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Software for specifiers: how useful are SketchUp models for product specifications?

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By Geraldine Chua, author at

This is the second part of the Software for Specifiers series. The first part looked at the benefits of Sketchup and 3D models.

Have a quick browse through the computers at any architecture practice today (without getting thrown out) and you’ll surely come across the programs Autodesk Revit, AutoCAD or ArchiCAD.

Synonymous with computer-aided design (CAD) and Building Information Modelling (BIM), which is the digital representation of the physical and functional characteristics of a project, these systems are the virtual cornerstone of buildings; a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility.

So where does SketchUp, a 3D modelling software that claims to be the “antidote to complicated, expensive CAD software”, fit in?

And more importantly for product manufacturers, does having 3D products actually lead to product specification?

Richard Michael of Steel Select, which has now been integrated into Bluescope Steel's new website, says that providing architects with access to 3D textures and products does lead to future specification.

“No matter what marketplace you’re in, if you can get a product used, then you’re more likely to create a specification for that product. These resources make it easier for people to actually use the product.”

Much like SketchUp’s 3D Warehouse (where you can search and download models), the Extension Warehouse provides quick and easy access to custom tools. The Extension Warehouse allows users to search, install and manage extensions directly from a menu inside SketchUp.

how useful are SketchUp models for product specifications

A practice that attests to Michael’s claim is Matthews Architects, which uses 3D models and textures or swatches as a quick and easy way to explain to the client or design team about the actual impact a particular texture will have.

“Sometimes clients are very specific about the actual effect of some products and for that sort of situation, this is a very good tool,” says Chaminda De Silva, a draftsman at the firm, adding that the textures are mostly chosen by the team, although clients sometimes put in specific requests.

Sydney-based Bruce Stafford Architects is another firm that not only employs SketchUp for their projects, but also utilises 3D models from SketchUp libraries. According to project architect Amandine Cesbron-Logerais, this often translates into a specification of the actual product for the built project.

how useful are SketchUp models for product specifications

The team will first design the house and discuss potential materials that could be used. This includes deciding on the colours and textures they want to achieve. Next, the architects will look through past projects and explore SketchUp libraries to find the materials or images that look the best.

These images, textures or finishes are then applied to the SketchUp model, and the process is repeated until they are completely satisfied.

“We usually download the 2D/3D products or textures to help our clients to have a better idea of the final design. It also helps if we need to provide more information about the finishes to clients and builders,” comments Cesbron-Logerais.

“Our clients are always impressed and happy to see their house in 3D. We also use SketchUp to resolve detail at a later stage.”

An example of a project where the practice has utilised 3D products or textures, and then gone on to specify the product is the K3 House.

how useful are SketchUp models for product specifications

SketchUp model of the K3 House by Bruce Stafford Architects

how useful are SketchUp models for product specifications

K3 House by Bruce Stafford Architects. Photography by Karl Beath.

Located in Vaucluse, Sydney, K3 House features Red Cedar timber cladding and decking in the internal courtyard – an idea first visualised on SketchUp. It is in this 3D world where the design team, downloaded the image into the model, applied it to the walls and floors, and scaled it to the intended panel size.

However, although having 3D files readily available does increase the chances of product specification, Cesbron-Logerais is quick to point out that Bruce Stafford Architects – as well as many other practices – still insist on seeing the samples before choosing the materials or products.

“We will never specify a product for the ‘final house’ without seeing it or showing it to the client.”

how useful are SketchUp models for product specifications

SketchUp model of the K3 House by Bruce Stafford Architects.

how useful are SketchUp models for product specifications

K3 House by Bruce Stafford Architects. Photography by Karl Beath



SketchUp in its easy-to-use, intuitive glory might not be as well-received as some of the other more sophisticated programmes, but it is safe to say that this stigma will fade as a growing number of architects and designers realise the potential of the platform.

Currently, it is in between the successful bid of a project and its documentation or drafting stage that architects and designers will find SketchUp most useful, utilising it as a quick visualisation tool for an early concept work.

But, as technology improves and the world continues to relocate online, the industry will also become more virtual in its work processes, and SketchUp (specifically SketchUp Pro) might be adopted in a wider variety of ways and in more detail – used in tender presentations, to try out changes before CAD documentation is updated, and generate models and renders for clients and councils.

how useful are SketchUp models for product specifications

Image courtesy of Plus Spec/RubySketch.

A new software that will be a big plus for SketchUp is PlusSpec, an Australian owned add-on that will deliver tools to support design, estimating, scheduling, and product selection. Built to simplify BIM and flow seamlessly with SketchUp, PlusSpec will soon be launched and could become a viable BIM solution.

However, only time will tell as to whether SketchUp will develop into something more than the simple, intuitive and illustrative tool it was originally created to be.