When it comes to Revit content, no one has what we need. In the middle of the design process families are needed instantly at the click of a button. But, I want more than that. What I want is a massive library of high quality, consistent and free content. No one provides that today.
I’ve deliberately used aspirational terms like “massive”, “high quality”, “consistent” and “free”. We will never have the possibility of getting what we want if we can’t articulate what it is. Let me try to define these terms so you know what I’m talking about.
A massive library of content will have everything I need.
All Levels of Development (LOD)
Generic content – Generic content is required for public works projects because the selection of manufacturer is determined after Construction Documents are issue, by law. Early stages of design also require generic content. When we want the client to focus on design alternatives, we don’t want the distraction of manufacturer-specific furniture. For MEP work, equipment needs to be generic at early stages as well.
Representational – For interiors work, a key part of the design is specific furniture, light fixtures, etc. So representational and/or manufacturer-specific content is needed. And for MEP, each manufacturer may have equivalent equipment with large differences in size/configuration.
Buildable – If BIM is going to reach its potential, content needs to be buildable. Many parts of a building are fabricated to fit. With buildable content, the model can be the digital input to computer controlled manufacturing equipment.
All Building Types
Residential – Most architects in AIA are in small architecture firms. And most small firms do some sort of residential work. Within Revit, residential components are called “domestic”. Look through the Domestic folders and look through your own home or apartment, and you quickly see that we need much more than OOTB content to meet our needs.
Retail – Retail has many sub-categories and many category-specific needs. Try to design a restaurant or coffee shop, and you will have to be building dozens of Revit families.
Office – As simple and as plain as current office design is (at least in Silicon Valley), there still is a large need. Here are a few categories: Furniture, Systems Furniture, Casework, Specialty Equipment – large and small appliances, toilet room accessories, etc., etc.
Science and Technology – There are many Revit users who have had to build their own test-tube racks, not to mention fume hoods, microscopes and test equipment.
Transportation – Boats, planes, trains and automobiles, we need them all. And we need the Revit families that support design around these modes. How about ticket counters, luggage handling equipment, and the vast array of maintenance equipment required for these machines.
Healthcare – Fortunately, you can find a hospital bed family if you look for it. But you will probably have to build your own families for ubiquitous items like glove dispensers and examination tables. On one project in our office we had a full time family creator making medical equipment, and most of it ended up being simple cubic placeholder families with embedded data.
Light – A good family will NOT bog down your project when you load it. Unfortunately, some manufacturers insist on excessive detail that would not be needed even if doing a rendering. And some commercial consolidators even insert DWG files into a Revit family and claim it is Revit content.
Flexible – Flexibility comes in different flavors. The first form of flexibility is in geometry. A good example of this type is a table family that can grow in width and length. Another form of flexibility is in optional components. A simple example of this type is a door family that allows changing the handle, knob or lever. A third form of flexibility is in material choices. Furniture, floor coverings and wall coverings all come with multiple materials in the real world – and should in the virtual design world. A fourth form of flexibility is in performance data. A light fixture can have several different light-sources, each with a different light pattern, expressed in the IES file. Performance-data flexibility is critical in MEP equipment models.
Parameters – A high quality Revit family should have a standard set of parameters, named in a standard way.
Graphics – The standard for architectural components is to hide geometry in plan view and show a masking region or detail component with simplified line-work. This could be extended for elevation views as well. For MEP work, there needs to be differing displays for Coarse, Medium and Fine views.
Family Naming – Most of us can deal with inconsistent naming of doors and windows, since they are segregated within the software. But try to place something from the Specialty Equipment category and you find yourself on an expedition. Specialty Equipment includes building components ranging from Paper Towel Dispensers to Magnetic Resonance Imaging Machines. Consistent family naming is essential to productive work practices.
Parameter Naming – Autodesk made a start with defining a standard in 2001, with the release of “Revit Content Guidelines”. We have a long way to go as an industry in this area. Door manufacturers don’t even have a consistent way of naming the “fire rating” parameter, after 100+ years of such a door characteristic.
Graphics – The book, “Architectural Graphic Standards” is in its 20th edition – it was first published in 1955. And yet, architects cannot yet agree on what a toilet/water closet should look like in plan and elevation. Is it any wonder that manufacturers make a variety of choices in the graphic display of their building components? We can do better than this.
Insertion Point – One of the most frustrating experiences in working with “smart” building components, is the inconsistency in insertions. One manufacturer uses the back-left corner, another used the back-center, and a third uses the center of the object. The problem comes when a design decision is made to change manufacturer and all the components shift position – all 40 of those tables will need to be re-positioned.
The only way to get free content is for someone (not us) to pay for it.
One way to get “free Revit families” is for everyone to donate their work for the common good. The existing dozen Community Exchanges for Revit content are the practical expression of this approach.
Another way to get “free Revit families” is for commercial enterprises to build content in the hope of getting a return on the investment. The obvious source of funding is manufacturers. And as of spring 2013, there are more than 1200 that have stepped forward to help you by providing free Revit families of their products. Another good source of funding is Commercial Consolidators of Revit content. A number of these 20+ firms provide generic families in addition to manufacturer-specific families. Let us remember that Autodesk has funded the OOTB content.
Some not-so-obvious sources of free Revit families are industry associations and large design/construction firms. Industry associations can pool resources of many “commodity manufacturers” to fund content development. The Woodwork Institute was the first outside entity to fund the development of Revit families – casework.
In my personal opinion, large design firms and large construction firms have a responsibility to contribute to the funding of content. One way to do this is to publish their internal standards publicly. This could be done through a larger standards effort, perhaps coordinated by the National Institute of Building Sciences. Another way, though less likely, is for large firms to publish their internally developed content. The overall health of the building industry requires both large and small firms. And, small firms just do not have the resources to fund content development. It is time for large firms to stand up for a vibrant, diverse building industry.