Virtual Environments

Virtual environments are a trending topic among our clients these days. Owners don’t want only pretty pictures of their future building anymore, but also videos, and lately, whole 3D environments.

They want to be able to walk through their future building and see everything just like the expected end user. This kind of easily accessible 3D model has endless applications: You can validate architectural and interior design choices, check the accessibility and the ergonomic of the building, present a show apartment on a web-based application accessible by anyone, and many more…

For the one who were fond of videos games in their youth, it’s pretty much like creating a level of an average first person shooter game. You create the geometry (in our case, an already existing aggregated design model), you add some textures to make it pretty and you run the whole thing in an engine for interactive 3D content, a professional name for a game engine.

I have tried two of these engines, with different results.

3dVia Studio is the solution develop by Dassault System. It’s really powerful, with a lot of features and possibilities, and can run really large models. But on the other hand, its price reserves it for visualization professionals, and finding some support and examples on the web can be dreadful.

The other solution is a broadly used game engine named Unity 3D. Its basic version is free, and you can pay for a professional version and specific features, like publication on portable devices (IOS and Android), or work in a collaborative environment.

After some trials with 3DVia Studio, we finally put all our effort to Unity. I will try to post one of my models, so in the meantime, you can have an really good example here.

About Navisworks

Navisworks is the 3D design review software included in the Autodesk BIM solution. I’m working with it for some times now, and I have finally found it pretty useful, especially while working with synthesis teams.

I’m using it mainly for models presentation and clash detection, but it had also a integrated 4D planning function (the TimeLiner) and some model review and annotation features.

While I was working with this software, I was really missing a revision tracking system.

As we are running our clash detection, new revisions of models came, and have to be integrated in the compiled Navisworks model. To do so, we just append the new model in the software. But, if we keep the same model name from one revision to another, we quickly lost track of which revision we are dealing with. And if we change the name, adding a revision number for example, Naviswork do not include it a revision, but like a totally new model, and we lost the history of clash instances previously founded and sorted.

The only workaround I have found is to overwrite the old revision, keep it in a separate folder and rename it. Not very convenient, but we get used to it.

Once this kind of revision tracking is settled down, we can run our clash detection. Sort results is the most painful task, as we quickly have more than a thousand of clash, most irrelevant or duplicates.

I have also tried the free viewer, called Navisworks Freedom, for visualization purposes, but functions included are too poor to be are real viewer. I hopping than the Live Section Tool, included in the full version of Navisworks, will also be integrated in the free viewer to create a real solution for review and coordination.

I was also able to develop some interesting extensions, mostly for exporting clash reports to Excel or Revit, in order to improve our workflow. I will try to describe these plugins more extensively on a next post.

Industry Foundation Classes

Anyone who has worked in the BIM field may have eared something about Industry Foundation Classes. Yes, you know, this little logo…

Generally, it appears when we try to export a building model from proprietary software to another. The IFC exchange format allows us to convert files and, with some luck, open them the other software.

But what really is this IFC file format, and why everybody talk about it ?

Developed by Building Smart, a non-profit association of architects, civil engineers and IT specialists, IFC is a data model specifically designed for building information modeling.

In other terms, it’s a series of definitions, explaining how describe any building element in order to make it comprehensible by a computer. But while each BIM software relies upon its own very private data model to define a building, the IFC data model is open, and freely accessible by anyone here.

These definitions create a language readable by a computer, and written as a text file. This file is even readable by human being, and look more or less like this:

#66= IFCCARTESIANPOINT((-17261.0669833266,3274.73863321424,0.));

#68= IFCAXIS2PLACEMENT3D(#66,$,$);

#69= IFCLOCALPLACEMENT(#59,#68);

#70= IFCCARTESIANPOINT((9430.2775637732,0.));

#72= IFCPOLYLINE((#5,#70));

#74= IFCSHAPEREPRESENTATION(#43,'Axis','Curve2D',(#72));

#76= IFCCARTESIANPOINT((9430.2775637732,-100.));

It’s not very convenient, but with some pain, we can find a wall here,

#209= IFCWALLSTANDARDCASE('0EiAvIo0LBOBfvSD8E4HST',#52,'Basic Wall',$,’200 mm’ ,#181,#207,'177171');

create by an extrusion like that,

#92= IFCEXTRUDEDAREASOLID(#90,#91,#15,8000.);

and place at the point define like this:

#76= IFCCARTESIANPOINT((9430.2775637732,-100.));

I have worked some times in order to understand this language, and if I’m still not speaking IFC fluently, I was able to improve myself a little. You will find the result of my work here.

There is plenty of IFC’s approved software, but if everyone is compliant, some are more compliant than other. For example, Revit was well known for its really poor implementation, but I have heard that Autodesk have made great improvement in the 2013 version, I still have to look at it.

For my part, the best implementation I have ever be able to test is the plugin for Grasshopper made by Jon Mirtschin called Geometry Gym. Fully compatible with the latest version of IFC (IFC2x Edition 4 Release Candidate 2), this plug in transform Rhino in a full scale BIM software. This plugin deserve at least a whole article, so I will came back to it.

The IFC model is still in the development part, and is currently in the process of becoming the official International Standard ISO 16739.

If it’s not the leading format in the BIM business, the IFC format is a really interesting attempt to create an open exchange standard, and some software like Solibri Model Checker have understood it well enough to use IFC as the only input models format.

About my job

As a part of the building information systems department, I’m involved in the development and implementation of BIM in our design process. This implies various tasks, from finding new software solutions to assure in-house user support.

The main part of the job, the so-called BIM Manager thing, is to organize the design process around chosen BIM software. Creating model templates according to the specification of the company, organizing multi-users modeling around a main model and providing users support are among the everyday tasks.

Apart from the in-house building design, we have also created BIM specific solutions for design offices or general contractors. These solutions range from synthesis and coordination at the early stage of a project to BIM facility management on existing buildings.

Finally, I try to keep in touch with all the BIM-related solutions, following the evolution of the information technology for building construction, from code-driven form-finding to on-site management using tablets and cloud-hosted solutions.