Google’s whack at 3D begins to stand out
The ability to create unique drawing styles is just one of the attractions of Google SketchUp 7
“3D for Everyone” is the strapline used by Google to promote the latest version of its ubiquitous software SketchUp 7. This is a fairly accurate slogan, as most architects around the world have at least heard about, or tried SketchUp since Google took ownership, and provided a free version for download.
However, the Pro version is what most architects really need, owing to its increased functionality, compatibility with other design software and integrated LayOut 2 application.
SketchUp has always been easy to pick up and start sketching with, allowing designers to develop their ideas directly in 3D. The new version 7 features many improvements and generally feels more intuitive, with improved snapping, inferencing and edges that automatically split. To keep things simple, only a few new tools have been added and the interface remains relatively unchanged, which will be reassuring to existing users.
But there are several significant new developments that will change the way SketchUp is used. The first of these is the introduction of Dynamic Components. These are objects with custom behaviours and attributes, like stairs that reconfigure when scaled and intelligently add new treads as required.
These configurable components extend the opportunity to try out “what if” scenarios, because of the speed with which different options can be explored. Creating them is fairly simple using the Components Attributes palette, which allows dynamic qualities to be added by using spreadsheet-like formulas in a truly open and unique way. For the first time, metadata can be embedded in components to create detailed tabular reports and schedules. While this technology is not yet intended to replace building information modelling software (BIM), it does hint at an ambitious future direction for the application that will keep the other major cad companies on their toes.
Google has also expanded the integration between SketchUp and the online digital repository Google Warehouse, which now loads directly into the component browser, making it a convenient way to search and add content. Local collections can also be added as “favourite” files, so you can create and share libraries of entourage on your own PC. Another interesting addition is the ability to tag your models before uploading them, which means you can take (and give) credit for them.
Another area where the program has made significant progress is in the field of presentation, with the addition of a technology called Style Builder. This extends the sketchy styles of rendering that SketchUp is famous for, and allows for an almost infinite range of possibilities using a wide range of mediums such as marker, pencil and crayon. As well as being genuinely useful and creative, architects will love the ability to create their own unique styles of presentation, which has always been a shortcoming of most cad software up to now.
Style Builder allows for an almost infinite range of possibilities
Once you have developed a concept or design in SketchUp, it’s important to present it quickly and effectively to your audience. SketchUp has always allowed for scenes to be saved, and animation between different views and styles of presentation can be a powerful communication tool.
However, architects still need to be able to present their ideas in drawing or report form, and this is where LayOut 2 excels as a publishing environment for SketchUp models. LayOut 2 (the previous version was a beta) is now more reliable, easy to use and has many new features and drawing tools. The connection between the programs is seamless, and each layout view can be adjusted, scaled and presented as required.
Another important feature of the software is its ability to export a wide range of file formats, including images, PDFs, 3Ds, dwg, kmz, and ATL. This means that SketchUp can be easily used in conjunction with high-end rendering software such as Cinema 4D, 3D Max or Artlantis. There is also a growing collection of plug-ins available to extend the uses of the software. Podium, for example, works as a simple plug-in rendering solution directly within the application, and is capable of producing high-quality images with relative ease.
Overall, Google SketchUp 7 has evolved into an important tool for many architects’ workflow. The latest professional version has improved in so many areas that it is well worth the upgrade. Rather than being a replacement for other cad software, SketchUp 7 is best used in partnership with them.
It has now matured into a great tool for developing and presenting ideas, especially at the front end of the architectural design process.