Sunday, October 1, 2017

PLANTING SEEDS IN DENMARK

I'm in Denmark, attending the BiLT conference.  (Revit, BIM, other related stuff)  I am leading one session, called "Planting Seeds".  It's about the Planting category in Revit and the seeds part implies that I am presenting exploratory work that will continue to grow and hopefully stimulate others to build on my ideas.  In the course of my preparations, I opened up some of my early Revit work.  I showed some of the blog-related stuff a couple of weeks ago.  This one is focused on my day job at GAJ Architects, Dubai.



The first version of Revit I ever had was 7.0 so I spend quite some time using the Accurender version of raytracing before Mental Ray was introduced with Revit 2009.  (We also got the swept blend, colour fills in Sections, sloping pads, shape editing floors ... heady days) Accurender had very interesting Planting objects.  They looked a bit wierd in shaded views, but they rendered as genuine 3d objects. If you look carfully at the palm trees in the image above you will see this.  We are looking up into the canopy of the nearby ones, but at a distance you get a side view.



They also had some interesting controls, like "Trim Height" which allowed you to have a tall canopy on a short trunk, or vice-versa.  My next image shows an early example of mixing rendered and shaded images using layers in Photoshop, blending and filtering the image to simulate more of a hand-drawn look.  This can be especially effective to convey the softness of landscape elements.  But of course the "partner in charge" wasn't always convinced that Revit could "do" client-friendly images, so at times we just printed out Revit views and had our pencil and paper guys trace over them. Don't knock it.  Apart from producing very effective images, some useful design ideas can emerge along the way.



For a while I experimented with "Impression" which was free software for processing CAD files.  You could take a hidden line camera view, export it to CAD and use impression to turn the lines into a pencil effect.  This was hard work compared to say Sketchup which gave you a similar effect live, at the click of a button.  But I gave it a go and lived in hope.



The introduction of Mental Ray was quite exciting.  This is one of my very early attempts to exploit its potential.  The way it represents building elements if much more convincing than Accurender.  The shadows are more subtle and realistic with light bouncing around from surface to surface.  But the trees have moved in the reverse direction.  They look flatter, less volumetric, which is probably why I downplayed them so much in these views.



Opening one of the files and viewing with Enscape3d, the planting families that I placed back in 2008 immediately convert into fully volumetric objects.  Some of the custom materials have got screwed up, but that's nothing to do with Enscape, just the fact that my laptop doesn't have the right images on the paths set up under Options/Rendering.  Now this image isn't quite as impressive as some of the others I've been showing, but I'm pretty sure that if I spent half a day gathering together and tweaking the various linked files that were created for this project, I could create a couple of dozen images that represent it far better than the ones we generated in 2008.



Villa Savoye is a project I built around the same time.  It was partly motivated by my own fascination with the history of architecture and building technology, but I also used it as the subject for several training sessions, most notably a brief attempt to teach basic Revit skills to the partners at GAJ.  The image here compares a "realistic" view to the same shot in Enscape (top)  This is informative.  The tree shapes are quite different, although they obviously represent the same species.  The effect in Enscape is much sparser. The trees don't fill out the background as they did in the original.  I think part of the problem may be that some of the families are just not getting picked up in Enscape.  Maybe I have some dodgy RPCs in there.



But generally speaking, the Enscape trees are impressive and fully 3d.  You can view them from above and they look great.  They cast realistic shadows even when the sun is coming from the side. (RPC trees are flat billboards, so shadows from the side are very thin.)  In a realistic view you don't actually get any shadows at all.  Again I am not trying to criticise RPC families.  They are incredibly useful, lightweight and versatile, plus you can do a lot with the free starter pack that comes with a Revit installation.



The final image is not mine, and it's not Revit.  It was produced by the same team at GAJ that did the hand drawn image earlier on, this time using Sketchup and Photoshop.  I was helping a guy working on the same project, but using Revit.  It was early concept design stage, and we really struggled to compete with the Sketchup team.  We were quite proud of the images we came up with, but the partners thought they were awful.  I'm sure many of you have had similar experiences.  Plugins like Enscape3d definitely go a long way towards closing that gap, especially if you have the versatility and imagination to do a bit of mix and match with blended and processed images. 

I will be sharing some of the families from my session at Aarhus in coming weeks, so stay tuned.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

OLD PROJECTS : NEW LOOK

It's always interesting to turn the clock back half a dozen years.  How crap were my Revit skills in 2008?  I was quite proud of myself of course, but it's revealing to open a file that's been lying dormant since then.  One such project is the William Morris's house in Bexley Heath ... the famous Red House designed by Phillip Web.



I didn't get very far with it really, just the bare outlines of the shell, and I haven't taken it much further this weekend.  The idea was to open a bunch of old files in Enscape and see how quickly I could generate some interesting images.  It's a continuation of what I started last weekend.  Part of the motivation is to try out some of the planting families I have been working up for my presentation in Arhus.  Put them through their paces.



So I just threw a whole bunch of trees on the site, made a couple of small tweaks to the roof and fired up Enscape3d.  This gives you a pretty decent render quality in a live window, with some useful settings sliders to help you find a suitable ambience for the image in question.  Then you can take screenshopts, or export panoramas if you like.  In practice I can generate useable images in less that a quarter of a time it would have taken using Revit's internal render engine.



In this case I'm not using RPC trees so Enscape is not substituting them with its own 3 dimenionsal versions.  Instead I have families that incorporate 3d CAD mesh geometry, picked up here and there on my travels.  These come out surprisingly well in Enscape and as a bonus I can export black and white images with sketchy outlines to merge with shaded views to create images that match the Enscape renders.  That wouldn't really work with RPC content.



These families have some other tricks up their sleeves with I will explain in my session and post here soon after.  Embedded plan symbols, instance scaling etc.  I was quite impressed by the shadows that some of them cast.  I'm not trying to do away with RPC trees.  I think they are great (That's why I took the time to make my own customised versions).  But it's also good to have other options up your sleeve.



Another project that's been lying dormant for many years is the Tunendhat house by Mies van der Rohe, featuring his famous "cross-section" columns.  I guess this is one of the very first houses to feature a wall of glass occupying the entire length of an open-plan living space.  Actually this one was motorised and retracted into the basement when the weather was suitable.  The house was built on a steep slope, so the view would have been quite spectacular.  Still is I imagine.  I really must find the time to push these two research projects further.  What an incredibly contrast in design approach.



In 2013 I attempted something rather ambitious for the RTC in Auckland.  I took 3 memorable 20th century office developments, modelled them in Revit and used those the models to present a comparative analysis, attempting to set each within its social and political context.  I had a mixed response, ranging from intense enthusiasm to total bewilderment.  It was an immensely rewarding project for my personally on so many levels.  One of the buildings was Lever House in New York.  This model was developed in some detail, but I haven't done much with it since 2013.  Comes out nicely in Enscape though.  I've done a bit of post-processing here, just for fun



I showed some images of Casa del Fascio, not long ago.  So I won't show that again here.  But the third office was the Gherkin, which I did develop further for a while, trying to turn it into a tutorial for architecture students who wanted to build the model for themselves.  That was also lots of fun, but after three lengthy posts I ran out of steam.  The model as it stands is a bit like a semi-peeled onion, revealing the underlying structure.  My intention, in all this work is educational: to use BIM as a tool for understanding our built history.  So it's not always necessary to create a complete replica of the original.  It's all about the thought processes that kick in while you are modelling.   Learning by doing.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

ENSCAPE MEETS RONCHAMP

In finalising my preparations for the BiLT Europe conference coming up in Denmark shortly, I opened up some of my old projects with Enscape3d active and saved a few screenshots.  It's amazing what you can do in just half an hour with almost no editing at all, just selecting viewpoints and sliding the shadow angle around to different times of day.



There are other controls of course and I made some use of the white mode and the black outlines slider.  Depth of field has some potential but I couldn't get it to do anything particularly interesting in this case.

The model is le Corbusier's famous chapel at the top of a hill of course.  The roof is a hollow ferro-cement shell, inspired by aircraft wing construction techniques.  There are blog posts from several years ago that go into these issues in a bit more depth, but I have never really got around to taking this work to a reasonable conclusion. 



I do have a plan to follow up my Project Soane website with something more general which features analysis of a wide variety of buildings in the context of the societies that gave birth to them.  It will be called "The Way We Build" and it's a project that's been at the back of my mind for at least 20 years.  I thought it was going to be a book, but that never happened.  A website is easier to start up in a small way and gradually enhance so let's hope I can find the time and energy to do it well.
I am open to collaboration of course.  It would be wonderful if students of building /architecture /history, the old and the young, could work together to create an open resource of models and analytical diagrams, available over the internet. 



I think this is one of the great missed opportunities of BIM: using the technology for education and research.  There are lots of courses ABOUT BIM, but far too little use of BIM to actually DO education and research.  Why aren't students and teachers of architecture bowled over by the incredible power of the BIM pencil to reveal how buildings work?

By the way, that last image shows the village church at the bottom of the hill in relation to the chapel of "Our Lady up top" Not the kind of image you normally expect to get from Revit (sadly) but as an architect, and a student of the history of buildings I do like to use my favourite "drawing tool" to convey these kinds of relationship.  Ultimately it becomes boring to talk about technique all the time instead of just using BIM software as if it was a pencil, in a natural, uncomplicated way to explore and express ideas.



So this is just a tribute to Enscape3d, and another thankyou to the guys for letting me use it for educational purposes, plus a bit of a teaser for what I am planning to do, moving forward.  I have modelled lots of interesting buildings over the past few years: Robey House, bits and pieces of Gaudi, Casa del Fascio, the Gherkin, Lever House, Newari houses of Kathmandu, Temple of Poseidon, Pantheon, Borromini, Soane of course, Hawksmoor churches, Palladio (the last 2 as urban design studies)  I will try to generate some more Enscape images from these models and share them here.

Maybe you will get inspired to join my mission.