Modeling Paris with InfraWorks

It has been a while since I wanted to play with InfraWorks, but I never had the chance, nor any purpose until recently, when I start to ponder on retrieving existing conditions to integrate future buildings in existing conditions, without having to rely on time-consuming on-site surveys.

When starting with InfraWorks, the easiest way to create a model is to use the Model Builder. This feature use data from OpenStreetMap and Microsoft Bing Maps to create fully featured models, with terrain, roads, orthophoto, and so on.

The Model Builder interface

The Model Builder interface

Using this Model Builder, I quickly create a complete 3D model of Paris.

The initial model created from OpenStreetMap

The initial model created from OpenStreetMap

However, this model is not accurate enough for any practical application. For example, the 10-stories building where I live is modeled as a 2 levels building. My idea was to use these buildings for site integration and lighting solar studies, but building heights provided by OpenStreetMap is not reliable enough, I had to find another data source.

I am quite envious of the data used to build Google Maps, which can provide us a 3D model of every building, based on 45-degree aerial imagery. But these data are obviously not easily available, and I fall back on open data.

APUR, the Paris Urban Planning Agency provide an Open Data platform with a lot of datasets about Paris and its suburbs.

Their “EMPRISE BATIE PARIS” dataset contains every building in Paris in Shapefile format. Importing it in InfraWorks is quite easy, but this dataset must be configured to map its values with InfraWorks features.

To do so, it is necessary to map the information contained in the dataset to the property of building objects in InfraWorks.

Configuring the dataset

Configuring the dataset

Some properties, like Roof Height, can be easily filled with data coming from the APUR dataset. However, this dataset is far richer than that, and I wanted some specific information, like construction date, to be imported in InfraWorks as custom properties.

To create these custom fields, I have to edit the “im.schema.json” file located in “%USERPROFILE%\Documents\Autodesk InfraWorks Models\Autodesk 360\modelNumber\modelName.files\unver. Using the indications found here, I edit this JSON file to create five custom fields for the “Building” class in InfraWorks: Construction Date, Refurbishment Date, IHG (Hight-Rise Building), Roof Height Standard Deviation and Roof Type. These fields are then mapped to the corresponding values found in the APUR dataset, using the Table tab in “Data Source Configuration”.

Mapping custom fileds

Mapping custom fields

Since my data contains the type of roofing material of the building, I create a rule to match the appearance of the building with my dataset. These Roof Type values are integers defining a roofing material for every building.

Using great explanations from here, I create a small script to map these values to a roofing material in InfraWorks, with a switch command on the type of roof described in the dataset.

//Added by me

switch (SOURCE["C_TOITDOM"])
{
case 0: BUILDINGS.ROOF_MATERIAL = "Material/Roofing/Spanish Tile Brown";
break;
case 1: BUILDINGS.ROOF_MATERIAL = "Material/Roofing/Spanish Tile Brown";
break;
case 2: BUILDINGS.ROOF_MATERIAL = "Material/Roofing/Zinc";
break;
case 3: BUILDINGS.ROOF_MATERIAL = "Material/Roofing/Slate Grey";
break;
case 4: BUILDINGS.ROOF_MATERIAL = "Material/Roofing/Masonry Stone Black";
break;
case 5: BUILDINGS.ROOF_MATERIAL = "Material/Roofing/Grass Augustine";
break;
default: BUILDINGS.ROOF_MATERIAL = "Material/Roofing/Spanish Tile Brown";
}

 

Most of Paris buildings have a very characteristic zinc roof, a material that is not available by default in InfraWorks.

Typical Parisian roofs

Typical Parisian roofs

Using the style palette, I create my own zinc material from a picture and a few settings.

Creating a custom "Zinc" material

Creating a custom “Zinc” material

My final experiment was to use the Feature Themes tab to display construction dates for Parisian buildings.

This function allows me to add a color scheme to my buildings to display values, here the construction date.

FeatureThemes

The result in quite compelling, every building is displayed in color per its construction date.

Displaying construction dates

Displaying construction dates

Building models of entire cities is incredibly easy with InfraWorks, and as long as you have correct data sources, it seems to be the perfect tool to re-create the environment for your studies.

Flux

After showcasing Metro, a web-based interface for interpreting and visualizing building codes, Flux has released its new product, simply called Flux. I just had the chance to get an invitation to their beta, and I give you here the results of my first experimentation.

fluxLogo

Flux is the first startup to spin out of the semi-secret Google X lab. Its goal is to build a platform to design buildings more easily, but also more ecologically. So I was pretty excited when I heard about their new product, a suite of tools to link together my favorite playthings, Dynamo, Grasshopper, and Excel

Flux works as a central repository for exchanging data between Grasshopper, Excel or Dynamo. Along with the website, Flux provides plugins for these solutions. As we work in our favorite design tool, we use the Flux plugin to upload or download data to or from the Flux central server.

workflows

 

Flux is organized around projects, each project containing a set of Data Key. These Data Key store values retrieved from Excel, Dynamo or Grasshopper. We can’t edit these values directly in the Flux interface, but we can display them in the Data View.

DataView

Once in Flux, Data Keys can be linked together in the Flow. This interface displays a visual programming language to transform data as they pass through Flux.

FlowView

The initial tutorial shows us how to exchange data between Excel and Grasshopper. After going through this starter project, I give a try to the Dynamo plug-in.

I develop upon a common workflow, where an HVAC engineer retrieves MEP spaces location and area from a Revit model and define in Excel a set of values to be uploaded in Revit. For the sake of this experience, I am using the Specified Supply Airflow, but this should work with any value, such as the occupancy of a room or the section of a duct.

I am using here one of my project, which contains a thousand MEP Spaces, and retrieve some of its parameters in Dynamo. Using the GetParameterValueByName node, I retrieve four lists for spaces names, numbers, areas, and levels.

RetriveProperties

The Flux plug-in for Dynamo presents itself as a set of six nodes and allows us to select a project, find data key in this project, and get or push values from or to Flux. I connect my GetParameterValueByName nodes to the ToFlux nodes, and these values are uploaded to Flux.

ToFlow

I open a new Excel spreadsheet and use the Flux plugin to create three columns, for Name, Number and Area of the MEP Spaces. Flux automatically fills the spreadsheet with the values retrieved in Revit. I create a fourth column for Specified Supply Airflow and fill in some airflow values. As I hit enter, these values are uploaded to Flux and displayed in the Data view.

Excel

Back in Dynamo, I create a third group of nodes and link the FromFlux node to a SetParameterByName node. This completes the loop and every Specified Supply Airflow values defined in Excel are added to the MEP Spaces.

FromFlux

The entire workflow takes some time to set up, but the result is pretty impressive, and I see many possibilities around this kind of web-based exchange. Flux also integrates the possibility to upload geometry created in Grasshopper or Dynamo, and I still have a lot to test with this new tool.

Invitation

Today, it will not be a blog post but an invitation.

Next week, the BIM World event will be held in Paris. This event will gather a large panel of architects, engineers, contractors, manufacturers, and software developers, all interested in Building Information Modeling and related technologies.

bimworld

I will be representing my company Ingérop here, and will present our last projects using BIM.

ingerop

I will also give a short speech “Développer les compétences du BIM” about implementing Building Information Modeling in an engineering consultancy firm, and the consequences of this paradigm shift.

I would be happy to meet you there and exchange with you, so if you happen to be in Paris next week, the exhibition will be held on Wednesday and Thursday at the CNIT Center in La Défence.

See you there ….

BIMcollab

My experiences with the BCF format lead me to discover a new solution, launch by Kubus in 2014, called BIMcollab, and imagine a new workflow for solving coordination issues within a building project.

BIMCollab present itselft as a “BCF based issue management system for BIM in the cloud”. The general idea is to manage every design problem as an issue to be solved, and publish these issues on a cloud-based platform for everyone to see.

BIMCollab become the central repository for every issue discovered in a model, and allow to measure the general progress of the project by counting issues opened and solved.

A typical workflow with such a tool can be organized like this:

Check you model in your favorite project review software. Clash detection and annotations come here in handy for creating a complete coordination report, as here in Tekla BIMSight

Tekla BIMSight

One you have a nice list of issue in your design, save them as a BCF file and upload them on BIMCollab.

Upload

Here, you can sort and dispatch these issues directly in BIMCollab. You can group them by area, assigned them to a specific user, add a priority and a deadline for solving it.

Sort Issues

Once every issues are assigned, someone responsible for solving can see them directly in his modeling software.

02---Modeling

 

I have only try the Revit plug-in, but I believe the others will look more or less the same. After connecting the plug-in to your BIMCollab account, it display every issue listed in the project, directly in the Revit interface.

Issues

You can filter these issues to display only these assigned to you, and work to solve them. Once done, you can change the status of the issue directly within Revit, add a nice picture of your work and a comment for the record.

Solved

This validation is send back to BIMCollab for everyone to see. A nice addition is the dashboard displaying the number of issue opened and solved, which create a overview of the work done and to be done.

Dashboard

 

I see this platform as a great solution for a quantified online issue management workflow, like what we can find in software development for some time now, and a new step toward a more collaborative building design.

Level Of Development

One of my current project made me think of talking about the so-called LOD of a building model.

The LOD (Level Of Development or Level Of Detail) was first described on the Model Progression Specification (MPS) development by Vico Software in 2004. This document aimed to create a framework in order to define standards for any building model delivery. It answers, for each phase of a project, the following questions :

How accurately the model should be detailed ?
Who is responsible for modeling a particular element ?
What information should be integrated in the model ?

In 2008, the American Institute of Architect  after further developments on this project, released their official version, the E-202 “Building Information Modeling Protocol Exhibit”.

This paper divided the Levels Of Development in five categories, each one describing the elements expected in the model, the corresponding state of development of the project and the possibilities for producing construction documents and building analysis. They are defined as follows:

LOD 100: Conceptual design
The model represent the general massing of the building, with area, volume, orientation and so on.
This model can be used for solar and early energy analysis.

LOD 200: Design development
All systems are modeled with their general size, location, orientation and approximate quantities.
It can be used for general performance analysis and early calculations.

LOD 300: General construction documents
In this model, elements are accurately integrated, with their actual size and location. It is suitable for producing general assembly and construction drawings.
This model allow precise analysis and simulations on every element and system. It can also be used for coordination and clash detection.

LOD 400: Fabrication information
Every element is modeled for fabrication purpose.
The model is suitable for shop drawings
It can be used for direct production and construction scheduling.

LOD 500: As-Built model
The BIM equivalent of As-Built drawings. In these models, elements are represented with all technical information needed for maintenance and procurement.

These descriptions are indicative, and do not prevent the BIM Manager from describing model deliverables more exhaustively. They are more like guidelines for creating an accurate BIM Implementation Plan, with precise indication for each actor about his responsibilities in the development of the model. To do so, these guidelines come with a Model Element Table like this one :

(From http://www.acec.org)

This table defines the required level of detail for each element of a building model at each phase/LOD of the project.

I am unsure whether or not this “Building Information Modeling Protocol Exhibit” can be used as it for any project, especially in France, where construction practices may differ from what the AIA first defined. However, it is a great tool for creating an accurate BIM Implementation Plan. It describes well the expected state of the model for each phase and may come in handy when working with companies which have not yet integrated all requirements of a BIM workflow.

My Revit experience

I previously dealt with some issues regarding the use of Digital Project. These problems arrose mostly because CATIA is not suitable for the AEC industry. Even if Digital Project is adapted to the building construction techniques, the main core, CATIA, is still a product aimed at industrial products.

Furthermore, Digital Project needs large resources both in time and money for designing anything. It can be perfectly acceptable for mass-produced objects or very complex building, but when it comes to more average construction projects, we have to find another solution.

I was wondering if I would be able to create all the precast pieces of a stone-like facade on Revit, and see what differences we can find.

Here is a little demonstration of concept for designing intricate geometry and casting drawing in Revit

Designing a specific part with the basic tool from the Revit family (extrusion and boolean operations) is not very difficult, and I quickly got the design of one of the arc over the door.

Anyway, some limitations already appears. Due to the void form created as boolean, it is impossible to merge the arc with the superior part, and a join remains.

Furthermore, there is at least one piece I was not able to draw properly a double-curved arch.

I insert my Revit family in a new project, and add a few dimensions and a section line.

A main problem appears when I am trying to extract a section of the curved part. If I get the section, I cannot add dimensions to it.

Finally, there is no embedded tool for extracting the position of the center of gravity. This information can probably be extracted using another software or the API, but we are seeking for a process developed entirely with Revit.

All these limitations made me think that Revit is not powerful enough to efficiently design intricate elements. Even if possibilities for creating complex 3D models are enough for most of the precast elements, there are still too many limitations for using it in production. I am waiting for the next releases of Revit to overcome these issues.

Dreaming of a new drawing table

As BIM software has greatly improved over the last few years, there is not much change  on the interface side. Since the beginning of the concept of BIM, we have not much improve  the way we are designing on our favorite CAD application. The development of powerful touch-screens has totally changed our personal devices (mobile phones and personal computers), but I haven’t seen any professional design application using them successfully.

Anyway, some new devices seem to be interesting as new way of interacting with a 3D model.

The SMART Board presents itself as a flat screen, and uses a camera on top of it to change it into a giant touch screen. Some demonstration using Navisworks shown a very impressive way for reviewing and annotating a 3D model.

Some pretty cool videos make me think I am not the only one to believe in cameras and other Kinect to change our way of designing 3D models. As an example, you can have a look on the Scott Penman’s page on the Grasshopper forum. He presents how he uses a webcam to create and control a Rhino model through Grasshopper.

One of my biggest hope in this field is the Leap Motion, a new device including some VGA camera sensors and a “little” piece of software to create a $70 gesture control system that will make the Kinect look like an outdated piece of technology.

The presentation video features an incredibly precise motion detector, which can “see” the individual position of each of your fingers in a three cubic feet workspace.

Possibilities for this kind of devices are almost endless, especially in any 3D models related domain. I already imagine myself casually sculpting a whole building with just a few intuitive hand movements.

These kind of devices may be the next step for integrating BIM in the AEC industry, when modeling a building will become as easy and intuitive as a few pen strokes on a drawing table. And make me dream of a new desktop.

4D planning

A 4D construction, or planning simulation, include everything referring to the integration of time-related data directly into a 3D building model.

One of the most broadly used functionality of this kind of model is to present the main planning. A 4D model is always a great communication tool to present the construction schedule. Clients love these animations in which they can see their future building growing. You might have seen the procedure for building the new Chernobyl cover made by Vinci  and Bouygues :

But to me, the most interesting and realistic feature of a 4D model is the analysis of specifically tricky parts of the building. Define formworks rotation and positioning in intricate areas is commonly realized with time-based clashes detection, in order to optimize casting of complex shapes. A 4D planning can also be used for creating virtual mockups of complex building system (façade elements for example) and simulate their construction procedure.

There are a lot of talks around the concept of 4D BIM these days. All project managers crave for precise schedules and quantities estimations, and linking construction planning tasks with building model objects seems the best way to achieve it.

But, with regards to my experience in the matter, carry out a trully usefull 4D model can be very challenging. Make a movie from your roughly defined 4D model is pretty easy, but divide your model cleverly enough in order to link each element to its task in the general planning can be really painful.

I am used to the TimeLiner tool in Navisworks to create a dynamic 4D model for presentation purposes. If a property like a task code is already defined in Revit, the procedure is quite easy; you just have to import your Gantt diagram from Microsoft Project and your model from Revit in Navisworks; then automatically link them together using this task code. If no properties are defined, linking objects to tasks has to be done manually, and it is a long and pretty boring process.

About Tekla Structure


I just came out of a week of training on Tekla, and I feel like talking about it. As you might expect, Tekla Structure is a BIM application mainly oriented toward structural modeling and detailing. Originally design for modeling steel structures, it’s now also covers concrete structures, execution drawings extraction, and model reviewing features.

Far away from code-driven geometry and other parametrical modeling stuff, Tekla is practical. Ok, you cannot generate thousands of roof panels with a nice piece of .NET, but a least, you don’t spend fifteen minutes to draw a wall. This pragmatic approach combined with powerful drawings generation features, made Tekla a real construction-oriented BIM software.

Since its acquisition by Trimble, a company mostly knows for its GPS, lasers and other positioning hardware, Tekla had developed a great deal of applications for the construction site. Fully integrated with the Trimble hardware, it allows adding topographic points to a model, generate new coordinates for the layout, and export them in a Trimble tablet to implant them directly on site.

But what impresses me most is the execution drawing generation. Once you have drawn the few beams of your future greenhouse (for example), liked them together with the automatic assembly tools, you are just a click away from generating all the drawings you need. Basic templates include general arrangement drawings, single-part drawing or assembly drawings, but you can also fully customize your production regarding the needs of your design office.

But being pragmatic does not in any way prevent Tekla from being smart, and it comes with a large set of parametric components allowing designing quickly every details of our structure. And if these components are not enough, you can also design your own, with an interface looking like the family editor of Revit.

Nowadays, Tekla is broadly integrated into design offices for steel detailing (even in France …), and since its acquisition by Trimble, it seems to becoming the most site-oriented of BIM software.

Using Digital Project

As Franck Gehry was designing is extraordinary museum in Bilbao, he had to use the only 3D modeling software available at this time, CATIA (Computer Aided Three-dimensional Interactive Application). This software, develop by the French company Dassault to help them design their aircrafts, is still nowadays the leading product for designing cars, aircrafts, or any other product with some mechanical parts.

Since CATIA is not made to design building, Franck Gehry had to use his own plugins, and created Gehry Technology to develop them. Integrated into CATIA, these plugins became the BIM software known as Digital Project.

Just to make things clear, Digital Project is the most powerful BIM software. When you start using it, you understand why the design of some of the most iconic buildings of our times involved Digital Project.

It is able to deal with very complex shapes, really large and complex models, and came with all the utilities embedded into CATIA, from PowerCopies to optimization algorithms. Buildings models can be exported in IFC, and it provides a complete set of tool to design basic architectural elements. It is not limited to buildings, but works also great with infrastructures like this footbridge:

Automation can be easily done with .Net code, and open limitless possibilities for designing complex shapes and repetitive patterns.

But it also has its drawbacks. Compared to Revit, or other traditional building modeling software like Alplan or Archicad, it’s expensive, not user friendly for a second, and frankly, not very pretty.

Dassault System had recently bought the development part of Digital Project, and I expect a new release of Digital Project based on CATIA V6 soon enough.