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Houseal Lavigne Associates


From the day it was founded, urban planning and community development firm Houseal Lavigne Associates set out to do a better job of communication and outreach by offering communities—residents, business owners, elected and appointed officials, and other groups—with a clear way to visualize new and proposed developments. This has included using cutting-edge technologies to facilitate planning of new developments, including providing free interactive websites replete with 3D renderings, online maps, and surveys of community members.

“We want to communicate not only in words, but also with rich 3D renderings, maps, and graphics that accurately represent how a new development will look and what its potential and perceived affects might be,” says Principal John Houseal. “Our goal is to enable everyone involved to become active stewards of their communities.”

Principals John Houseal and Devin Lavigne broke away from a large multidisciplinary engineering firm to make its vision a reality. Today, Houseal Lavigne Associates is a successful ten-person firm that provides a wide range of planning, design and development-related services to both public and private sector clients throughout the greater Chicago region. The company aims to set a new standard for community outreach and promote a sense of place among community residents. Toward that end, Houseal and Lavigne are enthusiastic about advancing communication within the urban planning industry through the use of 3D visualization technology. They integrate technology into every facet of planning. "By using 3D graphics in just about any shape or form, we can better communicate our planning concepts and principles, and do it in ways that are compelling, fun, and easy to understand and read," says Houseal.


To take planning beyond the realm of being an academic exercise, planners and designers at Houseal Lavigne use SketchUp to visualize new developments and create proposals to present the planned developments to the community. “We often use SketchUp to create a 3D visualization of a development on a vacant site. It helps the community get excited about what type of development might be most suitable for the property based on zoning recommendations, market analysis, and other factors,” says Lavigne. “SketchUp has become a constant for our firm for 3D modeling and visualization.”

Once a plan was created for a new mixed-use development around a new commuter rail station, SketchUp was used to bring the plan to life and build excitement and support for the project.

The firm also uses SketchUp to create 3D graphics for virtually every document produced, from design guidelines to downtown plans. "Every type of planning document we create has some kind of 3D rendering from SketchUp," says Lavigne. "With SketchUp, everyone can see the impact of a proposed development in a visual way that provides vital context—it's very effective."

SketchUp was used to help visualize a potential redevelopment site at a key intersection in the community.


Before using SketchUp, Houseal Lavigne typically wielded other 2D illustration and CAD packages to make drawings that would convey ideas visually. However, it could take hundreds of hours to render a visualization of a project using these other software packages versus a handful of hours using SketchUp. And, when all was said and done, the drawing still lacked a 3D component that would give people a clearer experience of the depth of street setbacks and other important details about the development.

Houseal Lavigne Associates began using SketchUp after downloading a demo version of the software in 2004, and they have never looked back. When conducting an extensive zoning study on the City of Chicago, the team used another software package to visualize what the affects of zoning changes would be on various sectors of the city. "It took us about 200 hours to create the planning drawing using the other software," explains Houseal. "Today, using SketchUp, the same visualization exercise would probably take about 40 hours. With SketchUp, we can work quickly and create attractive, highly artistic 3D renderings that meet our high quality standards."

According to Houseal and Lavigne, 3D models created using SketchUp are the ideal way to make projects come to life. “SketchUp models are perfect for communicating plans for developments. They are far superior to sub-par static maps and hundreds of pages of descriptive text,” says Houseal.

The Lake Street Corridor Plan has SketchUp drawings throughout to better illustrate the Plan’s recommendations.

The SketchUp drawings are functional for other purposes as well. Houseal Lavigne planners can view drawings in 3D from any perspective and can use the software to extract useful analytical details about a proposed structure. “With the analysis tools in SketchUp, the fact that the drawings look beautiful is frosting on the cake,” says Lavigne.

Houseal Lavigne Associates' designers and planners use SketchUp to determine site yields and development concepts.

As a next step, Houseal Lavigne plans to create a mashup using Google Maps and SketchUp that will enable residents to add tags on maps to specific points within the community. The idea is to enable community members to make comments about proposed new developments within a geographical context. Says Lavigne, “It is our job to be revolutionary and create things that are inspiring yet achievable. Google solutions, used in combination with SketchUp as the hub, are an exciting and effective way to inspire communities and get people involved in new developments."

Principal John Houseal, Principal Devin Lavigne

About the Author

Chris joined the SketchUp team in its infancy with @Last Software and has found ways to use SketchUp for just about anything. It's also important to note that he thoroughly enjoys scones, coffee, and the Colorado outdoors.

Profile Photo of Chris Dizon