Paul Woddy takes a look at Autodesk Revit 2011 and finds a user-friendly release that is more intuitive than older versions.

It is not quite 2011 yet but just to keep people like me permanently confused Autodesk Revit 2011 has been launched and is already at service pack one before I even get around to writing about it. Looking on the bright side, at least that means I have a fair amount of usage under my belt upon which to comment.

The controversial User Interface has had some further tweaking, the most noticeable feature being the always-on nature of the properties box. While this takes some getting used to, and I tended to find I was actually switching it off when I forget it was already on the screen waiting for me, now that I am accustomed to it, I love it — being able to scan through the properties of a collection of objects is so much better and quicker.

As to the rest of the user interface and the changes to icons, Autodesk has introduced far more consistency into the mix with common buttons being in the same place across all the context menus which is great, but as for the improved icons and layout of the tools, I sometimes wish they would leave things alone a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I always have and still do think that the Ribbon is a better system, and I also think that the placement of some commands was a bit dodgy, but for the average user trying to get work done, it was not so bad that it needed to be moved around again.

Keyboard shortcuts

While I have a head of steam I may as well get my other rant out of the way — keyboard shortcuts. I have for many releases circulated a revised set of keyboard shortcuts that congregate around the left-hand end of the keyboard, leaving the right-hand on the mouse. I know this does not suit wrong-handed people, but it suits me.

Multithreading for rendering in Revit has been around for a few releases now but now the four-core limit has been removed.

Most of the keys within easy reach of my left hand had at least one, often two common commands attached to it, if you include the thumb hovering over the spacebar. So for instance W-Space would draw a wall and WW would add a window, so the ability to use the spacebar was a huge bonus to efficiency. Lots of shortcuts may start with a W but when listed alphanumerically, the first of these could make use of the spacebar, hence the fact that WA was assigned to wall meant that it was the first of the W’s.

Then the new XML format was brought in, and while the same principle exists, the shortcut that can be used in conjunction with the spacebar is now based on which one comes first in the XML file. So instead of a wall, I now set my work-plane, cascade my views or any number of activities before I get to my trusty wall. Now I guess that some of you may be thinking, ‘the A key is next to the W key so it is no big deal’ but it is the principle. We have precious little we can tinker with in terms of the Revit UI and the old process was not broken.

Staying with keyboard shortcuts, but heading back into my usual ground of being upbeat about Revit, we finally have the ability to drill down into the depths of a command with the shortcuts, and do what AutoCAD has always been able to do. I can enter a shortcut to draw a rectangular or circular wall rather than just a wall and then pick the circle or rectangle shape.

Autodesk has moved to a web-based help provision. Not sure what advantage this gives but I can see it being a problem for those who use commuter time to learn new products and features. I also don’t know if this is just me, but every time I try to search a topic, I get ‘No Matches Found’.

Multithreading for rendering in Revit has been around for a few releases now but in 2011, the four-core limit has been removed so powerful machines can be used to speed up the production of high-quality imagery.

Hardware acceleration (DX9) is switched on by default, although this is only available with appropriate hardware and so even though I had a brand new machine, I had to switch it off to get even sensible performance.

Previous versions of Revit were unable to maintain the expected level of geometric accuracy at locations farther than one mile from the project origin. Revit will now maintain a high level of geometric accuracy for elements placed within 20 miles of the project origin.

Some other notable improvements to look out for include the ongoing improvements to interoperability with other Autodesk products such as AutoCAD, Inventor and 3ds Max; a ‘Repeat Last Command’, which I know a lot of users have been requesting for some time, as they have for the ability to change the font size for temporary dimensions; the select all instances now allows differentiation between the current view and the whole model, which I guess will save some time as well.

Much of my time of late is spent with larger teams on multi-discipline collaborative projects, sharing models between the stakeholders and dealing with the issues of document control, element ownership and BS1192, as well as the technical aspects of worksets and model linking. While Autodesk has yet to really tackle some of the protocol issues, it has at least made the file linking and transmittal process easier with a few neat improvements:

  • Ability to open/close Worksets for linked models
  • Ability to apply View Filters to linked models from host model
  • Ability to tag elements in linked files, with the exception of rooms, spaces, and areas
  • Ability to automatically generate a ceiling grid from walls in a linked model

Revit MEP is finally ready for release in the UK. Up until now, the only people moving to Revit MEP have been the brave and adventurous or those with their arms firmly twisted. Many of these pioneers have managed to produce some great results — despite Revit. In MEP 2011 however, with new UK-specific libraries, oval ducts and cable containment we finally have a product which is a viable option for Building Services Engineers and technicians on its own merits rather than simply because other stakeholders in a multi-disciplinary team have bullied them into it.

The impact of this market-ready MEP module will be larger than may at first be considered. Many larger firms, usually slow in adopting a new release, have pushed or started to push all disciplines across to 2011 in order that the Building Services teams can use the new tool. Added to this the snowball effect of peer pressure and I think this may well be a defining moment in the growing BIM story.

Revit 2011 is a good user-friendly release. Users will find it more intuitive than older versions, and I can operate 2011 faster and more efficiently than I could 2010, which I guess is what we are all looking for.