Building Design

Autodesk Building Design Tools

Autodesk makes a host of products for building design. Autodesk’s core BIM tools with BPA capabilities are: Revit, Vasari, and Green Building Studio. 

Learn more about when to use different Autodesk tools, and the difference between whole building energy analysis and performance-based design studies.

Autodesk offers a lot of software for building design, but knowing which tool to use when is important.

Autodesk BPA Tools

Autodesk makes a host of products for building design. Autodesk’s core BIM tools with BPA capabilities are: Revit, Vasari, and Green Building Studio.

Green Building Studio is a web-based simulation engine for whole building energy analysis. It is based on the DOE-2 simulation engine and powers the whole-building energy analysis tools across Autodesk products. It can perform analysis on any gbXML file and does not have modeling capabilities.

 

Revit is Autodesk’s flagship BIM product. It is a full-featured parametric building information modeling platform for use throughout the design process. Revit models use “Building Elements” like walls, roofs, windows, and floors to create 3D models. There are also conceptual massing capabilities, using basic shapes to model building form and orientation earlier in the design process. In addition to architectural design, it has tools for MEP design and structural design.

Vasari is a simplified, parametric BIM tool that uses the same modeling conventions as Revit’s conceptual massing tools – and the same file format as Revit.

 

Autodesk Ecotect and Simulation CFD have additional analysis capabilities. See the information below.

 

Whole Building Energy Analysis and Performance-based Design Studies

When it comes to Building Performance Analysis, the features of the tools break into two main categories: 1) Whole Building Energy Analysis; and 2) Performance-based Design Studies.

 

Whole building energy simulation results from Green Building Studio

Whole Building Energy Analysis

Green Building Studio is Autodesk’s core whole building energy simulation engine, and powers the analysis in both Revit and Vasari.

Revit supports energy analysis for both conceptual forms and detailed architectural models. Vasari supports energy analysis only for conceptual forms – but the “autozoning” features of Vasari make it a better tool for conceptual energy analysis because it more closely follows industry conventions (ASHRAE).

Whole building energy simulation measures expected energy use (fuel and electricity) based on the building’s geometry, climate, building type, envelope properties, and active systems (HVAC & Lighting). It takes into account the interdependencies of the building as a whole system, so it is a particularly useful way to “keep score” as you work to reduce building energy use.

 

Green Building Studio is Autodesk’s core whole building energy simulation engine, and powers the analysis in both Revit and Vasari.

Wind flow and solar radiation studies based in Autodesk Vasari.

Performance-based Design Studies

Autodesk Revit and Vasari have some additional built-in capabilities for doing performance-based design studies like sun path, solar radiation, wind, airflow, climate, and daylighting. Autodesk Ecotect is a more specialized tool that excels at these types of studies. 

These studies often use “false color” images to overlay quantitative results onto model geometry. Knowing how to make sense of the results to improve building energy performance is an art – and can be informed by doing whole building energy simulations to know where to focus your efforts. These studies are also useful for getting a better understanding for how to improve human visual and thermal comfort.


More on Autodesk Tools


Autodesk Vasari

Conceptual modeling and whole building energy simulation for the earliest stages of design.

NOTE: Vasari is currently in beta

Use When Ecodesign Functionality

Most useful

  • You’re at the early stages of conceptual design and are exploring design options like the basic building form, orientation and envelope for a specific location/climate.

Less useful

  • Your design is more mature and the details are being explored/developed in Revit.
  • You need to create detailed building models with actual building elements (for example, doors and windows), specific materials, and constructions.
  • You need more control over the energy analysis parameters and building modeling options.

Compare early design alternatives

Map out the design options that you are considering.  Compare the effectiveness and performance of alternative design strategies. 

Initial sun studies

See the sun’s path and visualize site-specific shadows. Quantify the incident solar radiation striking the building surfaces.

Initial wind studies

See the wind rose diagram for the project location showing wind direction, frequency and speed. Simulate the airflow (wind speed and pressure) on the site and around your proposed design with basic CFD.

Conceptual energy analysis

Get quick feedback on the expected energy use of your proposed designs and compare the effectiveness of building form, orientation and envelope design options.

Basic façade/building envelope design

Explore the effects of window placement, percentage glazing, and the use of shading features on projected energy use.

Autodesk Revit® (Conceptual Massing & Site tools)

The conceptual modeling tools in Revit are equivalent to modeling tools in Project Vasari.

Use When Sustainable Design Functionality

Most useful:

  • You’ve started your early design work in Revit and you want to quickly evaluate the projected energy use of conceptual design alternatives.

Less useful:

  • You want to evaluate the effects of solar radiation or perform wind studies on your design.
  • You want to consider the thermal properties of specific, detailed wall, roof, and window assemblies in your analysis.

Vasari is built on the conceptual modeling environment in Revit. The conceptual energy analysis tools are the same.

See the functionality referenced above. However, not all of this is yet available in Revit.

Autodesk Revit® (Architecture)

A full-featured parametric building information modeling platform for use throughout the design process

Use When Sustainable Design Functionality

Most useful:

  • You’ve moved beyond the conceptual design phase and are developing the features of a preferred alternative.
  • You’re designing and exploring the details of a building project using actual building elements (walls, doors, windows, curtain walls).
  • You’re including specific building components and products in your model.
  • You want to quickly model building geometry  and transfer it (including the thermal properties of assemblies like walls, floors, roofs, and windows) into supplementary analysis tools.
  • You need to document and detail your design using typical views - plans, elevations, and sections.

Less useful:

  • You want to evaluate overall building forms, massing, and orientation early in the design process.  Use Revit’s Massing & Site tools or Project Vasari instead.
  • You want to evaluate the effects of solar radiation or perform wind studies on your design.

Model detailed design geometry

Use Revit to model the geometry of your proposed designs for analysis within Revit or in other tools. Revit can pass the geometry, as well as variables like the thermal properties of materials, into analysis packages like Ecotect or Green Building Studio using the gbXML file format.

Simulate and visualize lighting

Model and compare alternative lighting strategies, including the effects of daylighting and artificial lights.  Visualize the lighting schemes qualitatively through renderings and visualizations or export your geometry to other tools for quantitative analysis.

Track key quantities and eco-metrics in schedules

Create schedules in Revit to automatically track key quantities in the proposed design and ecodesign metrics (for example, the percentage of recycled materials in the project). 

Autodesk Revit® (MEP)

A full-featured parametric building information modeling platform for use throughout the design process

Use When Sustainable Design Functionality

Most useful

  • You’re modeling the features of the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems in your design.
  • You want to consider the effects of duct routing and air terminal placement on the efficiency of your proposed mechanical system design.
  • You want to estimate the mechanical system loads based upon the spaces in your design and their thermal properties and planned uses.
  • You want to estimate the electrical or plumbing system loads based upon the lighting, equipment, and fixtures included in your design model.

Less useful

  • You want to quickly evaluate the effects of alternate mechanical system strategies, improving the efficiency of lighting or plumbing fixutres, or the impact of incorporating net-zero power or water-saving features.  
  • For rapid feedback on overall mechanical, water, and power design alternatives, use Green Building Studio instead.

Model detailed mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems designs

Use the MEP tools in Revit to model the details of the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems in your proposed designs for analysis within Revit or in other tools. 

HVAC load calculations

Estimate the loads on HVAC systems in your design based on the proposed spaces and their thermal properties.

Pipe and duct layout

Design proposed layouts for the mechanical systems (including air handlers, air terminal, and ductwork) as well as plumbing systems (including piping and fixtures).

Electrical and lighting layout

Design proposed layouts for the power and lighting systems (including panel, fixture, and switch location) and tabulate the proposed loads on these systems.

Simulate and visualize lighting

Model and compare alternative lighting strategies, including the effects of daylighting and artificial lights.  Visualize the lighting schemes qualitatively through renderings and visualizations or export your geometry to other tools for quantitative analysis.

Clash detection 

Visualize the analytical model and reduce design conflicts with native real-time interference detection. 

Export models for analysis

Revit can pass the design geometry and proposed system features into performance analysis tools like Ecotect or Green Building Studio (using the gbXML file format) as well as to detailed mechanical design tools like Trane TRACE.

AutoCAD® Civil 3D®

A full-featured design tool for modeling site and surface characteristics, designing water management and stormwater control systems

Use When Ecodesign Functionality

Most useful

  • You’re modeling the features of the site and exterior surfaces in your proposed design.
  • You want to estimate and analyze the effects of rainfall for designing stormwater control systems or water capture and retention systems.

Less useful

  • You want rapid feedback on the potential impact of using rainwater harvesting, greywater systems, or water use reduction measures.  Use Green Building Studio instead.

Stormwater design and analysis

Design and analyze efficient and effective stormwater management systems.  Consider the effects of surface characteristics.

Rainwater harvesting

Determine how much rainwater can be captured on the site and design retention facilities to store the water for later use. 

Water management

Incorporate onsite water resources into your design and analyze the potential risk of flooding.

Autodesk® Ecotect Analysis

An advanced simulation and visualization tool for ecodesign analysis.

Use When Sustainable Design Functionality

Most useful

  • You want to evaluate a proposed design at a deeper level of detail or perform an analysis that isn’t available in Vasari, Revit, or Green Building Studio.
  • You want to perform:
    • Human comfort analysis
    • Solar radiation and shading studies
    • Daylighting and solar ray reflection studies
  • You need a quantitative analysis of:
    • Daylight factors and daylighting levels
    • Insolation levels
    • Temperature distribution and comfort levels
  • You want to visualize general lighting or daylighting levels or to prepare a model for analysis using Radiance.
  • You want to visualize weather and climate data.

Less useful

  • You want to perform a detailed thermal performance analysis and estimate energy use. Ecotect’s standard material library is good for quick comparitive analyses, but the materials must be fine-tuned if more accurate quantitative results are needed.
  • You want to analyze a final daylighting design scheme. Several of Ecotect’s analysis tools are also available in Autodesk Project Vasari and Revit.

Study the weather

Ecotect’s WeatherTool presents graphs and charts of temperature, humidity, wind, and sun data. You can use it to work with and compile weather data.

Thermal comfort modeling

Determine predicted human comfort of your design based on temperature, humidity, airspeed, and other factors.

Advanced daylighting analysis

Detailed shading design tools. Calculate daylight factors and luminance levels at any point in the model or over an analysis grid.

Acoustic analysis

Analyze statistical reverberation times, conduct sophisticated particle analysis and ray tracing techniques.

Visualization of analysis results 

Ecotect’s analysis grid can display simulation results on the building model. 

Exchange model data with other analysis tools

Ecotect is good at passing geometry and data back and forth to other tools to study lighting, thermal comfort, and airflow.

Scripted design automation

You can use Grasshopper with Ecotect (Geco) to script a series of automated analyses.

Autodesk® Green Building Studio®

Run energy analyses on your whole building using the industry-accepted DOE-2 calculation engine.

Use When Sustainable Design Functionality

Most useful

  • You’d like to study and easily compare the potential energy savings available through using alternative building envelopes (materials and features) and mechanical systems strategies.
  • You’d like to evaluate the effect of varying plumbing fixture efficiency and net zero water saving/recovery strategies (rainwater harvesting, greywater systems).
  • You’d like to understand the impact of improving lighting efficiency and the potential for alternative power generation through photovoltaics and wind turbines.

Less useful

  • Your model geometry is too detailed or incomplete.  You many need to optimize or clean up your model for accurate analysis.
  • You’re just getting started and haven’t defined the geometry yet.  In this case, use Project Vasari to quickly evaluate conceptual alternatives.
  • You want to analyze and optimize the design of custom or unique HVAC system, component and control configurations.
  • If you’re using a lot of passive design strategies like direct solar gain (via thermal mass) and natural ventilation.

Perform whole building energy analysis

Estimate the energy use and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions for nearly all aspects of the building, including regional electric grid carbon emissions by fuel type.

Calibrate your model to existing building conditions.

Upload historical utility information to aid in operations, maintenance, and building performance tracking. When the simulation is run, Green Building Studio will use the actual climate and utility data for the specific period and location. 

Water Use Analysis

Estimate water use based on building type and number of occupants, and evaluate the effectiveness of alternative measures to reduce water use.

Renewable Energy Sources

Identify and size options for onsite renewable solar and wind energy sources.

LEED Daylighting Credits

Calculate each room’s daylighting factor and identify ways to earn LEED daylighting credits.

Autodesk® Simulation CFD

An advanced simulation and visualization tool for analyzing  thermal and fluid flows.

Use When Sustainable Design Functionality

Most useful

  • You want to evaluate a proposed design and understand the detailed effects of planned thermal and air flows.
  • You have a well-developed building model that includes information about the air inlets, air returns, and material properties of the model surfaces. 
  • You want to visualize thermal flows and dispersion of tempered air within a space.

Less useful

  • You want to perform a quick analysis of wind effects around a building.  Use Vasari’s Wind Tunnel tool instead. A wind tunnel analysis tool is also available in Autodesk Project Vasari.

Evaluate design strategies that feature air and fluid flows

Simulation CFD is good for exploring and evaluating the effectiveness of design proposal featuring:

Natural ventilation

  • Thermal stacks and chimneys
  • Chilled beams
  • Radiant heating and cooling
  • Displacement ventilation
  • Underfloor air distribution

Visualization of analysis results 

Simulation CFD can display simulation results layered on 3D views of the building model as well as in 2D graphs.

Autodesk® 3ds Max® Design

Detailed and accurate lighting simulation

Use When Sustainable Design Functionality

Most useful

  • You want to evaluate a proposed design and understand the detailed effects of lighting provided by many sources including sunlight, daylighting, and artificial lights.
  • You have a well-developed building model that includes information about the window and skylight locations, envelope openings, reflectivity of building surfaces, and artificial lighting types and locations.

Less useful

  • You’re very early in the design process and are working with a conceptual model.
  • Your model geometry is inaccurate or incomplete.  To produce meaningful results, building surfaces and light sources locations must be accurately modeled.

Detailed Lighting Simulation

Visualize and quantify the lighting provide by the sun, sky, and artificial lighting sources. Evaluate factors that affect the quality of the lighting including light levels, light distribution, glare, and light intensity.

Autodesk® Navisworks® 

Coordinate building models to check for interferences and potential conflicts.

Use When Sustainable Design Functionality

Most useful

  • You want to coordinate the work of several designers and check for potential conflicts.
  • You want to understand the constructability of a proposed design and simulate the building process for internal planning or reviewers.
  • You have a well-developed building model that includes detailed building model elements and a proposed project task timeline.

Less useful

  • You’re very early in the design process and are working with a conceptual model.
  • You are working with a single design model where all elements can easily be seen.
  • Your project does not have a proposed task timeline for building the design.

Coordinate project models from many disciplines

Navisworks can integrate project models from all disciplines (architectural, structural, and MEP) and many types of modeling tools into a composite model for easy coordination of all design features.

Clash detection

Check for conflicts and potential interferences between model elements.  Evaluate a proposed design for constructability and fit issues to avoid potential mistakes and costly waste.

Evaluate constructability and plan construction sequences

Link schedules to building model elements to quickly create 4D simulations that illustrate design options and the proposed building process.

Autodesk® Quantity Takeoff

Quantify the elements in a building model for estimating.

Use When Sustainable Design Functionality

Most useful

  • You want to quantify and tabulate the elements in a building model to prepare and quantity takeoff.
  • You have historical cost data that can be applied to the building elements to create a model-based estimate..
  • You have a well-developed building model that includes building model elements with enough detail to associate cost estimates.

Less useful

  • You’re very early in the design process and are working with a conceptual model.  In that case, you can create a conceptual cost estimate using schedules in Revit or Vasari.
  • You don’t cost data to associate with your design elements.

Takeoff model quantities

Count and tabulate the quantities of elements in your proposed design by taking off quantities from 2D drawings and 3D models.  Minimize measurement and transcription errors by measuring quantities directly from the project model.

Cost estimation

Organize takeoff items into work breakdown structures (WBS)  and associate labor, material, equipment, and subcontract costs with model elements to prepare a model-based estimate.  

Create estimates or exchange data with estimating tools

Format and produce takeoff reports directly in Quantity Takeoff or export the takeoff quantities to other estimating tools, such as Excel or Timberline.

Other plug-ins and tools

Autodesk modeling and analysis tools can be used as part of a workflow that also uses other plugins and tools for specific analysis. Using formats like .dxf and gbXML, Autodesk modeling tools can be a very effective tool to generate and pass geometry to these tools. With the strategic use of BIM, you can make your workflows more efficient by using a single model for multiple purposes (i.e. energy analysis, cost estimates, daylight analysis).

To see a list of tools that are compatible with gbXML, see their list of partners.

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Sustainable Design

Everything in the built environment is designed, from the smallest computer chip to the largest city. With Autodesk software, users can reduce the environmental impacts of their designs.  Visit the Autodesk Sustainable Design Center: autodesk.com/sustainabledesign.

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