In this design computation example, a Ruby script varies the sizes of the panel openings based on their proximity to an attractor.

In this design computation example, a Ruby script varies the sizes of the panel openings based on their proximity to an attractor.

Credit: Sean Burke

After a productive first day at the annual three-day conference in Vail, Colo., I sat down for an informal conversation with Aidan Chopra on the morning of day two. Chopra has the techy title of SketchUp evangelist—though he’s serving more as a cruise director during the conference.

As a Mac and PC user, I wanted to know how SketchUp’s development teams ensure it works well on both platforms. It turns out that the software only has only one development team, Chopra said. This ensures they develop both versions concurrently, a claim that few software vendors can make. Naturally, SketchUp works slightly differently in Windows and the Mac, in terms of keyboard shortcuts and menus. During the event’s working sessions, the instructors diligently shared those differences so participants, regardless of operating system, could follow along.

Trimble also announced two new products at the conference: Trimble Scan Explorer Extension for SketchUp Pro, which allows users to bring data from reality capture devices, such as laser scanners, directly into their models to show real-world conditions; and SketchUp Mobile Viewer for iPad, for presenting decks or design portfolios, one’s own building models, or any of the models available through SketchUp’s 3D Warehouse. (An Android version is in development for later release.) After rebuilding the virtual warehouse recently from the ground up, Trimble relaunched it earlier this year in conjunction with SketchUp 2014. Since its founding eight years ago, the warehouse has served nearly 1 billion models and now has more than 900,000 users actively logged on each week.

SketchUp's Mobile Viewer for iPad lets users view their own models or models available on SketchUp's 3D Warehouse.

SketchUp's Mobile Viewer for iPad lets users view their own models or models available on SketchUp's 3D Warehouse.

On the more technical side, Trimble also announced the open source Ruby debugger, which will significantly aid developers who write plug-ins. An active extensions community of developers currently contribute to the Extension Warehouse, which has surpassed the 1 million download mark. Trimble has added a level of quality assurance to the Extensions Warehouse by certifying more than 150 extensions as safe and compatible with SketchUp 2014, and the company is working closely with development partners to further that goal.

During a class on extensions and plug-ins, Alexander Schreyer, senior lecturer and program director of the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s building construction and technology program, demonstrated how he has broadened the capabilities of SketchUp toward the computational design space through scripting. Examples related to geometry making, simulation, and analysis can found in his book Architectural Design with SketchUp (Wiley, 2012) and downloaded from the website as well.

An example of simple scripting to generate elements in the SketchUp canvas from Alexander Schreyer's book Architectural Design with SketchUp

An example of simple scripting to generate elements in the SketchUp canvas from Alexander Schreyer's book Architectural Design with SketchUp

Credit: Sean Burke

While this approach to Ruby is pure code writing—as opposed to the visual programming that is often associated with computational design—I was convinced that a scripting tool like Autodesk’s open-source Dynamo could one day connect to SketchUp as well as Revit. Aside from the added parametric capabilities, this would also enable a more designer-friendly approach to coding and enhance the ability to move data between the two programs. While generally seen as a simple-to-use tool for everyday 3D modeling, SketchUp becomes a more powerful tool as one looks closer.

The final session of the day was an all-hands-on-deck gathering of attendees to pitch ideas for the last day’s un-conference sessions, an alternative experience from the formal workshop or lecture-style presentations. All nine proposals, ranging from discussing the value and BIM capabilities of SketchUp Classifier tool, to a design-focused presentation on one firm’s unconventional uses of the program sounded fantastic. I plan to attend one suggested by John Bacus, product management director of Trimble, exploring what it actually takes to print a WikiHouse. Like many designers, I’m excited to see the things that we create in the virtual world become real.

Read about the noteworthy technology news from Day One of SketchUp 3D Basecamp 2014 here.

Sean David Burke is the digital practice - BIM leader for NBBJ as well as a futurist and tiny house enthusiast. Based in Seattle, Burke also blogs about BIM and sustainable design tools on ParadigmShift. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.