What I Did on my Summer Vacation or RTC NA 2016 – The Best Little Conference in Arizona

I’m a Geek. I readily admit it. While most rational people spend their summer vacations at a beach, or escape the heat by searching out cooler climes, I booked a flight to Phoenix so that I could attend the RTC North America (RTC NA) 2016 conference, held July 13-16, 2016 at the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Yes, you read that right. I intentionally went to Arizona in the middle of July, where the daily high temperature frequently exceeds 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43°C) and people actually die from heat stroke. So did more than 600 others, representing 41 states and 11 countries. We made that choice before the sun had baked our brains—and we were glad we did.

RTC NA 2016 was held at the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa in Scottsdale, AZ

RTC NA 2016 was held at the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa in Scottsdale, AZ

 

RTC NA grew out of the very successful Revit Technology Conference first held in October 2005 in Sydney, Australia. The vision of founder Wesley Benn, a Sydney-based architect, RTC conferences are now held each year in Australasia, Europe, and North America. The 12th RTC AUS took place May 12-14 at a resort two hours north of Sydney, while the 4th RTC EU will be held October 20-22 in Porto, Portugal, one of Europe’s oldest tourist destinations. Last year’s European event was held in beautiful Budapest. If you begin to see a pattern here, I am sure it is intentional. The RTC host cities are typically as attractive as the conferences themselves, and the events are typically held in first-class resorts.

So why Arizona in July? One can only assume that the organizers sometimes forget that winter in Australia equals summer in North America.

All kidding aside—and despite the heat—RTC NA 2016 may have been the best conference I have attended in years.

I actually arrived a day early so that I could attend a special FormIt 360 workshop put on by Autodesk. Other events on the day before RTC officially kicked off included the Building Content Summit (BCS), the Design Technology Summit (DTS), and Data Day, a workshop focused on data use in the AECO/FM industry.

I am currently working on a new CADLearning course that will cover all aspects of FormIt 360, an exciting new Autodesk program. Originally launched as an app for iOS and Android devices, FormIt 360 is now available as a stand-alone Windows program, as well as via the web. In all of its incarnations, FormIt 360 provides an easy-to-use environment for conceptual design. Similar in many ways to SketchUp, it allows users to create 3D geometry by sketching, pushing, and pulling shapes. But FormIt 360 also offers significant advantages thanks to tight integration with Revit, real-time collaboration, and accessibility on multiple platforms. The Pro version also offers energy and solar analysis. In addition, users can leverage Dynamo to drive FormIt geometry using parameters.

FormIt 360 integrates well with Revit to provide an intuitive environment for developing conceptual designs.FormIt 360 integrates well with Revit to provide an intuitive environment for developing conceptual designs.

FormIt 360 integrates well with Revit to provide an intuitive environment for developing conceptual designs.FormIt 360 integrates well with Revit to provide an intuitive environment for developing conceptual designs.

 

I was one of a small group of attendees who were able to meet with members of the FormIt 360 development team as well as accomplished FormIt 360 users. The insights gained at this event will certainly impact and enhance our CADLearning course.

RTC NA 2016 itself kicked off on Thursday, July 13, with a keynote address by Ashraf Habibullah, a structural engineer and software developer best known as the founder, President, and CEO of Computers and Structures, Inc., a structural and earthquake engineering software company based in Berkeley, California. Ashraf took the stage in a silver jacket with flashing LEDs that spelled out his name on the back and proceeded to enthrall the crowd with a talk that highlighted the importance of technology and stressed the need for a broad-based education that equips young design professionals with the tools they need for success and leadership in their chosen field. Nearly every statement was quotable: “Engineers save lives every time the wind blows.” “Technology makes things work. Art makes things beautiful.” Architects and engineers are “the guys who create the infrastructure of humanity.”

Keynote speaker Ashraf Habibullah inspired RTC NA attendees with his intense passion and enthusiasm for technology, architecture, and engineering.

Keynote speaker Ashraf Habibullah inspired RTC NA attendees with his intense passion and enthusiasm for technology, architecture, and engineering.

At the end of his talk, attendees left the hall with a renewed appreciation for the ways in which architecture and engineering professionals bring grandeur and glory to the human existence and make the world not only a better and more beautiful place to live for all of us today, but also for countless generations to come.

And then we were off to attend selected sessions from among the more than 100 classes and hands-on labs presented by 85 different speakers over the next three days. Those speakers included 4D’s own Jason Boehning and Heidi Boutwell. Personally, I was able to attend a host of excellent classes and labs, including:

  • Rendering History with Project Soane: A look at renderings and animations of Sir John Soane’s historic Bank of England, based on Revit models created through the collaboration of nearly 500 architects using Autodesk A360; presented by Sean Young of HP and Andrew Rink of NVIDIA
  • Top 10 Revit Presentation Techniques: an excellent hands-on lab presented by architect (and rock guitarist) Steven Shell
  • Integration – Design Sketches and Revit as Partners in Process: a session by Mike Engel of ESG Architects on collaborative design incorporating FormIt 360, Sketchbook Pro, and Revit
  • Dynamo – Everyone’s Doing It: a lab taught by Carl Storms from IMAGINiT Technologies (and inspired by a class presented last year by 4D’s Jason Boehning) for people who may need to use Dynamo as part of their workflow but have never used it before
  • Photogrammetry for Site and Exterior/Interior Architecture: a fantastic class taught by Dat Lien and Xavier Loayza of Axoscape that covered different types of hardware and software used to convert a series of photos into usable 3D point clouds

This list barely scratches the surface of the broad range of classes, and indeed represents just half of the sessions I managed to attend over the course of this amazing event.

Nor were classes the only things happening at RTC. An adjacent exhibit hall featured booths from more than 40 companies, including Autodesk, HP, NVIDIA, Chaos Group, Revizto, BIMSmith, ideate, SysQue, IMAGINiT, Panzura, RTVtools, and of course 4D/CADLearning and ASCENT. Here, you could learn about the latest Revit add-ons, as well as experience exciting new virtual reality systems that may revolutionize the way we investigate designs before they are ever built.

While using Microsoft’s HoloLens to gaze on a simple factory model was a much better experience than the one I had during a private showing at Autodesk University last December, my visit to the Iris booth convinced me that virtual reality will soon become a frequently used tool in many architectural firms. By employing the latest HTC Vive VR glasses, I was able to walk around inside a virtual building that was a Revit model just seconds before. In less time than it would take to print a drawing, the company’s Prospect plugin converted the file and sent it directly into VR. The system also works with Oculus Rift and supports SketchUp and OBJ files, in addition to Revit. The Iris software is currently free, while the VR goggles are $600 for Oculus Rift or $800 for the HTC Vive. Of course, you will also need to make sure that your PC is powerful enough to run these VR systems. At RTC, Iris connected their headset to a gaming-quality laptop.

Iris Prospect software quickly converts Revit, SketchUp and OBJ files into VR models you can inhabit using HTC Vive or Oculus Rift VR headsets.

Iris Prospect software quickly converts Revit, SketchUp and OBJ files into VR models you can inhabit using HTC Vive or Oculus Rift VR headsets.

And while all of this was going on, CADLearning and ASCENT partnered to provide free access to video tutorials and training guides to help attendees prepare to take the Revit Certification Exam prior to arriving in Scottsdale, as well as then offering the exam free to any RTC attendees throughout the day, starting on Wednesday before RTC NA had even begun, and continuing on Sunday after all of the other RTC-related activities had concluded.

RTC attendees could hone their surfing skills on the FlowRider surf machine at the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa. (image courtesy The Westin Kierland)

RTC attendees could hone their surfing skills on the FlowRider surf machine at the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa. (image courtesy The Westin Kierland)

 

But perhaps one of the best things about RTC NA was its near-perfect balance between the highly-technical and the social. RTC’s mandate is “[to] be recognized as a trusted builder of communities dedicated to the built environment.” It is an event run by users for users. And as founder Wesley Benn and North American Region Chairman Jim Balding were quick to point out, the goals for all attendees at an RTC event are “to learn something, meet someone, and have fun.” This was readily apparent each evening.

Once the day’s classes had completed, attendees regrouped and carried on their conversations in a fun, relaxed, casual atmosphere at some fabulous social events. On Thursday night at a night club in Old Town Scottsdale, Ashraf hosted a party featuring a Katy Perry cover band. On Friday night, people congregated around the extensive Westin Kierland pool facilities, which included a FlowRider surf machine, much to the delight of the adventurous. And on Saturday night, the awards banquet was MC’d by Autodesk technical evangelist, Lynn Allen.

Jason Boehning and Jim Balding present an award to Melissa Thiessens of GSBS Architects at the RTC NA 2016 Conference in Scottsdale, AZ.

Jason Boehning and Jim Balding present an award to Melissa Thiessens of GSBS Architects at the RTC NA 2016 Conference in Scottsdale, AZ.

RTC attendees, many attired in old west costumes, were welcomed to that closing event by none other than Dolly Parton (via a pre-recorded video). They then enjoyed a great meal and live entertainment—a great country/western band with Steven Shell sitting in at one point. Also announced were the winners of the RTC poster competition—with awards presented by 4D’s Jason Boehning—and the kickoff of next year’s RTC NA event.

Festivities continued into the wee hours. I then dragged myself to the airport for my flight home on Sunday evening, tired and baked by the Arizona summer sun, but invigorated by new-found knowledge, anxious to try out what I had learned, and already looking forward to my next RTC event.

RTC NA 2017 will take place next summer in Toronto, Canada at the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel.

To read Jason Boehning and Heidi Boutwell’s takes on this year’s RTC, check out Issue 15 of The Blast.

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