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September 4, 2022

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Autodesk Revit BIM Families – NBS National BIM Library

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Wait no more. This article will introduce you to the basics of Family Editor. Once you get past being intimidated, you will find that while Family Editor is extremely powerful, it can actually be great fun. In this short introduction, we will create a Revit component family complete with constraints and parameters.

Even if you are completely new to Revit, you have no doubt discovered how important families and the family editor are to your success in Revit. Beginning with the difference between System and Component families, this section will explore the critical concepts and terminology.

In order to get started with the family editor, it is important to understand some basic concepts and terminology. All elements in the Revit platform are part of a family and they fit into a clearly defined hierarchy.

At the top level of this hierarchy, are Categories. Categories are pre-defined within the software and cannot be added, deleted or renamed. A wide variety of categories are included in Revit and distributed among a few overall master groups including: model and annotation but there are a few others.

Model Categories include all elements that comprise your building model such as: Walls, Doors, Floors, Stairs and Beams. Annotation categories include items like Text, Dimensions and Tags. Categories are by definition very broad. It would not be enough to simply have a Walls or Doors category. These items come in all shapes, sizes and behaviors.

Therefore, the next level of the hierarchy is the Family. All Revit elements belong to a family. Families are best thought of simply as a collection of like items sharing the same overall look and behavior. Families branch into two major kinds based on their behavior: the System Family and the Component Loadable Family. System families include anything that is built into the software and cannot be manipulated by the user in the interface.

This can include model components like walls and floors, but also includes equally important items like floor plans, project data, and levels. System families cannot be created or deleted. A type is our next level or hierarchy in Revit. Think of it as a collection of variables sizes, materials or other settings saved to certain values and given a name for ease of reuse. A Type provides a convenient way to switch several variables of a family at once. A family can contain one or more types; each with its own unique user-editable settings.

So while for example we cannot create or delete wall families, we can add, delete and edit the types associated with each of the provided wall families. The Basic Wall definition simply means that it is a layered wall that has the same structure along its entire length and height. The actual make-up of this structure can vary widely from type to type as the names noted here imply. As already noted, system families include both things that are part of the physical model in your Revit projects like walls, floors and roofs and other items that are not like views, project data, and levels.

A Host is an element that can receive or support or provide structure for other model elements. Hosts are often required for many of the component families like doors or windows which require wall hosts, or lighting fixtures which often require ceiling hosts. Many component families are model elements, but they can also be annotation or other non-model elements as well.

Revit users can create, delete and modify component families and their associated types. This is accomplished in the family editor and each family thus created can be saved to its own unique file with and RFA extension. Like system families, component families can contain one or more types.

They can also have instance parameters that vary from instance to instance not part of the type. Unlike system families, they are completely customizable by the end user in the family editor.

However, an in-place family is created directly within a project not in a separate family file as component families are and it cannot be exported to other projects. Further, you can create in-place versions of many system family categories like walls, roofs and floors. This capability allows the creation of custom or free-form shapes not otherwise possible in pre-defined system families.

You should only consider creating an in-place family for elements that are unique to a particular project with little possibility that you will ever want to reuse them in future projects. In-place families therefore prove effective for modeling unique existing conditions or very specialized and unique design scenarios.

However, wherever possible, consider if the item you wish to create can be built using either predefined system elements or a component family first before resorting to an in-place family. Often creating an in-place element seems like a good idea at the time only to later be the source of regret. We will not be exploring in-place families in this article.

Here is a brief summary of Revit for Architecture critical terminology. The illustration is borrowed from the online help file a few releases back. There is a different version in the current help system, but I prefer this illustration as I believe it still does the best job of summarizing all of the various kinds of elements in the Revit environment.

There are several kinds of elements. Each represents something fundamental to your project. Elements in italic can be created and edited in the family editor. Can be freestanding or require a host. Views conform to the characteristics of typical architectural drawing types like plan, section, elevation and schedule. Some View Element families allow customization of Types, many do not. These are used establish project context, limits, extents and the like.

Datum Elements provide guidelines and limits for other elements within a project and can also include annotative qualities. The families and types of datum elements cannot be edited. View-specific elements do not appear in any other views automatically. If you wish to repeat view-specific items in other views, you can copy and paste them. Detail elements appear only in the view in which they are added. Detail Elements remain their actual size as created and do not adjust scale with the view.

These items are view-specific appearing only in the view in which they are added and are used to notate, embellish, describe and document design intent within a Revit Architecture project. Annotation elements maintain a constant size relative to the plotting scale of the view in order to maintain a constant size relative the sheet on which they are placed.

Text and Dimensions cannot. Many of the branches in the diagram contain both system and component families. Naturally for a discussion on the family editor, we are therefore limited to considering only the non-system families.

This includes all items on the Component Elements model branch, Detail Item families on the Detail Elements branch, Loaded Tags on the Annotation Elements branch and a few other miscellaneous elements as well like titleblock families or view tags and level head symbols.

The first step to working in Revit in general and building families in specific is to become comfortable with this list of terms. Keep it handy as reference as you continue. But before you embark on the process of building family content, it should be noted that there are many families included with the software and many more resources available online. A quick search in Google will turn up hundreds of sites containing tips, tricks and downloadable content.

Do take the time to explore the out-of-the-box offerings and some of many available sites as well if you have not already done so. As has been noted, you cannot create or delete system families. All system families will already be in your project file. To add types that are not present to a system family, you either have to duplicate an existing type, rename and modify it, or import one from another project. To import from another project, you can use Transfer Project Standards Manage tab or copy and paste.

To use a component family from outside the project in your current project, you can load it from a family file RFA or copy and paste from another project. To load a family file, use the Load Family button on the Insert tab of the ribbon, or the contextual ribbon tab when a command is active.

This lets you load a door family and place it all in the same procedure. Also, on the Insert tab of the ribbon, on the Autodesk Seek panel, you can run a search from directly in Revit of the online Autodesk Seek website. You can also type seek.

In many cases, a family similar to the one you wish to create will already exist somewhere in the product or online in one of the myriad online resources. Most companies also maintain their own libraries of office standard content on their internal servers. Practical wisdom says that it makes more sense to begin with something in the library and either use it as-is, or modify it to suit your needs. Typically, this will be easier than starting from scratch. In your day-to-day work when you are up against deadlines, this is by far the best approach.

If you are new to creating families in Revit, then I recommend that you create your first few families from scratch. By building the entire family yourself, you will learn more than simply modifying one. Furthermore, families can include very complex parameters and constraints that often link to one another in a chained and sometimes complex or even convoluted fashion. Even for seasoned family content authors, it can be difficult to dissect these often complex relationships.

Therefore, to avoid becoming discouraged, it is recommended that you start with a small simple example and work your way to more complexity over time. These are more complex than they at first seem. Begin with something small, simple and boxy: like a simple piece of furniture or equipment. The basic process for creating a family is as follows: decide what type of family you need. This will include deciding what it should look like, how much detail to include and whether the graphics or level of detail should change in different views.

You can start by sketching out yes on paper the family you intend to create and make notes about its requirements. Next, create a new family file from the appropriate template or open an existing family file similar to the one you wish to create and save as.


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