Studiotrope: Benefits of Experience Design and SketchUp

SketchUp visualization by Studiotrope for the Gonzales Branch Library in Denver, CO.


Studiotrope is a Denver, Colorado-based design collective organized around three main studios: architecture, graphic design, and interior design. They use SketchUp Pro primarily to better understand the experiential aspects of each of their design projects. One of their most recent projects, the Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales Branch of the Denver Public Library, caught our eye with its strong use of color and great use of circulation. We spoke with Joseph Montalbano, Architecture Principal at Studiotrope, who is responsible for driving the design of the Library.

“We use SketchUp to communicate experiential aspects of our designs. We do our best to give our clients a sense of how a space may feel as much or more-so than how it looks.”

Can you explain the benefits and challenges of operating as a design collective?

As a collective, we blend the three disciplines of architecture, interior design and graphic design. The primary benefit is that of design integration, resulting in synthesized concepts across all design disciplines. The primary challenge is having the exact amount of workload distributed across these disciplines equally.

User experience is a main tenet of your design process. Can you talk more about this?

We believe the adage from the Modern Era, Form Follows Function, puts too much emphasis on a building’s prescribed purpose and leaves little room for the building occupant to take ownership of their own experiences. Instead, we believe Form Follows a desired Experience. In particular, the desired experience of the building occupant. We try to understand what desired experiences are appropriate relative to the goals of our projects, and we call this the “voice” of the project.

We use SketchUp to communicate experiential aspects of our designs. We do our best to give our clients a sense of how a space may feel as much or more-so than how it looks. We use the 3D model to express lighting, sheen/reflection, texture, volume, contrast, depth of field, etc. We also use it for virtual tours.

Early exterior solid/void explorations of east facade.Early exterior solid/void explorations of the east facade.

With the Gonzales Branch Library, what design moves are you most proud of?

Connections between the interior and exterior, framed views of both local context (W. Colfax) and regional/distant context (downtown/mountains), the interior courtyard, the quantity of daylight that enters the building, and the unique character of the building facade.

Early facade textural studies along Colfax Avenue.Early facade textural studies along Colfax Avenue.


What were the biggest challenges of this project?

Cost/budget is always a challenge with public projects. On this particular project, having two entries and no backside to the building was challenging. the largest challenge was responding appropriately to such an incredibly diverse set of needs from the community that the library was designed to serve.

We enjoy public buildings because we believe in place-based design. Successful public buildings must respond to the needs of the community they reside within.

A project on the design boards called nuROOT. It’s a mixed use development by Studiotrope.A project on the design boards called nuROOT. It’s a mixed-use development by Studiotrope.

Can you tell us what new project you're working on in SketchUp right now?

We are working on a mixed-use commercial development in Five Points, Denver, a multi-family project also in Five Points, a market and food hub for a food Cooperative in an underserved community in Denver (a “food desert”), a Police-Fire Training facility in Aurora, CO, a single family residence, a medical office building, and an outdoor amphitheater called the Levitt Pavilion, also all in Denver.

We hear about interesting use cases for SketchUp all the time, but Studiotrope’s use of communicating the experiential aspects of the architectural design process make us particularly happy. To learn more about Studiotrope, visit their website at www.studiotrope.com.

About the Author

Tyler Barnard

Tyler is the Senior Graphic Designer for all things SketchUp. With a background in architecture and thick spectacles, Tyler can be found studying the imperfections of everything.

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