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What is SketchUp?

"Ross, you say you are going to "sketch up" our house design based on our meeting today so we can look at it in three dimensions. I have heard that term before, but how is it different than just sketching?"

Answer from Ross Sanders

Dear Dan,

Admittedly, my answer to your question is going to include free plug for a software product. As architects, even today in this computer-heavy world, we typically like to sketch by hand. There is nothing quite like it to get our ideas. But, imagine if someone took the simplicity of hand drawing and gave us a piece of software that would help us translate and develop our ideas in three dimension with a reasonable learning curve and vast amounts of modeling power! In today's design vernacular you will hear architects, landscape architects, builders and (even) engineers talk about using SketchUp. Let me give you a quick intro to this product, which has changed hands over the years and now is owned by Trimble.

SketchUp started out as a unique 3D modeling program, allowing users to quickly model simple shapes in three dimensions while working in perspective. Rather than juggling multiple views of plans and elevations, we could suddenly create volumes which we could squish and stretch, push and pull into an amazing variety of shapes. Over the years SketchUp grew in capability, thanks to the amazing user groups and dedicated software writers, to the point where it is now used all over the world for modeling in architecture and construction, film making, theater, event planning, industry and so on. I also want to put in a plug for a similar piece of software created by a professor at the University of Oregon back when I was in grad school called "Design Workshop" which had a similar idea and was groundbreaking for its time. Unfortunately, Design Workshop lost the Push/Pull Wars, but I remember it fondly.

Personally, I use SketchUp for all of my basic modeling, even though I own much more advanced software. I like it because it is fast and easy to use, powerful enough to do almost anything, and most importantly, is accessible to my clients. If I create a model and share it with my clients by email or the Cloud, they can open it with a free SketchUp viewer and not only look at the model, but navigate through it with the click of a mouse. For my rendering work, SketchUp is also the perfect modeler for photo-realistic renderings. As a highly visually driven person, I really appreciate when I can physically see how a space I am designing will function.

My advice is to go online, Google "SketchUp" (I like to use Google to find it because they used to own SketchUp) and download the free version. Play around a bit. Draw some rectangles, push them, pull them, cut holes in them. Slap materials on them and turn on shadows. Have a blast! (After all, that is precisely why I became an architect - to play with clay and models!).

Good luck!


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