Trilogy Partners is a design-build firm based in Breckenridge, Colorado, specializing in bespoke residential projects. In this two-part blog interview with CEO, Michael Rath, we’re excited to introduce Trilogy’s comprehensive approach to using a virtual model as the basis for project management across architectural and interior design, engineering, communications, and construction management… all in SketchUp of course!
Not just marketing: Trilogy Partners uses SketchUp from concept to construction. All images courtesy of Trilogy Partners.
It seems that the makeup of each design-build firm is a bit different. Describe Trilogy Partners'... in two sentences.
Trilogy Partners consists of design professionals, construction professionals, and accounting and office management. We specialize in high-concept, custom residential structures. Our typical client is looking for a vibrant design experience that fully reflects their tastes, lifestyle, and aspirations for a dream home in the mountains, or some other remarkable site that they find especially compelling.
Historically SketchUp has not been viewed as a tool that a builder would be drawn to. What was your motivation for learning and eventually relying upon SketchUp?
Trilogy is essentially a project management company. It’s our job to make sure that our client gets an incredible design. And that design is faithfully and efficiently translated into an equally incredible structure. I have always searched for a way to make that process better, more efficient, intuitive. Even fun. For the client, for the design team. For the contractors and subs.
I initially implemented SketchUp as a design tool that would allow clients to participate in and understand our design concepts. But the more we used it, the more we realized that the entire process could benefit from modeling. And then, slowly but surely, we uncovered and perfected the project management aspects of a SketchUp-centric design-build process.
A client collaboration session in action; SketchUp model at hand
Can you tell us more about how your clients interact with a SketchUp model, and why you think it’s important they do so?
When people ask me why I’m so passionate about what I do, my answer is generally “because I like connecting with people and creating extraordinary things.” And so, that’s the relationship Trilogy has with its clients. We are with them from the concept creation to what often, to them, is the fulfillment of a life-long dream. And truthfully, that’s an honor and our clients understand that we feel that way.
SketchUp helps us establish an incredibly transparent and accessible creative platform. Our clients have constant access to the models so they may study them in depth down to the slightest nuance.
I started to use SketchUp because I wanted the clients to be deeply involved in the creative process. During the design development process, we host multiple client attended design sessions and in many cases, we design a room, a water feature, fireplace, or choose finishes, fixtures, and furnishings with clients while modeling in real time.
You guys have worked on some fun custom features for your clients. What’s one of your favorites?
Sorry, I can’t do just one. We built a powder room around a Colorado Mining Company ore cart, complete with the cart track running across the room (and entirely modeled in SketchUp to see if our idea would work). We’ve done custom water features made from twenty-foot beams and enormous chandeliers eleven feet high with dozens of pendants (all sorted and detailed in SketchUp, of course). Pretty much every fireplace we do is totally unique. SketchUp lets us take design risks that we might not otherwise take. It ups the level of creativity and detail.
A rail-inspired light fixture, specified by the client, designed and then built in SketchUp
Tell us a bit about how Trilogy collaborates with a project architect: What works well? What could be better?
As the project manager, Trilogy programs the design team with specific objectives and then manages the collaboration with the architect. We meet at least weekly with the architect to study progress in pursuit of our ultimate design objective. Design advice and guidance is collaborative, but the architect has primary responsibility giving the design its form.
Early stage concept models are considered and designed in site context (of course!).
Our architects are using SketchUp for concept development because this is the best way to convey design intent to the rest of the team, specifically the client. Once the concept floorplan and elevations are finished, Trilogy takes the model and completes it, including the engineering. After that, we send it back to the architect so they can make final revisions, render it in 2D, and then we have a stamped set of plans. That’s what the local building departments and HOA’s want. I actually think this works pretty well.
Trilogy’s base SketchUp models are also utilized in construction documentation.
We put a lot of content, specifications, and management information into every model as part of our process. We’ve spoken with SketchUp about making it easier to get information in, and out of the model. We’d like to see an improvement to the reporting engine, and perhaps an expanded Entity Info dialogue box. And then a rendering engine would be nice… true nested layers? But please don’t take away the flexibility and usability of SketchUp by implementing Revit-like parametrics.
What about subcontractors? Do they also utilize a Trilogy SketchUp project model?
Everyone in our company is conversant in SketchUp. Our subs are all using the model but accessing information from it in different ways. For example, our tile setters have decided what works for them is multiple model views of each bathroom on their smartphones so they know exactly how the tile should be set.
Never tile blind! Trilogy’s texture work in SketchUp is meant to aide tile installation.
The purpose of modeling everything is really so the subs and supers clearly understand the scope of work. This dramatically reduces supervision, errors, omissions, and misunderstandings. It also improves workflow and scheduling. And the subs love it. Some of the subs are beginning to transition to the SketchUp mobile viewer. And the framing crew is going to be using VR onsite to better understand how to frame the house. That’s just incredible to me. Of course, we also use SketchUp to create all our final fabrication drawings. SketchUp has allowed us to become incredibly self-reliant when it comes to our design needs.
The textures in your models are particularly great: rich, detailed, and impressively representative of the final product. Can you tell us more about your approach to finding and applying textures?
Our approach to textures is realism and honesty. Our model is in effect, our "sample board." No sense building a model that is not representative of the finished project; that would be confusing to everyone. We have a huge seamless texture library now from doing so many projects in SketchUp. Literally thousands of textures.
We generally make our own textures. We photograph materials (or use a photo we find online) and then we use Photoshop to create a “tile-able" texture. We “try on” different materials when we’re doing live modeling and let the client choose the one they like best. In this way, SketchUp is an excellent communication tool. And yes, I’m obsessed with using good textures. A good model is an expression of art and design. Some of the textures we use are so good, all we have to do is turn on shadows to approach photorealism. I love that about SketchUp.
Simple, high quality textures + thoughtful composition = excellent native SketchUp rendering
In part two of our series on project management modeling, we'll get into the weeds on how BIM and project management modeling relate. You can also tap into the Trilogy team’s expertise directly at TrilogyBuilds.com.