AEC

The Architect's Answer

1 Jan, 2004 By: AIA ,H. Edward Goldberg

SketchUp 3-An elegant AEC and multimedia solution.


Only a few AEC and multimedia software programs are elegant-they perform as advertised, are easy to learn, and have a good price point. SketchUp 3.0 from @Last Software is one of these programs. It's been at the top of my annual "Essential Presentation Tools" column, May 2003, along with Adobe PhotoShop and Power Point, since it arrived on the scene three years ago.

Figures 1 and 2. I made this simple massing model in half an hour. I often send this type of concept to clients after a meeting.
Figures 1 and 2. I made this simple massing model in half an hour. I often send this type of concept to clients after a meeting.

SketchUp grew out of the shared vision of @Last Software's founders, a small group of AEC industry veterans who saw a need for a more intuitive and accessible 3D design tool-hence the company's mission statement "3D for the rest of us." SketchUp has evolved since its first release. Features in v3 give it broader applicability throughout the entire design, presentation, and construction document phase. To think of SketchUp as only a presentation tool is to underestimate its power and versatility.

Novice computer users can quickly gain value from this program. AEC professionals who are mildly comfortable with computers should be able to create a usable presentation with about three hours of practice. A more experienced CAD operator should be able to create a professional presentation in that time. For users familiar with sophisticated modeling and rendering programs such as VIZ, 3ds max and form•Z, SketchUp 3 is an excellent adjacent modeler for all objects, except for organic forms. SketchUp has a unique, but limited, animation capability that's excellent for fly-bys and walkthroughs.

To run SketchUp on the PC, @Last Software recommends that you use Microsoft Windows 98 or above on a 600MHz or higher Pentium III processor with 40MB of free disk space, 128MB RAM, Microsoft Internet Explorer 4 or higher, a scroll-wheel, three-button mouse or Windows-compatible pointing device, and an OpenGL-compatible 3D graphics card running in 32-bit color mode.

Figure 3. SketchUp's Hidden Line option with shadows creates a rendered look that won't intimidate clients, leaving the door open for further changes to the design.
Figure 3. SketchUp's Hidden Line option with shadows creates a rendered look that won't intimidate clients, leaving the door open for further changes to the design.

What You Get

SketchUp comes equipped with a tool palette that includes pencil, rectangle, circle, and curve tools to draw lines and shapes. Once you create shapes, you can extrude them with the Push-Pull tool to produce 3D models. You can then modify these models using move, rotate, and scale tools. Finally, use the texture tool to add bit-mapped textures to any face of the model. Click an icon to apply shadows that you control with sliders and lists for time of day, season, and location anywhere on the planet.

In SketchUp 3, you can add two types of text to drawings. The first is Screen text that remains fixed to a point on the screen and is ideal for titles and captions. The second is Leader text that links to a face on a model implicitly or via an arrow. As you rotate the view of a model, the leader text follows its object and maintains its orientation to the screen. When the leader arrow is obscured, its associated text automatically disappears.

Figures 1 and 2 show a simple massing model I made in 30 minutes. I often send this type of concept model to a client immediately after visiting a site or discussing a building program.

SketchUp offers additional features that multimedia and presentation experts will appreciate, such as shadows, textures, and an excellent motion presentation capability. SketchUp provides a free reader so your clients can interactively walk through a design on their computers.

Figure 4. SketchUp supports static bit-map formats, including JPG, TIF, and the EPIX format for processing in Piranesi. This image was created by Tyrrell, Nutter, and Moore as part of its winning entry, New Herald Square (<a href=http://www.newheraldsquare.com), in the Density: Myth and Reality urban design competition. "/>
Figure 4. SketchUp supports static bit-map formats, including JPG, TIF, and the EPIX format for processing in Piranesi. This image was created by Tyrrell, Nutter, and Moore as part of its winning entry, New Herald Square (http://www.newheraldsquare.com), in the Density: Myth and Reality urban design competition.

SketchUp's animation capability, TourGuide, helps you set up pages based on current camera position, view settings, and shadow settings. The SketchUp Slide Show automatically and smoothly interpolates between views by morphing between pages. You can also output TourGuide presentations to an AVI video file for delivery on CD-ROM or DVD-ROM. Another new option for Web delivery is the ability to output scenes to VRML (virtual reality markup language). For more traditional 2D output, SketchUp supports a reasonable range of static bitmap formats including JPG and TIF (figure 3), as well as the EPIX format for processing in Piranesi (figure 4; Informatix Software's paint program that makes presentations appear hand-rendered; www.informatix.co.uk). SketchUp 3.0 also provides filled polygon output to EPS and PDF format.

SketchUp Plugs into Other Programs

At Autodesk University in December, @Last Software announced new import plug-ins for Autodesk's Architectural Desktop 3.3 and 2004 and ArchiCAD 8 v3. The plug-in, which shows up as a drop-down menu from the main menu bar in each interface, automatically converts a SketchUp file.

SketchUp to Architectural Desktop. With this plug-in, you can import SketchUp files into Architectural Desktop, translating SketchUp geometry into native Architectural Desktop entities. SketchUp vertical faces are translated into walls, horizontal faces become slabs, and sloped faces become roofs. Some components in SketchUp 3, such as doors and windows, automatically create Architectural Desktop matching content.

Figures 5 and 6. After modeling this building in SketchUp 3, I imported it into Architectural Desktop. All the parts translated properly.
Figures 5 and 6. After modeling this building in SketchUp 3, I imported it into Architectural Desktop. All the parts translated properly.

I used this new plug-in to design the building in figure 6. I found SketchUp easier to use and much more versatile than Architectural Desktop's own built-in Mass Model module.

SketchUp to ArchiCAD for PC and Macintosh. This plug-in gives ArchiCAD 8 v3 or higher the ability to import SketchUp files, translating SketchUp geometry into native ArchiCAD entities in one process. You can import components and groups created in SketchUp into the ArchiCAD Library. In addition to generating full building models from a SketchUp file, you can also use the plug-in to quickly turn SketchUp models into ArchiCAD Library parts. As with the Architectural Desktop plug-in, vertical faces become walls, horizontal faces become slabs, and sloped faces become roofs. If your material names in the imported SketchUp file match existing ArchiCAD materials, they are remapped to the ArchiCAD material.

SketchUp for the Macintosh

@Last Software also released SketchUp for Mac OS X using native code built from the ground up using the Cocoa API (application programming interface). Its features are the same as the PC versions.
Figures 7 and 8. I completed this multistory building design using SketchUp 3 in 30 minutes and then imported it into Architectural Desktop using SketchUp's new plug-in.
Figures 7 and 8. I completed this multistory building design using SketchUp 3 in 30 minutes and then imported it into Architectural Desktop using SketchUp's new plug-in.

It uses the Aqua interface and offers built-in support for OpenGL to leverage the 3D graphics performance built into the Macintosh. It also ties into Mac OS X/Cocoa Color Picker for color selection and accurate color matching through the system-wide ColorSync standard. PDF Integration is also built in.

@Last Software suggests that you run SketchUp for the Macintosh with OS X 10.2 on an 800MHz or faster PowerPC G4 outfitted with 40MB of free disk space, 256MB RAM, a scroll-wheel, three-button mouse, and an OpenGL-compatible 3D graphics card.

Excellent Front-end

Don't underestimate the depth of this program. SketchUp offers excellent export and import capabilities using AutoCAD Release 14–2000 DWG and DXF formats. It also exports 3DS and VRML files. Don't be concerned about accuracy-SketchUp's accuracy is equal to that of AutoCAD or Architectural Desktop. The new plug-in makes SketchUp 3.0 the leading candidate to become the front-end choice for Architectural Desktop. It's much faster to design in this program than in Architectural Desktop's Mass Modeler. To understand how revolutionary and capable this software is, you need to try it. Go to www.sketchup.com and peruse the gallery in the User Forum. Many of the examples shown in this article came from that forum. Read what users have to say-many are designing on the computer for the first time. You can also download a free demo version online. SketchUp can run on a network, and multiseat discounts are available.
Figures 9 and 10. This original building was modeled in SketchUp 3 and then imported into Graphisoft's ArchiCAD 8.0.
Figures 9 and 10. This original building was modeled in SketchUp 3 and then imported into Graphisoft's ArchiCAD 8.0.

SketchUp Books

Although SketchUp's built-in and online tutorials are excellent, for those who like to have books that cover their software, The SketchUp Book, Versions 2 and 3 are available from Bonnie Roskes at www.f1help.biz/home.html. These books contain excellent tutorials, tips, and tricks.


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