Court house case study, rendered in SketchUp

Court house case study, rendered in SketchUp

Credit: James Scalise / Courtesy SketchUp

It’s easy to overlook the fact that people are what make any technology successful. On the final day of SketchUp 3D Basecamp, I witnessed the talent of my fellow conference attendees through an array of presentations.

A temporary gallery showcased SketchUp creations of a range of project types that used the program’s different modeling tools as well as SU Podium, the rendering engine plug-in from Cadalog. I was particularly pleased to see a presentation by Joshua Cohen of Fat Pencil Studio, in Portland, Ore., of a new streetcar extension in the First Hill neighborhood in Seattle, my city of residence.

SketchUp rendering of Streetcar for the First Hill neighborhood in Seattle

SketchUp rendering of Streetcar for the First Hill neighborhood in Seattle

Credit: Fat Pencil Studio

Team SketchUp Ireland demonstrated how to create models for Minecraft, a popular design and building video game. This involves using one of several available extensions for simplifying the detail in any SketchUp model into rectangular bricks, a process that the game community dubs as “voxelizing.” Voxels, a portmanteau of the words "volume" and "pixels", look like a throwback to the video games of the 1970s and could be a fun way for architects to present ideas to clients—without taking themselves too seriously.

Three teams competed in a live, three-hour design charrette to create a new library for Crest View Elementary School, which was devastated by the September 2013 flood in Boulder, Colo., and the surrounding areas. Dug Ketterman, lead conceptual and technical designer at CA Rampworks, produced the crowd favorite, a playful and colorful scheme that was partly inspired by his work as a skate park designer. The concept featured interactive displays, oversized book sculptures, and an abundance of natural light. Diligent observers will also see a rail for shredding.

Rendering of residential exterior created in SketchUp (inset) with SU Podium plug-in

Rendering of residential exterior created in SketchUp (inset) with SU Podium plug-in

Credit: Nat Ellis / Courtesy SketchUp

Rendering of bedroom interior created in SketchUp (inset) with SU Podium plug-in

Rendering of bedroom interior created in SketchUp (inset) with SU Podium plug-in

Credit: Nat Ellis / Courtesy SketchUp

My last conference session showed how much one can do with SketchUp if they really know it. David Cooperstein, senior creative designer at PGAV Destinations, in St. Louis, highlighted two projects, the first of which was the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibition and theater at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, in Titusville, Fla. He and his team worked closely with NASA engineers to ensure that the models depicted all equipment accurately. Note that the actual shuttle is suspended in an orbiting position so that visitors can have the most dramatic, 360-degree views.

For the team of 10 to 20 designers to collaborate and see each other’s work, they used the third-party plug-in Xref Manager. When the project was brought together into single composite file, which exceeded 300 MB, they had no trouble navigating the model. Camera positions in the digital model were used extensively to ensure only certain details of the exhibits were revealed at the right moment.

PGAV Destinations optimized the orientation of the space shuttle Atlantis in the Kennedy Space Center to maximize audience views.

PGAV Destinations optimized the orientation of the space shuttle Atlantis in the Kennedy Space Center to maximize audience views.

Credit: David Cooperstein / PGAV Destinations

Cooperstein also showed the model the team created for the Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, an aquarium and theme park in South China that left ARCHITECT incredulous in June 2013. The design team went through dozens of iterations before arriving at the final arrangement of elements. One building houses a large aquarium with, among other species, whale sharks. The client wanted to highlight this win with a sculpture of said magnificent creature. What ended up being constructed at the now-open park is a 65-meter-tall (213-foot-tall) whale shark replica over the building entrance that breathes fire at night (the real thing does not).

PGAV Destinations experimented with the whale shark placement at the Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in South China.

PGAV Destinations experimented with the whale shark placement at the Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in South China.

Credit: David Cooperstein / PGAV Destinations

The whale shark becomes closer to reality in SketchUp. See the real thing <a href="http://www.thethemeparkguy.com/park/chimelong-ocean-kingdom/" target="_blank" xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">here</a>.

The whale shark becomes closer to reality in SketchUp. See the real thing here.

Credit: David Cooperstein / PGAV Destinations

To render such smooth and flowing forms, the team modeled directly in SketchUp using the SubdivideAndSmooth plugin (though outdated, it is available from Smustard here) which allowed the designers to employ freeform deformation techniques. Today, the team would use the experimental Curviloft plugin.

Historically, the SketchUp 3D Basecamp conference has occurred every two years. I can only imagine what plug-ins and modeling capabilities will be available at that point.

Read about the tech insights  and news that came from SketchUp 3D Basecamp's day one and day two.

Sean David Burke is the digital practice-BIM leader for NBBJ as well as a futurist and tiny house enthusiast.His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.