Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Revit and AutoCAD

It's been 14 years since Revit formally began knocking on the doors of architectural firms. The first response quite often was, "We've already got {insert your software here}, no thanks"! Other responses were, "Really? Let's have a look"! Which was then followed by "Oh gosh, you mean it doesn't do "X" just like {insert your software here}? Well thanks for coming by, good luck"!

As Revit matured there were fewer opportunities for showstopper items. The rejection response or yeah, but response also matured to focus on the practical side of changing an office from this to that. Such as, "We've got all these people who are {insert your software here} experts. We can't justify the time and effort required to move to Revit". Another familiar one, "We've got a decade of {insert your software here} detail and object libraries, we can't possibly be expected to do that all over again." Revit Structure was introduced (2005) and the conversation began again with engineers. A year later Revit Systems (now MEP) started the same dialog for another set of engineers.

When Autodesk decided to buy Revit Technology Corporation they confused many of their own customers who, until then, were using AutoCAD or Architectural Desktop (aka ADT, now AutoCAD Architecture aka ACA). I think Autodesk has a curious relationship with its customers. All too often I meet (and read people's writing) who, regardless how much they like the software they use, are at best ambivalent about being an Autodesk customer, at worst resentful or angry.

Witness some of the comments in response to my earlier post about Revit 2015's new features. Accused of being a monopolistic company or evil empire, we even joke that friends have joined the dark side if/when they are hired by Autodesk. I'm not sure what they can really do to alter this perception, except to suddenly offer their software for free? I suspect the stockholders might object to that move.

With that in mind, it has taken a formidable marketing effort to get Revit where it is today. In my opinion the phrase Building Information Modeling (BIM) was born in part because Autodesk desperately needed to differentiate ADT/ACA from Revit, at least as BIM is defined and expressed by Autodesk. The notion of using computers to help accomplish the broad goals of BIM is nearly as old as computers so it's not a brand new idea.

And yes, other companies lay claim to the doing of BIM and living up to BIM ideals too. It (BIM) just wasn't on the lips of AEC professionals or their clients the way it is today before Autodesk began expressing it in conjunction with Revit. This means Revit was the latest expression of those ideas on a desktop computer instead of a mainframe. Marketing is the telling of a compelling new story to motivate people, to consider changing how they do things, to buy things. Like them or not, Autodesk has done an earnest job of telling the story of BIM and Revit.

One of the many stories we've heard that was meant to help us in our transition was how easily Revit worked with other CAD software's data. Revit was the new kid on the block. What chance did it really have if it couldn't import a DWG or DGN file? Being able to import external data was meant to ease the collaboration with firms that didn't use it as well as the transition from other software.

All these years later I keep reading, "It is necessary to use Revit AND AutoCAD", or "Revit can't be used productively without AutoCAD" or "...since AutoCAD is a superior drafting tool it isn't sensible to use Revit for basic drafting tasks".

It is NOT necessary to use AutoCAD if you use Revit. The error (thinking that it IS necessary) is mistaking necessity with what is merely an available interim approach as we work through the transition from AutoCAD to Revit.

Using AutoCAD to do detailing is NOT optimal because doing it entirely within Revit is integrated within the project more tightly and logically. If you are not efficient drafting in Revit then the implementation is not effective, but it could be. That's not Revit's fault, it is our fault (though it could always ship with a larger stock library). If you'd like some examples of Revit details that are devoid of lines/circles/arcs/text have a look at ARCxl's free samples. If you are looking for a shortcut to build that better implementation then their library might a place to start.

To some degree the perspective, "It's better, faster to draw details in AutoCAD" is a mind over matter issue, not a software issue. We tend to ignore or forget the reality that we've been changed by {insert your software here}, not the other way around. The software doesn't change to suit us. Our use doesn't change the software, we change in response to how it works. If we are fast then it's because we've grown accustomed to it, learned tricks, customized it, built our own library and so on.

It's no different whether we are talking about AutoCAD, Revit, Excel or Word. We do influence what the developers code into the software but we respond to the software and then provide feedback, not the reverse. The only exception is when no code exists and the software is in its infancy. Once code exists we are always dealing with legacy decisions.

When we say that {insert your software here} is faster or better than Revit it really means we know it better, we are more comfortable with it. There was a time that I'd agree I was faster with AutoCAD or Microstation than Revit. That is far from true today. In fact I find AutoCAD to be a very frustrating experience now.

Faster is also a subjective term. What context? Faster sketching a single line? Faster creating an entire detail? Faster for whom? Me myself and I? What about downstream members of the team? What about the hours of design and investigation required to decide what to draw? What if another section is required to figure out what is required to finish that detail? What if the Revit modelling activity helped inform the decisions? What if the ability to create more sections automatically or have a look at the model in 3D provides more insight?

The further we can step back from our experience and bias with a given software the easier it is to see they are all flawed in some way, Revit included. I clearly remember realizing just how convoluted AutoCAD is when I began supporting Microstation users that had to start using it (AutoCAD) instead. They'd just shake their heads at the quirky rules and methodologies that were in stark contrast with Microstation's own quirky rules and methods. They are ALL quirky. Some quirks just happen to match our own thinking or approach better than others.

As for our legacy library of details, we forget or minimize the fact that it didn't happen overnight. It was built project by project. Remember, all the previous details were drawn by hand, right? At this point I think it's a safe bet that, like most libraries I've seen, it could stand some careful weeding or pruning anyway. Maybe it isn't so precious that we can't consider creating Revit native versions now? The sooner we do the sooner each project can be better integrated.

If you take anything away from this post at all I hope it is this:
It is NOT necessary to use AutoCAD to be productive with Revit. Revit does NOT need a software crutch to be useful or a productive good decision for any firm. The longer you pretend that it does or is, the longer you prolong not being as productive as Revit was intended to help you become.


Unknown said...

Excellent post! As a former disciple of AutoCAD, and now extreme advocate for Revit, I can relate to your many points. I agree that going back to AutoCAD now, where I used to be so happy and productive, is a frustrating experience now that Revit has become my design tool of choice.

daveedwards said...

Great post! The paradigm seems to finally have shifted as it did years ago for MCAD. My only concern is that there are still some issues about using Revit instead of AutoCAD that are very frustrating. Namely scale and rotation parameters for fills. I would love to see the developers ask the really hard question - "What can't Revit create?"

foolarch said...

...except for when I need to create a keyplan on my title block. Revit does not have a good way of getting the perimeter of the building, dividing it up into units, and putting it in the title block so that every sheet has a keyplan.

If you have a better way, PLEASE share it!

Anonymous said...

Good post although misses the critical point of interoperatbility. None of us can work in isolation. AutoCAD is the lowest common denominator in the industry and without it we'd all be stuck. Despite carrying out 100% of our authoring task in Revit we do need to receive, clear and streamline a good 75% of incoming dwg information before linking. If not in AutoCAD than in another similar software. We also use AutoCAD to carry out specific tricks: tracing topo sections (unpickable in Revit), assymmetric secions amongst others. For better or worse AutoCAD is here to stay for a good decade yet.

Scott Bloss said...

Ahh a sigh of relief! Steve actually sit down and took the time to say it! Thanks Steve!

Tannar said...

*slow clap....*

Excellent Post! Gonna print this and share it with all the guys I know who hate Revit and swear by AutoCAD!!

Jan Usinger said...

I am spoilt - I know - but by saying the following you obviously never really used sketchup:
"We tend to ignore or forget the reality that we've been changed by {insert your software here}, not the other way around. The software doesn't change to suit us."
Yes, I agree with you this is how Autodesk operates, because they put the software engineer before the customer: they design in a way that it is easy for them to implement. How log did it take them to re-design their User Interface? Before the ribbon it was a huge mess.
Same with modeling: SketchUp you can pick up pretty quickly, Versari (to compare apples to apples) - is a totally different story.
"We do influence what the developers code into the software but we respond to the software and then provide feedback, not the reverse."
Again part of the problem with Autodesk: my impression is they do not listen to provided feedback (e.g. text editor, fix stairs & railings)

Also, a lot of the "haters" as you call them are actually users who have been or still are providing valuable feedback - trying to help making Revit a better product - but are obviously being happily ignored by the company that you are defending here.

I truly agree with a lot of the comments on the other post (you put the wrong link in, Steve): http://revitoped.blogspot.com.au/2014/03/new-feature-list-for-revit-2015.html

Autodesk - or the Revit department - need more pressure from its user base & they need to improve their communication (why are they not addressing certain issues/ what is the roadmap).

Gigabidea said...

I love your post. This is exactly what I have been observing in the past few years. I lived in Vietnam and my company has been trying to introduce BIM to the industry here. We even started teaching Revit at our Architecture University as early as 2009. The attitude of the firms toward BIM back then was "Meh" and "You can not draw details in Revit". Now many construction and project management firms are coming to my company for BIM traning and consultancy.

Allow me to share your post on our company's facebook page. Thanks

Unknown said...

It would be wonderful if we could use Revit fore everything we draw. Except it has one really big drawback, it cannot draw lines or curves smaller than 1/32" Most of our details have lines shorter than this since we do shop drawings for curtain walls. Since it cannot drawn lines that we need, then it is not an option to fully use Revit for our work. Until they fix this, we are stuck using ACAD for our details.

John Raiten said...

I believe you hit the nail on the head Steve! I have been using Revit since 2000, and every time I have to touch ACAD it is like using a tool from the Stone Age. Same goes for Sketch Up, I would rather learn and utilize something that can be used downstream. The capabilities of Vasari or the Massing tool for Revit are boundless, where I have seen so many limitations with Sketch Up for Designs that it always falls short. The model should be handed off from the Design team to the Contractor to the Sub-Contractor with NO re-draw of efforts. It is a program that is so more organized and collaborative than anything out there. I am currently getting Design (intent) models from the design team, modeling the 3D objects and details that they used as 2D (which do not work in all situation), then having my Sub-Contractor use the model to swap out correct equipment and re-route or slope or draw more accurate runs of systems or systems that cost less because of constructability. Sure interoperability can play an issue downstream if you are using archaic programs, but if you learn and understand the program, and show others how to use it so they can be Better, Faster, Cheaper; then there is a huge advantage over any other (insert other program here) out there. I would rather the design teams hand off the models sooner, and have the contractors who actually place the objects in the space in the building being built draw it, than have it drawn 3 or 4 times using 3 or 4 different software before it gets built. Revit allows teams to all draw in a collaborative environment, and it can even be in the cloud and accessed from around the globe by many people at once. Can your (insert software here) be that collaborative and have the ability to evolve the design from start all the way to shop drawings and fabrication and possibly FM and OM? All it takes is a little training and open mind to the future!

Unknown said...

In 2009 I switched to Revit from AutoCAD and never looked back. I don't even think I could remember how to operate AutoCAD at this point; so I guess one does not need AutoCAD with Revit. I certainly don't miss it.

Anonymous said...

What autodesk could do to make customers happy? well, not giving away it's software. Perhaps copying some of the functionality of free software like sketchup, and by that I don't mean sketchy lines....that just makes our models look like sketchup.
How about draw in perspective, push pull, etc.
I use to hate on Revit coming from Archicad. The weight of Autodesk product ineterpoperability for visualization, cross discipline, analysis,etc ,and sheer depth in functionality both for modeling and documentation, however, was very convincing.
The list of updates in 2015 is uninspiring, I agree. It may do as much with the expectation of new stuff every year. We can certainly hope that 2016 will bring new stuff

Mark Siever, AIA said...


Thanks for Mentioning ARCxl.com again! I noticed an increase in traffic and tracked it back to you.

The continuing myth that "detailing in Revit is problematic", props up our business model in some respects. But the truth that it is actually more efficient than detailing in AutoCAD, is proven by the scale of our library, and then exported down to AutoCAD from Revit.

ARCxl did this for CAD users still stuck in the last century. And it would have been absolutely impossible to build either library efficiently with AutoCAD (I'm a former hardcore Acad user). Instead we got both file types using Revit and only Revit.

Thanks again!

Shawn Peterson said...

Currently, I’m working for a firm that is ranked amongst the top 100 most creative architectural firms I don’t like to use the word, but some may call it a starchitect firm. We use Rhino and Grasshopper exclusively from concept to fabrication. However, Autocad is our main tool tool for most 2d documentation and details. So while Autocad may be outdated, most high end architectural firms still use it. Personally I don’t think Autocad will die soon since it’s very flexible and versatile. Revit could be considered as an endangered species and not necessarily AutoCAD. With all the limitations, workarounds and customers dissatisfaction, it’s questionable if Revit will survive the next 5 years. We have used Inventor as a pilot which even did a far better job than Revit. Granted, we don’t design conventional buildings, but if I read all the comments of those who do, it seems that Revit doesn’t do a good job at that either.

So don’t discard AutoCAD just yet. It’s still a powerful tool in the AEC industry.

Steve said...

I'm not suggesting AutoCAD is useless or passe. My post is responding to the misconception that Revit can't be used without also using AutoCAD.

Just as your firm is not using Revit at all but other applications, many things are possible.

Unknown said...

As a trainee BIM technician coming into the industry, I was disappointed at a lot of things about Autodesk's programs.
The lack of standardisation across Revit, Navisworks and Autocad being the main thing.
But even, why is AutoCAD still better than Revit at some things? Why is Revit better than Navisworks at some identical tasks? And vice versa.
Why can't one company makes going between these programs feel like going from Word to Excel. And the most powerful program which they want people to adopt to actually be the most powerful rather than leaving out simple features which some of its lesser programs have.

Anderson Rocker said...

@David Murray says; "Why can't one company makes going between these programs feel like going from Word to Excel."

Because every software in the Autodesk portfolio is a company on itself that don't talk to any other siblings. This explains why 3ds max, inventor to name have a steady set of solid new features each year while Revit is stuck with sketch lines. Revit has one of the most underdevelopment set of modelling tools while inventor gets a whole new tool set of freeform modelling tools. As far as I know each software have their own office building and are located through out the country.

Steve said...

Yes Autodesk is a collection of products and teams. They are spread across the country and world. They are big company. If you've never worked for a big company then you may not have the necessary perspective to see what that can be like.

I don't think Word and Excel are all that consistent between each other. Microsoft isn't a very good example of consistency across products either, at least in my view.

Besides architecture and engineering are far more complex than writing documents or creating a spreadsheet so it seems only natural to me that the software would be complex.

The magic happens when the developers make something that is overwhelmingly complex simple for the user. In many ways Revit and all software is "magic"...

As soon as we see a magic trick and understand how it was done we aren't impressed by it anymore. Our expectations are raised. This is especially true for Revit. Nobody has an haha moment when they see view annotation updated automatically when a view is put on a sheet anymore. I distinctly remember gasps when it first came out though. The magic is gone and our expectations are so much greater now.

I don't think measuring success can be done with the narrow focus of one release. Each release is comprised of projects that the team decide could be accomplish in time for the next due date. It's really no different than working with our clients to make decisions about what can or can't be done on their projects. There are many similarities between AEC process and creating software.

Mark Siever said...

I frankly don't understand the need to go from one architectural program to another if you are a skilled Revit user. You can do great renderings with Revit and as ARCxl has demonstrated, do construction detailing more efficiently than with AutoCAD. You simply have to learn how to use the program.

Unknown said...

There are many ways to go about adding a keyplan to a titleblock. One way is to export the overall floor plan to AutoCAD and imoort it into the sheet in Revit that will be used as the title sheet and scale it to fit the area designed for the keyplan. You then can add hateche to the keyplan and tie in parameter to them to shut off/on for areas that are in contract.