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American Society of Landscape Architects


December 2007 Issue

Lessons from the Studio
Get the most out of SketchUp as a design and visualization tool.

By Tim Johnson

Lessons from the Studio C/O Kristen Moreau

Three-dimensional modeling software has been used by professionals and students alike for many years to help visualize and communicate design ideas. For most, however, using 3-D modeling software is time-consuming and tedious. The introduction of SketchUp in 1999 provided a solution to this problem. Sketch-Upís simple but elegant interface, limited number of tools, and intuitive approach to modeling make it easy to learn and remember. Since we started teaching SketchUp in our curriculum, we have finally begun to see students using it to generate, visualize, and compare design alternatives at every level of design. Over the years, as new features have been added, it has become even more effective for terrain and site scale models, without sacrificing ease of use.

Despite the old adage, ďThose who can, do, and those who canít, teach,Ē there is no better way to learn something than to teach it, and software is no exception. After all, we learn from our mistakes, and as an educator, I have the opportunity to learn from not only my own mistakes, but those of every student I have contact with. The lessons learned from years of solving problems and correcting mistakes students make while learning SketchUp have helped us focus our instruction on three critical areas: mastering effective tool techniques, using an efficient modeling process, and discerning essential and appropriate modeling detail. This article is the first of two that will take a look at some of these ideas in more detail and provide some practical techniques for getting the most out of SketchUp.

How We Use SketchUp in Our Studios

In the past few years, we have integrated SketchUp into our design and technical studios in a variety of ways. It is introduced in the first-year visualization studio as a means of teaching perspective drawing. Traditional freehand sketching and rendering techniques are used to add texture and details to perspectives composed in SketchUp. From the second year on, SketchUp is used in the design studio, along with physical models and drawings, as an important design and visualization tool. Students learn to create models using three methods: from their imagination, designing directly in three dimensions; from an image, creating volumes from a plan drawing; and from importing a CAD drawing with two- and three-dimensional objects already drawn. As design projects get larger and more complex, students take on the challenge of integrating landform, circulation, and structures. In the fourth year students spend a semester abroad, currently in Rome, and SketchUp goes with them. Over the past several years they have modeled many parts of the city in great detail and compiled a composite model that can be used to study urban space and form. This model also serves as a base for design projects allowing students to use SketchUp to take their ideas from concept to final presentation.

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