Lifting the Hood on Design Software

Lifting the Hood on Design Software

While many of our tools at WRNS Studio are analog – we still go through a lot of pencil lead, trace paper, and chipboard – we work extensively with digital tools to develop and document our designs. Our work products are varied: ideas, emotions, sketches, diagrams, but also many, many digital design documents and the data contained within them.

With a deep level of craft and problem solving at the core of every design effort, we’ve felt compelled to develop new tools to meet the challenges of our practice. In response, we launched our Computation Group in May of 2015.

Modeling and documentation software such as Autodesk Revit has improved by leaps and bounds over the past decade, but we are always asking more of it.  That’s why we occasionally need to lift the hood and tinker with the data behind our models.  Sometimes we need access to data that Revit does not make available out of the box; sometimes there is no single software package that does what we need to do; and sometimes we just need to automate a repetitive task so that we have more time to do what we do best: design.

Thankfully, Revit, like many of our software tools, has a public Application Programming Interface (API) which allows us to tinker with its inner workings. The API exposes both the project data and many of the commands available in the software so that with a little programming knowledge we can create new tools and tune existing ones to suit our needs.

Example 1: Microsoft Silicon Valley Campus Project Data Exporting

The data associated with our design models is a valuable by-product of our BIM process. Too often this data remains hidden in the model database when it could be better used to help inform our design decisions or facilitate our clients’ decisions.  Our Microsoft Silicon Valley Campus master planning and design effort is a good example of a project for which we needed to track and correlate multiple sets of data pulled from the model. 

Although Revit does provide a command to export tabular Revit data to Excel, the process is slow and cumbersome, requiring navigation through multiple menus for each table.  We wanted to automate this process so that multiple data tables could be exported with just a few clicks.  Then we could link these tables into a single Excel document in which we could do formatting and calculations using the exported data.

We created a new Add-in application for Revit called WRNS Export Schedule capable of exporting a set of schedules to excel files and updating them as needed from the model data. The application has a graphic interface that allows users to quickly find and select the desired schedule views by sorting, filtering, and remembering presets.

This was the first custom Revit application developed in-house at WRNS and it paves the way for others.  The knowledge gained by tinkering with the Revit API code has us asking “what if we could…?” And we already have some ideas for what might be next.

Example 2: UC Davis Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing Shading Analysis

As we develop viable options for any given project, each with their own set of benefits, comparative analysis often serves to inform the decision making process.  And metrics derived from computational approaches give us data points which we can compare across schemes, especially when considering sustainable strategies.

At UC Davis Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, we employed a combination of Revit, Rhino / Grasshopper / Ladybug and Sketchup to analyze and represent two shading schemes for a building located in a demanding environmental context. Tailoring a software-agnostic computational workflow to the needs of the project, we were able to realize the benefits of interoperability, enabling us to use the best tools for the job.  This workflow has since been packaged and scaled to other projects in the office and used by designers without the need for a deep knowledge of each software employed to produce informative results.

Insolation Analysis (UCD Betty Irene Moore)