My Sketchy summer: a SketchUp internship

SketchUp is so much more than 3D for everyone: it’s an expanding global community that creates the objects, spaces, and places of tomorrow. As a student and aspiring architect, interning with SketchUp was a surreal experience.

Peter Kluzak with his original creation, "Prism"

Spending the past two summers with the SketchUp team, I was able to work on self-guided projects and interact with the tech culture as it overlaps with architecture. My coworkers at SketchUp and the users in the SketchUp community have the most “can-do” attitude of any group I’ve ever met. It’s clear that the SketchUp team doesn’t just stick around through the years for the paycheck; they work here for the product and the community.

Over the course of my internship I learned a lot, specifically through meeting users from the SketchUp community at several events and conferences. Last year SketchUp hosted 3D Basecamp in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. While there, I met with the best of the best modelers in the SketchUp community and was inspired by the complex projects they were accomplishing. This past summer I attended NeoCon in Chicago and ISTE in San Antonio to showcase SketchUp products and gain experience at professional conventions. For example, I was able to demonstrate the SketchUp Hololens Viewer, a revolutionary product for design workflows and representation. Seeing the light bulbs turn on when someone tries it for the first time was really exciting.

The SketchUp team at ISTE in San Antonio, Texas.

For the past two summers I’ve also been privileged to work on projects that leave an impression on the office itself. Last summer I finished off my internship with a project called Prism, an area to be used as a makerspace for the office 3D printers. The idea was to improve the space from the remnants of an old break room into an area that the office and visitors could enjoy. My design concept came largely from the fact that SketchUp is a polygon modeler. The walls give the illusion of a rocky cliff face common to Boulder while remaining flat to maximize space. This was my first project to use the Hololens in an interior design environment.

Once the model was complete, each part was precision-crafted using a CNC router. Upon completion, this project was featured in the “Can you do that in SketchUp?” video. It took many hands to make Prism possible, including the folks over at BLDG 61. If you live in Boulder County, Colorado and are interested in the world of making, I would encourage you to check them out. We wouldn’t have been able to complete this project without them.

The 3D printing area featuring "Prism"

I was also able to participate in a couple of SketchUp service projects, including Project Spectrum. A number of years ago it was found that a large portion of kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are gifted in the world of 3D and can often learn SketchUp very quickly. Project Spectrum is an initiative developed by a group of SketchUp team members to inspire kids with ASD to learn 3D modeling and help develop a skill they could use professionally.

One of the most extensive projects during my internship was leading the modeling efforts for creating a virtual slave ship. Trimble digitally documents sites important to remembrance of the Atlantic Slave Trade, providing tools for students and the general public to virtually interpret the places and spaces significant to slavery in the Americas. This project became a large undertaking because of the limited documentation about slave ships, and I had to use a variety of resources to gather information.

A 3D model of The Charleston, an 18th century slave trade ship

I used Trimble SX10 and TX8 canners to capture data and and Realworks to digitally document the HMS Surprise in San Diego. I also used historical ship plans and consulted with Dr. Peter H. Wood, an historian and Professor Emeritus from Duke University. With Dr. Wood’s expertise and these resources, I started creating a digital 3D reconstruction of the 18th century ship, the Charleston, which was large enough to carry 500 slaves across the Atlantic. The hope is to be able to provide a simulated experience using in SketchUp and Hololens of what it may have been like to be aboard a crowded slave ship in the 18th century.

Tube to Work Day, 2017

Although my projects and working at SketchUp were a ton of fun, I also had some great times outside of the office. Being in Boulder, Colorado near the mountains has some perks. One of my most memorable experiences was hiking my first 14’er, Mt. Bierstadt, with some fellow SketchUppers. Equipped with my midwest lungs, I didn’t think I was going to make it with the locals but I was able to accomplish it. On the lazier side, participating in Tube to Work Day is one of the coolest and most unusual commuting experiences I will probably ever have. There’s truly nothing like jumping into a freezing creek, floating to work for a few hours, and dripping as you walk to your desk.

It was a great experience to work for a company that has so much to offer. As a startup in its not-too-distant past, SketchUp has the type of culture that I hope to one day translate to an architecture firm.