During my career as an architect and even before that as a student of architecture, there has been some controversy about the use of SketchUp as a professional tool for architects.
“Sketchup is a toy” that is one of the comments I have heard the most among that dilemma, you could say that it is a rather subjective topic divided into two camps:
Architects who use SketchUp as a professional tool.
Architects who do NOT use SketchUp at all.
If you ask me which side I’m on, I would say that I’m one of those who use SketchUp as a professional tool in architecture, it’s a very versatile, intuitive program with a lot of resources available.
Here are 6 reasons why architects use SketchUp.
- 1 1-It is a very intuitive program (easy to learn)
- 2 2-It is a very versatile program for Architects
- 3 3-It’s fast
- 4 4-It’s free
- 5 5-Compatible with other CAD programs
- 6 6-A wide range of resources available online
- 7 Do real architects use SketchUp?
- 8 How could SketchUp be used as a professional tool?
- 9 Disadvantages of using SketchUp as a professional tool
- 10 Conclusion and some examples of Sketchup models
1-It is a very intuitive program (easy to learn)
All programs have a learning curve, that learning curve will depend on the complexity of the program and the development time it has had.
For example, a program like AutoCAD, which is one of the most used programs in the CAD world, has a much higher learning curve than Sketchup because it is a program that has many years in development, and every year updates and new features are released.
Sketchup is a relatively recent program, I remember the first time I saw it, I was a student of architecture, it has not rained so much since then, Sketchup belonged to the google company and then was transferred to another company.
It is a very basic program to use, I dare say that I can teach a person to use the basics of SketchUp in a couple of hours (actually I have done it).
Perhaps being so easy to use and so intuitive is one of the stigmas of considering it a “toy” program.
2-It is a very versatile program for Architects
Have you realized how important versatility in work tools is?
There are many programs that are superior to SketchUp in different aspects, but the strength of SketchUp is that you can do a little bit of everything.
You can use it as a tool for 3D modeling for printing, you can make renders, you can draw 2D, make detailed 3D models, make 3D or 2D sketches, landscapes, and a lot of other things.
The versatility of Sketchup as a tool for architects is really unmatched by any other CAD program.
In baseball, the best player is not the one who hits the most HRs or hits the most hits, or defends the best, or runs the best, the best player is the one who can do a little bit of everything.
If you don’t know baseball the same concept applies to any other sport, that analogy doesn’t mean that SketchUp is the best program for architects, I simply consider it a must-have tool for its features.
Sketchup is fast, period…
When I say “fast” I don’t mean the program itself, we all know that an architect’s best tool is his own hand.
No current CAD program can replace freehand drawing, ideas flow very fast in the architect’s mind and if they are not translated quickly, concepts could be easily forgotten.
Not that Sketchup can be as fast as the “mind-hand” connection, but you can create three-dimensional concepts quite quickly, in fact, it lives up to its name, you can create volumetric objects very quickly and easily.
Sketchup has a PRO version and a free version, with the free version is enough to work and get the most out of the program.
If you have a small architecture studio and can’t afford the cost of other 3D modeling software then Sketchup is your best option.
5-Compatible with other CAD programs
Sketchup has export/import options that are essential for architects who typically have a multi-program workflow.
You can export/import files to Revit, AutoCAD, 3Dsmax, Inventor, and many more programs, although it seems to me that this compatibility option is exclusive to the PRO version of Sketchup.
My favorite workflow is Sketchup, AutoCAD, 3ds max.
6-A wide range of resources available online
This is one of the best resources because Sketchup is a tool widely used by architects.
Sketchup has a huge library of online models in its SketchUp Warehouse, where you can find all kinds of models made for free by other users, any type of furniture, vegetation and even complete examples at your fingertips.
There is also the Sketchup extension warehouse, which is another resource page for SketchUp with a variety of plugins for the program, the plugins are like extensions that help the program to perform additional tasks.
This makes SketchUp one of the most complete programs in terms of resources available online.
Do real architects use SketchUp?
Due to the great versatility offered by the program, Sketchup is used by a large number of architects and architectural firms as a professional and project presentation tool.
Although SketchUp allows for both schematic drawing and project documentation, architects mostly use it as a 3D presentation tool and complement their project documentation with other CAD programs.
As a professional architect, I have always found Sketchup useful, and I have also worked with colleagues and professional architectural firms that use it as a modeling and project presentation tool.
How could SketchUp be used as a professional tool?
There are special situations and additional tools that can help or potentially help an architect to use SketchUp as a professional tool.
One of these additions is rendering Sketchup models, it is known that SketchUp models lack realistic visualization, this is why rendering programs such as Lumion, Vray, 3Dsmax are used to enhance the realism of Sketchup models.
Some rendering programs even work from within the SketchUp program itself, such as Vray, Twilight Render, Podium, Brighter3D and many others.
Another way to extend the capabilities of Sketchup as a professional modeling tool is to use additional plugins.
There are SketchUp plugins that are very useful, a plugin, plugins are small complementary programs that extend the program’s functions.
These plugins allow you to add many functions that are not by default in the program, in addition to speeding up the production of work and functionality.
Personally, I always use the plugins jointpushpull, curviloft, makefaces, and others, but this deserves a separate topic.
Disadvantages of using SketchUp as a professional tool
After all the positive aspects, there are also negative aspects or some disadvantages of using SketchUp as a working tool at a professional level.
Some things can be improved, others may not have much relevance, these are some of the things that from my point of view as an architect Sketchup should improve:
Volumetry of objects
This is a big headache for everyone who uses SketchUp, and if you don’t learn to master the tools or working methods, SketchUp could turn from something simple to very complicated.
This is because Sketchup is ruled by lines and planes, but nothing else, 3D objects, like for example a wall, in Sketchup are conformed by lines and planes.
A wall drawn in Sketchup is not perceived as a totally solid element as other 3D programs, in case you do not have fully aligned planes many problems can arise in the model.
One of my big struggles in SketchUp 3D always arises with this, badly formed volumes, you must work with precision but when you work fast this is a problem.
Cartoonish colors and figures
As far as I know, all versions of SketchUp come with a figure of a person when opening the program or a drawing template.
This is good from one point of view because it can be taken as a scale reference, but personally, this figure seems to me the most caricatured and childish and gives a “toy” feeling to the program interface.
To dismantle the notion of Sketchup as a “toy” program this figure should be removed, or failing that, use a figure that looks soberer.
The same goes for the colors, although Sketchup’s background colors are fully editable, the default colors look very cartoonish.
As an architect, I love the perspective and views that are generated in SketchUp, but there is a problem that happens frequently and it is somewhat annoying.
Sometimes, when you try to orbit a model from very close, the camera makes some strange cuts to the model and this is difficult to correct.
This problem, I have noticed it for years in SketchUp, and in spite of using different versions it keeps happening, hopefully, a version can be released where this does not happen.
Lack of parameterized architecture system
One of my big problems in Sketchup is doing, undoing, and redoing models without consequences.
That is, in SketchUp if you modify an object, there is no way to go back unless you use the undo command which only allows you to go back one step.
Compared to other 3D modeling programs, where you are allowed to keep a design with parametric functions and you can make corrections and undo changes easily, Sketchup falls short in this aspect.
If this component is introduced in the SketchUp program, it would certainly be a definite plus to consider it a program for professional use.
Suddenly Program Crash
And this is my living nightmare when I’m working on large designs in SketchUp and I feel the computer freezing.
Sketchup, it tends to give errors all of a sudden and the program shuts itself down, without warning or anything, this can cause a mini heart attack if you haven’t saved your work.
Although SketchUp has an autosave function, information and progress can still be lost due to this error.
Conclusion and some examples of Sketchup models
Sketchup is not a toy, Although it may seem like it, I have developed basically my entire career working with this program, many other architectural professionals use SketchUp, I have done great professional work with Sketchup, here I share an image of one of the largest and most complex works done with Sketchup (image above complex with curved ceilings).
Yes, it is a program with many flaws, sometimes it has some strange errors, but nothing in life is perfect, you have to know how to use the program to get its full potential.
They still need to improve many things, and hopefully, future versions will correct all the bugs mentioned above.