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Sketchup for Site Design – Modeling For Landscape Architects

Sketchup for Site Design – Modeling For Landscape Architects

Sketchup for Site Design: A Guide to Modeling Site Plans, Terrain, and Architecture is the follow-up to Daniel Tal’s 2009 edition of the same name. Since then, the environment of Sketchup hasn’t changed dramatically, but being purchased by Trimble from Google has spurred more development support and a host of new features. Ruby Scripts are now referred to as “extensions” and Tal has changed what was called “sandbox architecture” to “digital elevation modeling.” These subtle differences mean that the old version is still applicable regarding workflow, but that the new version corrects for all the incremental changes over the last seven years.

The reason that this book is very relevant to landscape architects is that it has a larger focus on the softscape functions of Sketchup. You could arguably purchase a Sketchup tutorial book and learn how the various tools work, but the examples would be less that applicable in the modern LA office. Tal offers practitioners practical examples of landscape projects that have been built into the program.

Sketchup has an interesting place in the modern office. Models can be used in all phases of design. Process models come alive quickly while construction details can be fleshed out with precision. However, with more and more architects using Revit and more advanced modelers like Rhino are available and taught in school, Sketchup is not the ubiquitous choice for modeling it once was. However, it still has its place. What sets it apart is the ease and approachability of the program as well as vast libraries of models in the 3D Warehouse. These assets continue to make Sketchup an excellent choice for a broad range of projects in the modern firm, and this is where Tal is targeting his book.

“…Sketchup is not the ubiquitous choice for modeling it once was.”

The second edition breaks down into four distinct topics: an introduction to the program, the process of modeling, terrain modeling, and techniques for working with AutoCAD files. It is striking that there is a whole chapter devoted to dealing with the idiosyncrasies of AutoCAD conversion. This focus speaks to the vast majority of landscape design users that are planning designs in CAD first and then fleshing out models based on it.

One of the most useful parts of the book for me was the identification of all the myriad of extensions that you can use with Sketchup. Often when you install these scripts, there is a short explanation on how to use it, but most of the know-how comes from trying it out yourself. Tal breaks down many of the most popular options that even a seasoned user like myself hasn’t had on my radar. Tal shows you where the options are for each and what the best use of it is utilizing a real example.

Tal breaks down many of the most popular options that even a seasoned user like myself hasn’t had on my radar.

For advanced users, the introductory chapters are going to be a good refresher, but something that you can mostly skip. For new users, these topics are a must for understanding how Sketchup works as a modeler. Understanding the capabilities and limits of the program is key to knowing how and when to utilize it most effectively. Tal sprinkles in some on the before mentioned extensions which make browsing through the chapters at least worthwhile for everyone.

Understanding the best practices for your modeling process is critical for usefulness in the workplace. Someone else may need to get into your model, or you may need to come back to it at a much later date to make changes. Proper organization is imperative to ensure that this process is as seamless as possible. Tal expands on almost all of the available tools as well as the most significant extensions and what their capabilities are. Many of the processes come with exercise that can be accessed through Tal’s website and the 3d warehouse.

The terrain modeling is often one of the most challenging tasks in Sketchup because it deals with undulating forms that don’t lend themselves to the line and face architecture of Sketchup models. Tal offers many practical suggestions and work processes that aim to simplify the terrain process. He introduces methods to work through spot grades around building to create paths as well as how to utilize a mesh system with more accurate manipulation tools to make better models.

The final section of the books deals with one of the biggest headache areas for users – working with AutoCAD drawings. Here Tal present a multitude of options and shortcuts to make the linework transition more fluid as well as organizational tips for CAD to make your Sketchup workflow more efficient. If you have ever transferred over a drawing with a lot of curves, then you know that Sketchup isn’t the best at handling them. The book outlines a myriad group of third-party extensions that can make bridging the gap in capability much simpler.

Sketchup for Site Design: A Guide to Modeling Site Plans, Terrain, and Architecture was published in February 2016 by Wiley.


Benjamin Boyd is a landscape architect practicing in Baltimore, Maryland. If you would like to check out what books he is reading or reviewing currently, check out his profile on Goodreads. Ben tweets at @_benboyd.

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