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Book Review: Architectural Design with SketchUp

It’s been two years since we first reviewed Architectural Design with SketchUp. Since then, Alex Schreyer (the book’s author) has spoken at 3D Basecamp, authored a few new SketchUp extensions, and sure enough, cooked up a second edition of this comprehensive resource for bending SketchUp to your will.

Architectural Design with SketchUp

With numerous updates to the book (and its companion site, we figured it was about time to update our review as well. Before we get into what’s new, there are a few things you should know about this book...

It’s for everyone… well, kind of. Architectural Design for SketchUp is really useful for architectural design, but as far as we can tell, it is also aimed at designers of all types. Applying and manipulating textures, mastering components, extensions, rendering: these are topics that are useful to everybody.

The caveat: this book is not intended to teach you SketchUp from scratch. There is a “SketchUp Refresher” chapter, but this book is really devoted to exploring principles of SketchUp that a) are not well-covered by existing books, and b) very, very interesting to millions of experienced SketchUp modelers everywhere.

The book is also a website. is a companion website for the book, and also an excellent overall resource for SketchUp tips, news, and insight. It’s also a great way to get in touch with Alex, who is one of the more responsive, friendly, and helpful folks you’ll find in the SketchUp community.

The book’s author is an industry expert. Somehow, we forgot to mention this in our first review. Alex Schreyeris the Director of the University of Massachusetts’s Building and Construction Technology Program. He really, really knows what he’s talking about.

With that, let’s crack open the book. Architectural Design with SketchUp is organized into five main sections: component-based modeling, extensions, rendering, making, and Ruby scripting. Here’s a closer look at what you’ll find in each of these sections.

Component-based modeling
This section of Alex's book is a great primer for using groups and components to build assemblies of objects, and imbue models with information. The thinking here is that by modeling every element of a complex construction—the example he uses is a foundation/floor detail—you're effectively "building" your design before you actually build it. You save time and money and therapy sessions by making your mistakes digitally, and you end up with a better design. This isn't exactly a new concept, but Alex does a terrific job of providing concrete guidance for how to do this kind of modeling; it's the detailed how that's missing from most other resources.

Architectural Design with SketchUpModel something once: use it a bunch of times in different ways. Component-based modeling is a simple, incredibly important principle that Architectural Design with SketchUp explores in detail.

Component-based modeling is a simple, incredibly important principle that Architectural Design with SketchUp explores in detail. This section of Alex’s book is also a great introduction to the broader category of information modeling. We’re big advocates of the idea that “BIM” only needs to be as complex as you need it to be. Alex’s approach to component-based modeling lines up pretty well to that idea: at the most basic level, this book will teach you how to create, utilize, and organize components. Digging deeper, you’ll also learn how to author parametric components with dynamic attributes, classify components with industry schema, and generate take-offs from your model. Or, you can just skip to the next chapter, which is all about...

Utilizing extensions
One place where even accomplished SketchUp modelers stumble is in identifying the extensions that might help them do their work. There are zillions of extensions out there, but before this book, no one had assembled a comprehensive, alphabetical listing of dozens of the most popular, most useful extensions. Not only does Alex list them; he also provides a good, brief description of what each is for. There are even a handful of step-by-step tutorials for workflows that require working between multiple extensions. This is the section of Alex's book that we’d recommend studying most carefully.

Photo-realistic rendering
Admit it: If you're not already an avid renderer, you've at least thought about how nice it would be to master that particular skill. But where to start? There's never been more choice in renderers, and everyone knows that rendering is a lot more complicated than just clicking a button and waiting a few hours. The settings, presets, lighting environments, and other widgets that go along with making a halfway decent rendering require an indecent amount of background knowledge. It's half science and half craft. With Alex's book in hand, we all might finally have a shot at learning this stuff.

Another thing we should mention: This book is 100% in color. If you think that makes a big difference when you're trying to learn about rendering, you'd be 100% correct.

An entirely new section for the 2nd Edition, Alex’s “Making Things with SketchUp” chapter is ample evidence that this book is useful beyond the architecture field. Here, Alex has surveyed some of the more popular digital fabrication techniques -- 3D printing, CNC, laser cutting, even 2D printing! -- and accompanied each with a primer for modeling advice, file prep, export considerations, and pre-fabrication advice for working with other software programs. This section is only about 30 pages long, but Alex gets remarkably hands-on around some important workflows. For example…

A handy tutorial from prepping a SketchUp model for scaled 2D print-outs (or cutting files)

Here's where things get a little wacky. When we saw that Alex intended to include an entire section on scripting, we thought, "Ruby for designers? Did Alex mix up his medications?" Well, as it turns out, being able to read and write simple code has never been more important. In teaching the fundamentals of Ruby scripting, Alex intelligently focuses on using scripts to generate forms that are otherwise arduous to model in SketchUp. He doesn't assume you want to create entire standalone extensions; this is really just about using the power of algorithms to make stuff when you can't think of any other way to do it. The material is by no means easy, but Alex deserves a world of credit for making it as easy as possible.

Even if you never intend to write a line of code, this primer to Alex's custom built ruby script editor is an interesting window into the guts of SketchUp (and coding in general).

We recommend this book without hesitation to anyone who really wants to be able to make SketchUp do everything it's capable of doing. It's clearly written, well-illustrated, and comprehensive. And don’t forget the icing on the cake: there's a companion website where you'll find sample files, 30 tutorial videos (12 free ones!), and a direct line of communication with the author. Buy this book and take the first step toward becoming a more useful (SketchUp) person.

About the Author

A product manager on the SketchUp team, Mark is also an avid Colorado outdoorsman. You’re likely to find him roaming Boulder's mountain bike trails, scaring up marmots, pikas, and black bears.

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