Revit has quickly risen to prominence as a tool of collaboration in the A/E/C industry. DCI BIM Coordinator Tom Whitehead has been tasked with implementing DCI's long used and deeply customized AutoCAD program and standards into Revit. Recently he attended the ‘invite only’ Revit Gunslinger event in New Hampshire. As one of only forty Revit users invited to this event; it's safe to say that Tom Whitehead is a bona fide gunslinger of the Wild Wild Revit West. We sat down with Tom to get a look into his history with Revit and to have a peek into the future of BIM.
How long have you been using Revit?
I started working on Revit in 2007, with my first real project starting in 2008 and finishing in 2009.
What were your early experiences using Revit like, especially in comparison to 2D drafting?
It was magic. I had always been frustrated with the idea that you’d draw something in a plan, then re-draw components in elevation, and again re-draw in section with at best construction lines giving you guidance. I was constantly asking, why couldn’t the program figure this out? Well, that was what Revit did. The program knew what all the components were and that for example, a line wasn’t just representing a beam, it represented a beam which had dimensions and materials similar to how it would materialize in an actual building.
That’s a pretty major shift from the more symbolic nature of drafting in CAD. How much of your current know-how has been a result of self-educating, and how much have you relied on outside education, such as mentoring?
I don’t know that I would call it self-educating although not much has been done in a classroom. There were two classes I took through a reseller that was Revit-specific. The rest has come from reading a lot of blog posts and forum threads, and from breaking things repeatedly--otherwise known as trial and error. I’ve learned lots of programs from the ground up this way, by clicking on buttons and trying things out; it is my little gift. Revit has just been more fun to work with but it has also been more frustrating than other programs I have had to use.
How has the adoption of Revit in the industry changed since you first used it?
Definitely MEP is getting into the mix much more than when I started. Five years ago, the MEP version of Revit didn’t exist and the first few versions really didn’t do the job. Much of the construction side of the A/E/C industry didn’t really care for Revit but once they got their hands on Revit and Navisworks, that all changed. I read recently that the fastest adopters are now GCs and they’re going at it like gangbusters.
And how about the adoption of Revit here at DCI?
We’ve come a long way in three years. When I started, most of the jobs were still being exported to AutoCAD for dimensions, notes, callouts, and printing. We’ve moved away from that and have really built up our toolset, and we should be detailing in Revit in the next few months.
Revit has some pretty amazing capabilities baked in, but many projects feature either unusual construction, specialized requirements from the client, or some new situation that we haven’t encountered before. In meeting the challenges of some of these projects, what are some examples of on-the-fly customization or family buildings you’ve had to whip up?
I try not to go too far off the standard template unless it is something that will really save us time. But a couple of things that come to mind are developing the shear wall tag to automatically generate a length. It was for a large San Diego project that was taking us forever to get the length info onto the plans. To fix this issue I built a tool that generates a tag along with a length that stretches and updates automatically. It isn’t a perfect solution, but it ends up saving us a lot of time. Another example of customization was during the Gonzaga Student Rec Center project. The architect couldn’t initially provide us with accurate geometry for a sloped oval pop-up in the roof. This required me to build a rig that would translate the angles of their mullions down to the supporting framing, giving me some rough points to work from to understand where to place the slanted columns that were required.
Beyond helping DCI provide a high level of service, Autodesk recently took notice of you as well. Could you share with us your recent experience at the exclusive Revit Gunslinger event?
There were two Gunslinger events for Revit this year, one in Waltham, MA, and another in Manchester, NH. I got to attend the Manchester event along with about 10 other Revit users. In total I think they have about 40 people attend per year in North America. It is an invitation only event with no way to get your name on the list of candidates.
Can you give us an idea of what sort of product testing you did, or the kind of feedback you got to give Autodesk?
The first rule about Gunslingers is don’t talk about Gunslingers!
It really sounds like a valuable and enlightening experience. Any big takeaways from it?
I don’t think this is news to anyone but the overall picture is cloud based applications. We are seeing it everywhere and it will only get bigger. It was also encouraging to hear, directly from the developers, how much they really do want to make the best product they can with exactly what the user wants. That sometimes it isn’t as easy as it sounds when you start getting into the nuts and bolts of how to implement some of the things we, as users, see as simple fixes.
Any further thoughts you’d care to share? Things in Revit you are hoping to explore, work on, or accomplish moving forward?
As far as exploration I’d love to be leveraging our models into engineering. I think that could be a huge advantage for us and would save the engineers enormous amounts of time if we could do it efficiently. Detailing, as I mentioned, should be right around the corner with its own challenges and opportunities. In general, my goals are always centered around getting more data in and out of the model quickly and efficiently.
All I can say is keep pressing the buttons and be curious. Almost half of what I’ve learned about Revit has come from, “hey, what does this do?” and “wonder if I tried this?” I wouldn’t recommend doing that on a project that you are working on but no harm in working on a copy of one!
DCI Engineers has utilized the Building Information Modeling (BIM) process using Revit Structure through 2014 modeling software. DCI is committed to using the BIM process wherever possible and to further develop the process to include the procurement of building materials and scheduling of construction.
Some of our interesting and relevant BIM and AutoCAD Civil 3D projects include:
Santa Monica Village Condominiums, Santa Monica, CA, Related California
Homeplate Office Center, Seattle, WA, American Life, Inc.
University of Washington Benjamin Hall Interdisciplinary Research Building, Seattle, WA, CollinsWoerman
About the Author
Ian Kovtunovich, Structural CAD Manager | As a Structural CAD Manager, Ian has been an drafter for fifteen years and enjoys being able to take time to write about the projects and people that make up DCI Engineers. When he is not drafting or writing, he enjoys rock climbing with his wife and daughter as well as photography, meditation, and science.
Scott Brown, Structural CAD Designer | As a Structural CAD Designer, Scott Brown enjoys being involved with the blog because it showcases DCI's projects in fun and inventive way. His favorite part about his job is being able to see someone's vision become a reality. When he is not working, Scott enjoys biking, skateboarding, and spending time with his daughter.