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Orbiting into foam pits at Woodward

From Boulder to Vancouver and back, Kelly Siu of Caddis Architecture has always had an interest in the outdoors. She’s been working hard to enjoy a career in architecture that incorporates her personal passions. Her work with Woodward in Park City, Utah is a dream project that combined work, play, red tape, and outside-the-box solutions.

You’ve got the lucky job of working within your personal interests. That’s exciting! How’d you get involved in architecture for the outdoor industry?

I do feel fortunate in where I am and what I do. I think it's partly to do with naturally gravitating towards people who share these interests. Most of my colleagues and friends enjoy playing in the outdoors and adventuring out together to ski or climb.

The proposed Woodward building is made for the adventurous. Can you give us more background on this project?

Woodward's progression-based facilities help kids to learn new outdoor sports skills and achieve their goals in a dedicated learning environment. Their safe approach to skill development allows kids to advance through progression and air awareness, starting indoors on the tumble floor, tramps, and foam pits and then taking those skills and techniques outdoors, and to their terrain parks. Woodward Park City will feature world-class facilities and exceptional instruction. The unique architecture of this building is that three main training floors will be visually connected, allowing the kids to see what others are doing to enhance their skills and confidence.

This new facility will offer all-in-one, year-round training for a wide-range of outdoor sports including skateboarding, BMX, mountain biking, scooter, cheerleading, parkour, digital media, climbing, snowboarding and skiing. In addition, it will have two levels of seating overlooking the training floors, providing parents and friends great views of the exciting action below. Another cool fact is that the Woodward training floor designers use SketchUp to create their amazing ramps, tramps, and foam pit spaces!

image showing SketchUp to create ramps, tramps, and foam pit spaces
Watch daredevils attempt 360s and backflips from the lounge.

When did you start using SketchUp?

I started using Sketchup in graduate school in 2002 as a way to help present and communicate interior spaces, in addition to physical models. It was a great, collaborative student group; we helped each other by pushing what we could graphically get out of the early versions of the program. I really like how SketchUp has become collaborative, too, with great forums for sharing ideas and tips.

Having a variety of tools at your fingertips is pretty common these days. What does SketchUp solve for you?

Several things. SketchUp helps everyone quickly visualize the design—the client, consultants, and us. We use it to communicate different design options to approval authorities. We even built a full SketchUp video by driving down a highway and had a video production team clip the building model into a real-time video. This helped us test out complicated building intersections.

"SketchUp helps everyone quickly visualize the design—the client, consultants, and us."
image showing SketchUp to create foam pits, skate ramps, and trampolines
Foam pits, skate ramps, and trampolines galore!

Speaking of solving problems, tell us a little about how you proved the proposed Woodward building wouldn’t obstruct the distant mountain ridge views while entering the lovely town of Park City?

It started with the approval authority questioning the location of the designed building. They wanted to ensure specific views from a highway would not be obstructed. We were already modeling the building in SketchUp to demonstrate massing, materials, and heights so it was natural that we continued with SketchUp to build the highway, surrounding buildings, and to run visual test drives down the highway for internal team confirmation.

Then, our client filmed a real-world video traveling down the highway and initially thought we could track the same time and speed and show the two videos side by side. After some trial and error with SketchUp’s basic video capabilities, we felt the graphics could be pushed and started researching other rendering options. The best option we decided to try was to insert the static model into the real-world video. We found a talented video company to help us achieve the exhibit we were hoping for. The videos played one after the other and included side-by-side still shot comparisons which were successful.

Kelly embedded the SketchUp model into the video to show the City of Park City that the new structure wouldn't obstruct views. Look for the 3D model on the right at around 0:14.

How did you get the idea to put a static model into the video? How did that innovation change the way you will problem-solve in the future?

After graphically modeling the whole site and highway view corridor, we realized a rendering program couldn't provide the look we were hoping for unless we spent several hours modeling the site. That's when the idea started that we should use the real-world video and place the 3D model into it.

After doing some research and calling different graphic resources, one video company said it would be possible, so we started collaborating with them for the final collaged video. We are very excited about the results and the ability to visually communicate our ideas.  I think we always question our design process to refine it. Looking beyond our traditional graphic media can be a great benefit to new and challenging problems.

How does the team go about producing powerful visual answers to real-world questions and concerns?

Teamwork and research. Our office work culture is a collaborative process; we’re fortunate to have colleagues with diverse backgrounds that can offer different perspectives to both technically solve problems and then graphically communicate the issues. We generally brainstorm a graphic approach then start researching ideas. There are a lot of great references online that give us inspiration and other options. Then, we start the production process and fine tune it as we go. Sometimes we will bring in other companies to assist with the finished graphics, like a rendering or video production company.

"Overall, SketchUp Pro is simple for us to use in the beginning design phases and allows us to produce and study options quickly, whether it’s for our own team use or clients or municipalities."

That’s great to hear. Can you elaborate more on how SketchUp has improved your team’s workflows?

Overall, SketchUp Pro is simple for us to use in the beginning design phases and allows us to produce and study options quickly, whether it’s for our own team use or clients or municipalities. Our clients have greatly appreciated the fact that sometimes we can even change parts of the model while they are looking over our shoulder and keep the design process moving forward.

Especially for this project, as we move into construction documentation, Team Woodward designs the training floor spaces in SketchUp, while we advance the overall building in Revit. The building becomes more refined with consultant information. We are able to easily share and communicate updates with their team as they progress as well. 

image showing the exterior of Woodward park city.Exterior of Woodward Park City. 

What is your standard workflow for big projects like this at Caddis?

It's usually a small team that starts the project: a partner and a project manager. We assess the client's desired program, site, and budget.  As the project evolves into schematic design to design development, we produce presentation graphics mostly for the client and the approving authorities with SketchUp. Then as the project gains momentum into construction documentation, we usually have additional colleagues assist us with production and other technical documentation and use Revit while referencing the SketchUp model.

An X-ray arial view of Woodward

What does collaboration look like for you?

For me, it's a group of people that work well together asking questions, pointing out concerns, and sharing their experiences and knowledge. I enjoy how this creates discussions about how to solve issues so that we can find what we feel is the best approach.

What stories are your drawings telling?

Drawings, models, and images are all we have until a project is built, so they must convey what we feel is important to a project. They must also give those who are not technically trained to design the ability to understand and make informed decisions with us.

image showing detailed 3D modeling in SketchUp
Detailed materials in SketchUp make the 3D model look beautifully finished. 
"To cover the entire building in 3D material would have been too memory intensive for the quickness we wanted, so we exported it to an image file and created custom materials."

You created some of your own materials in SketchUp, but apparently not for aesthetic reasons. Tell us about this step in your workflow.

In modeling the metal siding profile, we imported the manufacturer's CAD file into SketchUp, then extruded it to see it exactly. To cover the entire building in 3D material would have been too memory intensive for the quickness we wanted, so we exported it to an image file and created custom materials. We had to do the same with the wood-like materials and found that it was an efficient process to study different color combinations.

If you could share one piece of advice with your comrades just beginning their architecture careers, what would it be?

Sure, I encourage new interns to continue learning about this multifaceted profession, while maintaining a balance of personal time. It's good to know when to work hard and then play hard. It's important to pursue other interests outside of work, as like-minded people will usually find other like-minded people, and this just might turn into architectural work that is fulfilling for you.

If you aren’t a current SketchUp subscriber, try out it out using our free trial.

About the Author

When she's not writing copy, analyzing numbers, or executing strategy, you'll find Michelle cooking from her garden in her 100 year-old cabin, logging alpine miles on ski and foot, or enjoying a craft beer and a burger.

Profile Photo of Michelle White