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… using SketchUp of course!
What’s different about how Trilogy manages projects via 3D models?
The lifecycle of a Base 3D model at Trilogy is basically the length of the project. Projects usually begin with a note taking session and perhaps a few concept sketches. Very basic stuff. A driveway alternative on a printed survey. Some circles that represent where the garage and the great room might be within the building envelope.
We choose to move almost immediately into a virtual 3D environment because it’s a superior workspace for everyone connected to the project, especially the client. The great thing about SketchUp is that it allows for the seamless evolution of concepts and ideas… and our PMM (that’s project management modeling) process is for the most part always additive and progressive.
It used to be that we would move in starts and jumps from one stage of design to another. We used to sketch, and print. Copy, move to CAD… print it all out for the client to look at, make notes, head back to the computer. More work, then do it all over again. Now, we just model.
We just keep working on the same model, the Base Model, sculpting and shaping and seeing what fits, what doesn’t, moving ever forward until the team agrees we’ve reached our design goal. We do manage certain tasks outside of the base model, like cabinetry, trim, doors, engineering, tile, fireplaces, built in furnishings, closet development, plumbing, lighting fixtures, and hardware. In different SketchUp files. But these concept elements are finalized in the base model once the Base Model is ready to receive them. And the Base Model is ready to receive them once the floor plans and elevations are locked.
So what’s the distinction between Project Management Modeling and BIM?
We don’t call it BIM at Trilogy. We call our process Project Management Modeling. Which basically means, we are going to build the entire structure in SketchUp. Build everything, include everything. Because SketchUp is easy, affordable, fast, and adaptable.
We don’t call it BIM at Trilogy. We call our process Project Management Modeling.
Then we are going to fill the model with all the information, and I mean everything the builder will require to build the house. An example: a faucet in a bathroom is a component that includes a full product description and serial number including a link to the manufacturer's website so the plumber and project supervisor have all the information they need to make sure the fixture is properly installed. We use SketchUp components to represent anything and everything that will be specified or manufactured, so that we can efficiently describe, source, budget, order, ship, and install the item.
For us, Project Management Modeling means building a virtual structure that has the look and feel of the real deal so that the client, and everyone else, has a very deep comprehension of exactly what it is we are going to build. Our textures are very rich and real. If we put an item in the model, it is literally an exact representation of what will be installed. Our models are intended to be as truthful as possible. That’s the basis of PMM: a truthful, accessible model. Specifically tailored to the people who will benefit the most.
With the Base Model process (and your approach to texturing), it sounds like you have to be pretty sharp with model organization and file sizes. How do you keep your models organized and easy to operate?
Our models are quite large for sure because they are so content rich. Fortunately SketchUp has evolved to handle greater complexity. And we’ve gotten much better at figuring out how to keep our model files smaller than they might otherwise be. My first model of an entire house in 2012 approached 200 MB and it crashed SketchUp routinely. So I learned the hard way to think about what we put into the model. Now, we evaluate the file size of any component before we drop it into the model.
We use 3D Warehouse quite a bit. But we shop carefully for component models that won’t blow up our Base Model. We build many components, for example, light fixtures, because a model of the actual fixture doesn’t exist. And I keep the file small. All our textures are optimized for size: we try to keep all the textures below 100 KB.
What is an area of your work in SketchUp that you are hoping to level up this year?
We will be including full engineering detail in all of our virtual products beginning in 2017. We are also working with SketchUp to elevate the BIM aspects of the program so that we can streamline our Project Management Modeling process. It’s true that every home we design and build makes us better at utilizing SketchUp and helps us refine our PMM process. We are incredibly excited to have a part in developing what we honestly believe is a truly better way to collaborate, design and build leveraging the latest technologies and intuitive user interfaces.
Do extensions play a role in the Trilogy workflow? If so, which ones do you rely on?
I personally don’t use a lot of extensions. Some of the team uses them but I like, for the most part, to create slowly and deliberately in SketchUp and for the most part, I’m happy with what the app natively supplies. A lot of extensions sound great, but they just aren’t real world ready. However, there are a few that help with workflow in the areas of site and terrain set up.
What’s a SketchUp keyboard shortcut you couldn’t live without?
Hello? Command Z!!
Have you ever been shocked to discover that SketchUp could do X, Y, or Z? What was X, Y, or Z?
Here’s the shocker, at least to me. The work product we get from SketchUp looks incredibly expensive. To a lot of clients, 3D modeling “looks” like a luxury. However, a well executed SketchUp strategy, like the one we are using, not only results in a fantastic model, but also lowers project costs. That’s because we resolve construction problems in the model and not on the construction site, and because we embed supervision into the model, we save money.
A good PMM model will allow one of our supervisors to handle more projects -- say five projects instead of just three. The subs bid with less risk, which lowers costs. There are fewer site visits by architects and engineers. There’s effective risk management. And not only that, we’ve found a way to improve our estimating, while successfully managing the expectations of our client.
That’s the “shocker:” that a well executed SketchUp process can actually lower costs. It may not seem likely, but it is precisely why we implemented SketchUp, and have built our future on PMM. And it’s also why we think that SketchUp and a process like ours may very well become the industry standard. At least for the types of residential projects we specialize in.
Also, I find SketchUp “shockingly” fun, easy to use and to teach!