Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Building Beaulieu Abbey - Revit Architecture 2008

For the last few days I have been working on Beaulieu Abbey using Autodesk's Revit Architecture 2008. The software is the ideal tool for creating 3D buildings whether old or new, and the Abbey is certainly proving its capability for old. I have a floor plan and artistic sketch to guide the way the building used to look before it was torn down in the 1500s. These are by an authority on Beaulieu Abbey, Harold Brakspeare, drawn in 1901-2.

Other references have been remaining Cistercian abbeys such as Pontigny in France, one of the very few reasonably intact examples, and the reference material mentioned in an earlier post. The area that I have scratched my head about more than anything else are the heights involved, windows, doors, roof. And with Revit, it is important to know this, as soon as possible really.

The doors, windows etc are components, (termed family files in Revit), and can be made to your exact measurements, they understand that they cut holes in walls and when removed the wall fills in. They are parametric, Revit is parametric, a building information modelling solution for architects. Everything created in the project builds a database. This database can then be called upon to give almost any information relating to the project, or edited via schedules. Which is all very good, but you need the information first, hence the importance of heights and widths above.

This is one of the programs that I teach, over the last two years or so, pretty consistently on behalf of Excitech Ltd, who 'lead in the provision of design solutions for the construction industry and for facilities management'. Not being an architect and therefore not using the software everyday, it is projects like this that really help to push my knowledge of the software, and allows me to understand a few of the problems that the people I teach may come up against.

Revit Architecture 2008 has been really great over the last year, and certainly over the last month, but I will shortly move the project into Revit Architecture 2009, as there are several really good enhancements in the latest release, which will make my life a little easier again. For me, the best has to be the FBX export to Max. Whilst still modelling, either 2008 or 9 will be fine, it is when I come to develop the animations, walkthrough's, and full renders that I will need to have it in 2009 to export it completely to Max. David Light expands a little on this via Autodesk's whitepaper. on his excellent blogsite.

These images are a month's worth of work - in between training, and are only shaded rather than rendered, but they give a reasonably good impression of the work completed to date. The buildings are accurate to the measurements provided by Brakspeare, and follow cistercian references / style as much as possible. There is a lot of finer detail still to produce, columns, archway details, wall and window tracery, which will take a little longer again, but they are still easier to create accurately in Revit, than in Max. This would have taken much longer to have created completely within Max, so thank goodness for Revit.

Monday, June 2, 2008


A busy month with various events having happened as well as the work on the Beaulieu project.

I am now studying my PhD (MPhil/PhD in Design) with Winchester College of Art, University of Southampton. The reason for moving from Solent to Southampton is mostly due to the creative design support from my new supervisory team at Winchester, Dr David Birks, Ed d'Souza and Professor Ashok Ranchhod. It will also allow me to submit a practical (the TW application) as well as the thesis. This was not impossible at Solent but also not the norm, with Winchester it is expected from a design student.

The PhD therefore has had a little lapse whilst waiting for the paperwork to go through. I am now desperately trying to get back into it, a little difficult with the break in study and the Beaulieu project, but thanks to the encouragement and focusing guidance from Dr David Birks, I am starting to write again. The more I am reading about ethnography and case study research, the more I can see how the PhD will be invaluable to the development of the Talking Walls application.

I wanted to study at this level primarily to discover how people would want to use this type of application in a heritage environment, how they prefer to learn about their culture, what aspects of their culture were they interested in and how to provide something that would engage and encourage them to learn more. I thought that if I looked at these areas, I would be able to build these results into a template, giving the public something that they wanted to use and were able to use easily, adapting it to their own level and learning preference. This has always been the basis of The Talking Walls.

Technology has become an integral part of this now. When I first embarked on this concept, CD-ROMs were all we had, then DVDs and kiosks. Now we have the web, mobiles, PDAs, interactive TV, intelligent whiteboards as well as DVDs and Kiosks. With this hardware, we also have touch screens, gps, bluetooth, RFID and wireless. Instead of confusing the issue, i.e. which platform do I design for, this technology allows The Talking Walls to expand by becoming multiplatform, offering the user a choice in how they would like to interact with the application. This might be dependent on age, culture, wealth or class.

I like to think that I am a fairly good observer of people, reasonably sensitive / intuitive, and empathise with different people's situations, therefore observing how people use and interact with the application and the environment they are in makes perfect sense to me. Studying people this way might take longer than doing a survey with a heap of questions, but it will hopefully give me a really good insight and help in creating a user friendly, entertaining, educational heritage application. Here's hoping!

A new website, same web address, courtesy of my other half Paul, has just been uploaded. It is now down to me, through Contribute (web editing software) to update the information and provide more images. It will also have a staging area for people to view the application as it develops, so if you are interested email me and I will send the link.