Software Review – Revit 2013 Architecture

It is April and time for my annual review of the new release of the Revit Architecture software. With each passing year the software seems to become more and more bloated (or robust depending on your view of things). The Revit families and material libraries that are downloaded from Autodesk during the install of 2013 are up to 800MB now, so you need a machine with lots of free space and memory for it to run. But enough on the install process, lets get right to the good, the bad, and the ugly for this year’s release of Revit Architecture.

First the Good
Revit has finally allowed for the creation of a legitimate T-based stair like the one shown in the photo below. Prior to this release, the best you could do is make a 2 run stair and then make another separate stair starting at the landing of the first stair to create the right side of the T. This was awkward and required determining the height of the landing of the first stair among other things. Given the robustness of the program and just how common a T stair is, it is amazing that it took this long to finally get that feature into the program.

Creating a T stair is a bit complex using Revit 2013, but it least it possible now. I was surprised that they (Autodesk) bothered to create a single button based option for winder stairs (considering these are rarely used today and against code in all commercial/civic buildings) but they opted to skip a single button option for the much more common T stair.

Here is a link to a video demonstrating how to create a T Stair in Revit 2013.

The whole stair tool user interface was also given a huge upgrade which was very much needed. Stairs and railings now are automatically created and dynamically adjust to meet the levels in your project. No more editing railings post stair creation to reflect landings and stopping points after the fact. You can also specify where you want the railing to attach to the stair; at the tread or the stringer which is really nice.

Option for selecting tread or stringer circled in red in UI

I also liked that they now number the risers so you don’t have to count stairs anymore, which is nice.

UI indicates riser number at beginning and end of run

Spiral stair logic was also upgraded. Prior to this release you could never create a true spiral stair that had more than 16 risers to reach a level without exceeding the 360 degrees radius within the run command, so using the run command for a spiral stair was not only confusing but kind of pointless. Also creating a fully code compliant spiral stair involved guesswork trying to figure out how the angle between risers shown in Revit correlated with what code dictated for min tread depth on the outer edge of the stair. The new stair UI makes things much easier.

Other nice additions
For those users with the latest and greatest video cards, a new interactive ray-trace feature was added. This allows users to instantly see a 3D view rendered without going through the hassle and downtime of waiting for a rendering session to complete. My video card was too old for that feature to work properly but I like that it is now available.

Screen Capture of raytrace session

They also added Bentley modeling import capability for users of that program.

The Bad
Material libraries still continue to be a huge headache. Every year they add more complexity, data fields and bloat to the dialogs. In Revit 2013 you now create individual custom libraries for each project. You can then specify a storage location (i.e. on your computer or a remote server) for those libraries. This feature was designed to dovetail with server-based and cloud-based support utilized in very large architecture firms. For the single seat user whose projects all reside on their local machine it is just unnecessary. In my mind, the old Accustudio static library (found in Revit 2008) approach to material management worked best. The library is created once and all the materials you created over your lifetime of using Revit are always available for every new project, no maintenance or yearly upgrade process. I understand the need for project and file portability, but you spend more time upgrading your old libraries to meet the ever changing standards that Autodesk creates that it easily requires a full time person to maintain and upgrade these ‘floating’ libraries with every new release of the product. When will Autodesk realize that this is a huge and I mean huge productivity drain for an office.

The Ugly (The Microsoft Mentality towards UI Design)
Autodesk has unfortunately opted to follow Microsoft’s practice of burying functionality under countless dialog boxes and buttons just to execute a specific function. Lets compare the old UI (Revit 2009) versus the new UI (Ribbon) to illustrate. In the photos below I chose to execute the stair command within Revit and these two screen captures illustrate what the user experiences for both UIs. With the old UI, all the options for a command were clearly visible for the user to choose and select. Encapsulating the options for a command within the function dialog was more concise and logical instead of searching for the button on the ribbon that does the same function within the new UI. Put another way, there is no wayfinding with the Ribbon user interface.

The Stair Function with the Ribbon UI

To a new user of the product, you are left wondering what button on the ribbon do I select. Only after scrolling the mouse over the draw button do you see the same options that were all clearly visible in the old UI. Making the user read the labels of all the tabs in the ribbon and then having them decide which button they should press is not terribly intuitive and creates an unnecessarily steep learning curve for new and existing users of the product.

Many would argue rightly that the new UI is better in that you aren’t switching between the tabs to access functionality. The old UI only allowed you to access sections under the basic and drafting tabs which made for unnecessary mouse clicks to access that particular function. A software developer would also point out that the tab architecture is more associated with early Microsoft apps then the Ribbon, yet it executes the command much faster. The ideal outcome would have been to integrate the customized quick launch toolbar and retain the command structure associated with the tabs, but the likelihood of that happening now seems pretty slim as Autodesk has fully embraced the ribbon and it is now in its 3rd year of use.

Overall Assessment of Revit 2013
The stair improvements in Revit 2013 are great, but it is not enough to make me upgrade from the far superior Revit 2011 version that still supports the old UI without the server bloat or the fussy dialogs and configuration settings. That is my take, I welcome other opinions so feel free to comment on this article.