Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Railings from hell - 1

Railings have steadily been climbing to the top of my "most hated tools" list and are guessed the very top. Building railings in Revit is one of the most designer-unfriendly processes. At least when it comes to commercial-type railings.

One of the most important things for Architects to define when it comes to guardrails and handrails is the height, which is measured from the top of the element and NOT from the centerline. Another important dimension is the clear distance between the railing and the wall (again, NOT to the centerline). So with this in mind, I created a circular handrail profile and made the top reference and one side reference to define the origin.

As you can see now I just type in the actual height of the handrail in this example and the offset represents the clear width from the sketch line. So if you sketch on one face of a wall, the inside face of the railing will be offset by that amount and leaves that clear gap. Great! Another advantage (which is probably my top reason for this) is that if one needs to change the railing diameter, you don't need to mess with offsets as the railing will shrink/grow downwards and outwards, leaving the top of rail (height) and clear distance (offset) the same at all times.

But enthusiasm is short lived. Once the railing needs to step because of your stair configuration and a vertical segment is added, you end up with this horrendous joint.

Making the origin lie at the centerline of the railing profile solves the issue, but now I'm back to square one, having to factor in the railing radius, and subtract it from the height and add it to the offset. Why, oh why?!

This is just one of the many quirks that have been driving me insane about this tool. I can make it work (and sing in some cases), but it's harder than it ought to be. Designers and Architects working on projects are not going to even bother and will (are) going to use Sketchup to DESIGN a railing solution for their stairs instead. Revit is in dire need for a designer-friendly tool for this purpose. Think curtain walls: very designer friendly. You cannot drive everything with rules! That is a very limiting approach and causes you to create a multitude of railing definitions just to get ONE stair railing to work. It's nuts. Now I'm even having to separate the guardrails from the handrails just so I can "efficiently" model these railings and make them less complicated. This has got to be made easier. Something in line with Revit's sketching philosophy perhaps where you sketch the skeleton of the railing on a plane in elevation/3D (not just a footprint line!) and assign different profiles or sketch them on the fly, with joins that work properly. Anything's got to be better than this. We can make it work but it feels like pulling teeth and it shouldn't be.

I plan on posting other segments on this topic as you might have deduced from the title ;) Instead of just stomping my feet and throwing a tantrum, I'll try to post some solutions and techniques I've been using to make it easier for typical users to attempt using the tool. Ahhhh, I feel better now.



Erik said...

Isn't this tool just one of the most cantankerous that Revit has to offer? I was REALLY Excited about the offset profile till you revealed the "spoiler." This is one part of Revit that needs serious work. Oh and legends... Oh and ... Well, enough of that. Thanks for letting me borrow the soapbox.

Dave Baldacchino said...

Thanks Erik, that's a word I hadn't heard of before and does a great job at describing this tool!

You see, typically if I'm planning stairs I offset the run at a landing by a thread distance (trick passed on to me by a PM). This way you eliminate "goosenecks" and the railings work a lot nicer. This is ideal for switch-back stairs, but when it comes to utilitarian stairs that turn at 90 degrees for example, you might need a lot of landing space and cannot afford to offset the runs, where the vertical rail segments are unavoidable.

So after creating a bunch of content for start and end posts, railing definitions etc. all based on that offset profile and realizing you have to change them back, you're not a very happy camper ;)

alleycatbabe said...

I can't stand the railing tool. As you said in your post it's not very user friendly. I've also run into situations where it just absolutely will not do what I need it to & I have to resort to using masking regions in section & elevation. In the perfect Revit world I should not have to do that.

deesee said...

Railings are just another one of those features that just can't seem to get squared away. I really don't get it.

I have looked at ArchiCAD real hard because of its so much more robust than Revit (in my lowly opinion), but ArchiCAD is so, so hard to use, when you compare it to revit. There are a million and one settings....the price you pay for robustness I guess.

Still, Revit can surely "steal" or "borrow" some great things from ArchiCAD: Railings, Stairs, Site Tools, and Documentation are just a few that come to mind.

Erik said...

Now that I have "Cantanker-ized" the railing tool, I feel that I must come to the defense of Revit. Often I see discussions of legitimate shortcomings in a process turn to an allout bashing of the process in general.
I'm not saying that this thread has gone that way (or even would)but let's give Revit its due. It offers the TOOLS you need to build your design digitaly. In some cases it does a lot of the work for you. In others it doesn't. The deciding factor is complexity. Railings ARE complex and they have have stymied many a journeyman in the field. So don't be too hard on yourself or Revit if your Railings and stairs are making you sweat.

Eric Wing did a great course over at AUGI. It's ATP208 and should be archived in the ATP education page soon. I recommend it for anyone who wants to take railings to the next level.

Dave Baldacchino said...

I would not let it degenerate into unproductive negativity. It's good to see that I'm not alone in the frustration though. Tools are there to help us design and document. If they're difficult and cumbersome to use and I'm in charge of my own business, I couldn't justify the tool's use. By taking decisions about what not to model based on how inadequate or difficult a tool is means we'll never achieve the power of true BIM. I'm a believer that we should model all the significant building components that impact the aesthetics and dimensional coordination. Railings (and stairs) fall in both categories and thus, the tool should be easy and flexible enough to help us design and document them. If it takes us a long time to model the railings and then we have to also do 2D work to document appropriately (such as drawing little lines because you cannot dimension to the rail, using masking reagions to "clean up" a lot of boo-boos, etc), then that's totally unacceptable. At least until our deliverable changes from 2D to 3D ;)

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