see that the intersections between the beams of different angles doesn't look quite right; they don't really connect very well.
The same thing goes for beams that connect at 90 degrees angles (although it looks somewhat better).

Again, this is not to see that structure cannot be modeled in Revit Building (and I am certainly complaining about the capability of the software to model structure!). In Building, I can create a model that can be used for clash detection, visual scheduling and quantity takeoffs. However, I don't quite get the pretty structural picture that I think I could get with Revit Structure.

autodesk v. open design alliance

(I wrote this on Thursday & then forgot to post it on Friday..oops)

I mentioned this
in passing; here is some more information on it from AECnews:

For Autodesk's Statement on the lawsuit, go here.
For documents from the lawsuit, go here.
For a report on the hearing from Dave Culbertson, go here.
For the Alliance's compliance statement and confirmation, go here and here.

the right stuff

A recent post on the BIMForum (by the Architectural iBIM Technology Coordinator of CUH2A) asked "who are the right people" to work on BIM projects? What "makes one person more ready for this transition than another?"

I think that a BIMer should be...
  • comfortable with quickly learning to new software tools,
  • open to new ideas, methods & tools,
  • creative - sometimes BIM requires thinking outside the box and
  • at least slightly irritated at the inefficients in current practices.
Those people tend to be younger professionals because they grew up using computers and technology (therefore are generally more comfortable with new software) and because they haven't been in the industry very long (therefore aren't particularly attached to current methods).

Not to say that more experienced professionals cannot be great BIMers. They just need to have the qualities listed above.

super modeling

Today, I received this months issue of the Architect's Newspaper.

I turned to page 16, which is where a feature entitled "Super Modeling" begins.

Then I turned the page, so I was looking at page 18 (for the same effect, you'll have to scroll down the bottom of the previous link) and read the section on construction managers, entitled "A Slow-to-Change Industry Takes Small Steps Toward BIM". And then I saw my name in print!

I wasn't too enthralled with my own section to ignore the other sections; the entire article is great. Definitely worth the read.

defining LOD

Finally! The "LOD" dicussions at Tocci are nearing an end. We have developed several different types of models (based on their function) and associated specific components with each model type.

This will allow us to better estimate how long it will take us to produce the model and associated documentation, which has a number of benefits. It also ensures that we don't waste our time putting too much information into the model.

Recently, we tested our most basic model on Southbridge, a multi-unit residential rehabilitation project in Philadelphia, PA.

Utilizing 5 drawings from the owner,
Mo & I had to:
  • model the building...........4 hours
  • model the site..................2 hours
  • define rooms..................25 minutes
  • create drawing set.........35 minutes
Our deliverable (excluding the Quantity Survey Sheets imported from another software program) is available here.

BIM @ Stubbins

On Friday, we took a little trip to Cambridge to talk BIM with a few members of the Stubbins (soon to be Kling/Stubbins) team.

Although we discussed a number of topics on Friday, the thing that most inspired me was the number of people that they have working in Revit. Approximately 70% of their staff have switched from AutoCAD to Revit - and they are quickly moving to 100% implementation. It really amazed me to walk through an office and see Revit on so many monitors; I'm used to only seeing it on my monitor!

Their implementation hasn't been easy, but they are doing an amazing job. Their work (displayed throughout their office) was impressive, but their collaborations with Skanska were even more impressive to hear about.

I'm not usually this optimistic when speaking about architects and BIM, but after speaking with some of the team at Stubbins, I can't help but be (even if it doesn't last through the week). Right now, the future of the industry seems a lot closer.

Liberty Hotel

Yesterday afternoon, I, along with several of my coworkers, attended a tour of the Charles Street Jail renovation project. The tour was really great; it is always good to get out to a site, especially a large & unique project like this one.

While we were walking through the mechanical room, one of my coworkers asked the super (who was leading the tour) if they had a lot of problems with collisions between pipes or ducts and structure. His reply: All the time. Her reply: You guys should have used BIM. His reply: Who is BIM?

She explained to him what (not who) BIM is and how it could assist with MEP coordination; he pretty much shrugged, let her know that they had an MEP coordinator (who apparently didn't do their job) and the conversation ended there.

Although I'm getting used to it, I am always amazed when supers and other construction professionals and workers are resistant to the idea of MEP coordination via BIM. Do they like the hassle of finding collisions in the field? Do they enjoy having to pay extra to resolve them? Do they look forward to getting lectured by their superiors when the project falls behind schedule? I'm assuming the answers to those questions would be a resounding no. Then why wouldn't they be open to the idea of any means avoid such problems?

I'm really not this naive. I understand that they might be intimidated by the technology or the change, have no say in the implementation of BIM and have probably been in the industry too long to believe in the "magic" of BIM. But I believe, and I will make believers out of all of them. No matter how long it takes or how hard I have to try.

music to my ears

Yesterday morning, the PM for one of our projects called me. The first thing he said to me was:
I need to change the way I think.
Then he said:
We might have a problem; the waste line might run into the foundation. Can you model it for us?
Almost brought tears to my eyes.

quick note about the BIMForum

If you have requested a user name and password for the BIMForum, but haven't been approved, please e-mail me and let me know.

BIM in Boston!?

A few weeks ago, I came across I found this, the Boston Redevelopment Authority Digital 3D Models website. I looked at it briefly, saw that they were providing 2D CAD, 3DS and VIZ files for most areas in Boston, and then I moved on.
This morning, I was reorganizing my weblinks in FireFox and looked at the site more carefully. At the very bottom of the site are 4 links, which are the most interesting part of the page.
There are 3D massing models of Downtown Boston, the South End & Longwood Medical Area, available for download in DWF format.

Even better, the BRA offers their "Digital 3D Model Submission Guidelines". Although they aren't asking for an intelligent BIM, it is certainly a step in the right direction.

process transformation

Implementing BIM requires more than purchasing a few licenses to Revit and Navisworks; it truly requires a process transformation.
Yesterday, we had a meeting to discuss a presentation on changes that we are making to our process. Some of these things are:
  • No more estimating! The estimating department is changing it's name to Planning and Cost EngineeringTM.
  • New work flows, so that we have the resources to virtually build the project before actual construction begins.
  • New staff - like me! Positions like Building Information Modelers and 4D Logistics Manager are appearing across the industry.
  • Change of philosophy: as John says, "We love our owners dearly, but we are all working for the project."


I was recently made aware of Affinity, a pre-design BIM software that synchronizes information from the conceptual design phase through document production.

It is not a modeling software; from what I can see, it is a database software that among other things compares program requirements to the actual design - flagging instances where the two don't match. Currently, Affinity v. 3.5 can work as a stand-alone or as a plug-in for Archicad; a plug-in for Revit is in the works.

More than any other software that I've heard about, Affinity seems to have the ability to truly streamline the building process. The requirements developed and the decisions made during schematic design impact many variables down the line. Streamlining those decisions and requirements could help ensure that owners are happy with both the building process and the end product.

who should create the model?

The most obvious answer: the architect or engineer.

However, for most of our projects, all of the designers don't use Revit or another 3D modeling program, so we have to model at least one discipline (usually more, though!). In the past 6 months, we've had about 8 projects to model to varying degrees. Over the course of those 6 months and 8 projects. our answer to the previous question has varied accordingly:

May '06
Prior to hiring Mo or myself, Tocci didn't have any internal BIM resources, so the Tocci management chose an (expensive) external consultant to model a project.

July '06
Once internal BIM resources existed at Tocci (starting in mid-May), we were able to create partial models in-house. However, as the deadline for the original external model neared, we began to get excited about the possibility of external models: it would mean that Mo & I could focus on implementing models instead of creating them. However, once the external model was submitted, the management lost faith in external modeling consultants; the model was inaccurate and incomplete.

August '06
However, after Mo & I became too busy to create all the models that were needed, we were able to convince everyone to try an external modeling service. This time, we found a much cheaper consultant that we would have to partially train ourselves. We didn't mind; we figured that we would get a much better model if we were able to be more hands-on with the consultant.

October '06
Our second external model was supposed to wrap up during the beginning of November, but it became clear to us that the external team was not as knowledgeable of Revit as we had originally thought; they were basically drafting in 3D. With a few web conferences, Mo & I were able to steer them back into creating an object-based model. We continued to create partial models of other projects, as required.

November '06
As the second external model dragged on, Mo & I started to lose faith in their abilities. We still believed that the team would eventually be great; we just didn't know when eventually would happen. We also started to consider what we were losing by modeling externally: learning the project. Discussions at Build Boston reinforced this thought.

Discussions over the past week have led to the following conclusion: we want to model all projects in-house. Currently, we have internal capabilities to model some civil, architectural and structural work; we are hoping that with subcontractor input & assistance, we will learn to model MEP work as well. However, we understand that we don't have enough people or hours to model all of our projects, so we are cross our fingers and trying a third external consultant for an upcoming project.

I think that there are pros & cons to both scenarios, and at this point, we need to be open to both. But I'm guessing that it will take more than 6 months to figure out the best practice.