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Detailing out an efficient design-build workflow

From commercial to residential builds, Scott Miller from Remington Development Corporation uses the SketchUp suite of tools to perfect the conceptual design process. Learn how this SketchUp pro uses his skills to help move design-build projects forward for the large, Canadian-based real estate development company.

Give us a little bit of background on your role(s) over the past several years.

I am an architectural designer and have been in the industry for over two decades. I’ve worked for several real estate development companies, earlier as an intern architect with Dialog and IBI Group, and now with Remington Development Corporation, where I’ve designed over 100 buildings. At IBI Group, I was responsible for concept design and project management, working on 20 to 30 projects that facilitated concept design all the way to design documentation and construction administration. At Remington, I work with a team of brilliant individuals and focus on the conceptual design phase, investigating development opportunities on various land types, or preparing proposals for leasing opportunities.

In my current role, timing is critical, so I rely on several different tools in and outside of the SketchUp suite to execute accurate and timely proposals. The software contingent I use daily includes SketchUp Pro, Sefaira, V-Ray, and Adobe Photoshop & Illustrator.

Concept Planning
Concept Planning in 3D
Quarry Park Riverfront
Quarry Park in 3D
Quarry Park Modeled in SketchUp
Concept planning in SketchUp
3D concept planning

Concept planning for Quarry Park Riverfront projects. Modeled in SketchUp and rendered using V-Ray.

How long have you been using SketchUp, and why do you choose to continue using it in your projects?

I’ve been using SketchUp since 2008! I started out using SketchUp’s basic functionalities to get design ideas out quickly. Over the years, I advanced my skills and learned how to use SketchUp for building design, site plans, and master plans. Having mastered my workflow and various shortcuts, I significantly increased my efficiency.

"SketchUp is a very intuitive software that helps me expand on ideas, which is why I continue to use it. It enables me to offer our internal group and clients multiple design options quickly. I also use it to help our construction group understand the costs associated with the proposed designs while ensuring we meet local regulatory building codes."

River Front Plans in SketchUp
River Front Plans depict unit density
River Front Plans depict floor area ratios
River Front plans in 3D
3D site plans

River Front Plans to depict unit density, floor area ratios, and parking requirements for the sites. Modeled in SketchUp.

What does your typical workflow look like?

Over time I’ve honed my workflow and, in turn, have become a faster modeler. Typically, my design-build workflow starts with an idea or concept. This concept is then tested relative to a site and is developed into floor plans, a massing model, and then a model that’s suitable for rendering. Depending on the project, I may start modeling with a typical floor and transition to the main floor base with parking below, for say a residential project. For an office building, a structural grid and parking lot may drive the modeling process. But for all projects a concept is foremost and SketchUp helps me to illustrate that idea quickly. 

Detailing my overall workflow process, I mainly create massing models, which are not too intricate but are still based on real-life building systems. From there, I import a site map and 3D Warehouse models which saves some time building out the surrounding context, such as roads, foliage, and furniture. The Placemaker extension is very helpful for populating the models with the site context. And all these steps help ground my model into its real-life surroundings. For more complex sites, contours from a survey are used to develop a terrain model that can inform the initial design process.

Quarry Station concept model
Linework overlaid on rendering

First image: Quarry Station concept model. Second image: Linework export overlaid on rendering.  Modeled in SketchUp and rendered using V-Ray.

Once the 3D model is built, a structural grid is implemented, usually with a blindside call to the engineers at RJC, and details are added to the project based on real world-building requirements. This helps me determine the cost of the project. Area take-offs and volume of materials required, such as concrete for the building’s foundations or areas of vision glass, are used to develop construction budgets. On top of that, I use SketchUp to review the location and dimensions for doors, stairs, and windows to ensure the buildings I am designing are up to building code standards.

Quarry station concept
Quarry Station in 3D
Quarry Station structural grid
Quarry Station facade options

Quarry Station concept, structural grid, and façade options - modeled in SketchUp and rendered using V-Ray.

Another benefit of using SketchUp is the ability to use Sefaira. During the conceptual stage, I assign values to walls, windows, and the foundation to review compliance with our national energy codes. Although these are high-level numbers, they give me – and our group or our client - a rough idea of the energy consumption based on the location's climate that can affect the materials proposed. The analysis provides a basis to start discussions with, in this case, our sustainability engineers. We are able to identify where we may have issues with energy loss through the building envelope, what our equipment/lighting power requirement limits are, or minimum values for the construction assemblies and glazing systems. Once this building performance analysis is complete, it is sent to our mechanical engineers.

Sefaira Analysis
University District Office Building

University District Office Building with Sefaira analysis.

Once the design develops, I render it all in V-Ray, which, thanks to a four GPU Boxx computer, can be done in minutes. My team pulls these renders into proposals or presentations for the client’s review. For people that aren’t used to CAD or 3D modeling, the rendering really helps them visualize how a building will look when it’s complete, which is ideal for getting approvals or conveying design intent.

V-Ray and SketchUp
3D rendered imagery
Construction images in SketchUp
V-Ray and Construction images
3D for construction
V-Ray 3D rendered

V-Ray rendered images and construction images for the Computer Modelling Group – CMG Building (Courtesy of IBI Group).  Modeled in SketchUp and rendered using V-Ray.

“Most projects are time-constrained so with SketchUp, V-Ray and Sefaira I can do all of this fairly quickly and offer up different design options in real time. SketchUp also enables me to do details in 3D that can assist in constructing the building or relaying construction assembly to our client.”

Multi-family wood frame detail

Multi-family wood frame detail.

Diving a little deeper, has Sefaira helped save you money, or help you choose one material or shading type over the other? 

Generally, compliance with these energy codes costs us money, but the benefit of Sefaira is that we can see which systems need attention so we can place our efforts in the proper areas. In terms of materials, Sefaira helps us select materials and justify the use of a particular system. For example, Sefaira showcases the benefits of using a good glazing coating and how it can contribute to a more energy-efficient building, which can justify the added expense compared to upgrading the mechanical system. Similarly, when we look at wall assemblies we can see directly how a well-insulated wall, roof, or floor assembly can contribute to building energy efficiencies.

How do you collaborate with your entire team?

Each member of our team has a different role in a design-build project. Although I am responsible for the conceptual design phase of these buildings, we also have team members that do not have a working knowledge of SketchUp or CAD who help pull together the presentations based on my work in SketchUp and V-Ray. Additionally, we have a team of architects and engineers that help us interpret our needs for structure, mechanical, electrical, and even energy analysis that we started in Sefaira, which can impact the process and lead to further design iterations. With more recent energy codes, energy consumption will need to be considered at the concept stage. We all work together, in different programs, with the initial design starting from SketchUp. CAD files are exported from SketchUp or the SketchUp file is cleaned up so that it can be imported into other 3D software that our architects can use to generate development & building permit drawings.

Quarry Park in SketchUp
Quarry Park in V-Ray
Quarry Station Sites rendered
Quarry Station Sites SketchUp
SketchUp and V-Ray
Quarry Park in 3D
Quarry Park rendered
Quarry Park Sites in 3D

Aerial views of Quarry Park with Quarry Station Sites (foreground) rendered. Modeled in SketchUp and rendered using V-Ray.    

 What are some benefits you get from using SketchUp, V-Ray, and Sefaira in concept design?

“Being able to quickly and intuitively pull together detailed design projects in SketchUp is key for my role. This is something that has always impressed me, taking an architectural idea, modelling it and sharing it. Add on the ability to photo-realistically render my 3D models and review energy consumption, and it’s the perfect combination to help us win contracts, get sign off on projects from clients, and get building approvals from city officials.”

University District Office Building
University Building in SketchUp
University Building in V-Ray
SketchUp renderings
Entry Renderings of University Building
Illustration of University Building

University District Office Building entry renderings were used to illustrate the transition of the entry to the transit stop for development permit approval.  Modeled in SketchUp and rendered using V-Ray.

What’s next for you and your team? Is there another technology you’d like to explore?

We have several land holdings and I look forward to designing new master plans with realistic and functional projects. Working with a high-performing team (shoutout to Randy, Cody, Jamie, and Ryan) at The Remington Group makes this work fun and rewarding. I really look forward to doing some larger multi-use projects here in Calgary and Edmonton or elsewhere.

Here’s another look into a couple of our projects over the years:

Quarry Rise Images in SketchUp
Quarry Rise Image rendered in 3ds Max

Quarry Rise images modeled in SketchUp and rendered in 3ds Max. (Courtesy of IBI Group &  RKA Visual)

Lido rendering
Lido final site photo

Lido rendering and final site photos. (Courtesy of Battistella Developments & IBI Group)  Modeled in SketchUp and rendered using V-Ray.

Interested in giving your design-build workflow an overhaul? Try SketchUp for free.

About the Author

When Cara's not writing copy or learning about customer workflows, you can find her on top of a 14,000 ft mountain, hitting up those Colorado ski slopes, or binging Netflix shows on her couch.

Profile Photo of Cara Bell