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Ryan Companies uses SketchUp Pro for virtual design and construction

Tristan Garner is the Regional Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) manager with Ryan Companies. He oversees BIM coordination, proposal animations, job site setup, and the training of team members on new ways to leverage software. Ryan Companies is an all-in-one shop that includes development, real estate management, architecture, engineering, and construction. We spoke with Tristan about how Ryan’s construction team coordinates with in-house architectural and engineering departments as well as project field teams.

Section cut within a virtual mock-up showing detailed elements; everything from ceiling hangers to insulation.

Section cut within a virtual mock-up showing detailed elements; everything from ceiling hangers to insulation.

What is a virtual mock-up and what role does it play in your workflow?

A traditional mock-up is when you create a full scale model of a construction detail or assembly. An enclosure mock-up would include all of the assemblies used in the exterior skin of the building: windows, insulation, brick, mortar, flashing, caulking, etc.

A virtual mock-up is used to analyze the same, possibly complicated, details in the digital world without having to coordinate the effort of building a mock-up on site. We recently completed an in-depth SketchUp model that we used to study and coordinate the construction details on a ballpark in St. Paul, Minnesota. Using a virtual mock-up, we were able to get all the players involved in the same room and work out hundreds of details without wasting time and money in the field.

SketchUp allows us to reach a level of detail that isn’t achieved in the Revit model that’s used to create the construction documents. The Revit model is exported to SketchUp to create an accurate base to start with that includes wall locations, structure, openings, and other details.

The process of building the model is just as important as the final product. We analyze the designer’s details and then adjust those according to the detail submittals we receive from subcontractors. The subcontractor’s details utilize the exact product and process that will be used on site. All of this is captured in a virtual mock-up.

One of the key advantages of a virtual mock-up is the ability to create a dozen mock-ups within the main mock-up; this allows for detailing of different sections of the building, instead of only one area.

Also: click here to view a Prezi presentation that was used to educate internally at Ryan Companies.

What are some other ways that Ryan Companies uses SketchUp?

SketchUp’s flexibility allows it to be a production tool as well as an in-between software for multiple processes at Ryan. Those include:


There is an array of design options to be considered when Ryan is proposing a project to a client; SketchUp is used to quickly create iterations to show the owner.

Project Pursuits

A client sends out a request for bids from general contractors when they have a project that they would like to build. Often the amount of design information we receive is minimal and we rarely get a 3D model to work with. SketchUp is used to quickly create a 3D model with whatever information we have and geo-locate it on the proposed site as a basis for rendered images or animations.

 The buildings and site layout are created in SketchUp, then Ryan uses Infraworks to create high resolution site topography that includes surrounding buildings and roads.Workflow example: The buildings and site layout are created in SketchUp, then Ryan uses Infraworks to create high resolution site topography that includes surrounding buildings and roads. The .SKP and .FBX (from Infraworks) files are pulled into Lumion where vegetation and other entourage items are added, and the final render is produced.

Site Logistics

Once Ryan construction is moving out to the project site, SketchUp is used to create 3D site logistics plans. A site logistics plan is put together by the senior superintendent to communicate fences, trailer locations, cranes, lifts, parking, material laydown, traffic patterns, etc. SketchUp allows us to push/pull what are traditionally 2D plans into 3D and create a more powerful site communication tool.

Site logistics plan for a project in downtown Minneapolis, MN.Site logistics plan for a project in downtown Minneapolis, MN.

Detailed Renderings

Owners approve preliminary design decisions based on renderings from the architect. Ryan takes this one step further and creates animations later in the design process, once exact materials have been specified. SketchUp is used to model and detail materials, furniture, lights, artwork and other entourage that are key to creating realistic animations.

These renderings help owners better imagine spaces, leading to fewer surprises at turn-over of the building. Additionally, the animations are utilized to sell apartment and condo units in residential projects.

Final rendering produced in Lumion (combination of Revit + SketchUp + Lumion models).Final rendering produced in Lumion (combination of Revit + SketchUp + Lumion models).

Model access via game engines

Ryan Companies also leverages game engines to provide an interactive model to owners, operators and tenants. The client and owner are able to walk around the model by installing a simple plug-in for their web browser. The VDC team is just starting to explore the possibilities of this type of technology and the effect it will have on design and construction.

Ed note: You can try this walk-through experience by exploring a SketchUp model from a project currently under construction in Arizona. (When you click on the link you'll be asked to install a plug-in from Unity.)

What are some SketchUp features you couldn't do without?

Learning how to keep the model organized using Groups, Components, Layers, and Scenes is key to productivity. Groups and Components are the first concepts I teach when introducing someone to SketchUp.

The power of SketchUp is that it’s basic enough to bridge a wide array of people and industries. Due to the open-source nature of the product, there are a lot of automatic features that aren’t built in, as they are in other industry-specific modeling programs. Curviloft (available here) is one of the extensions I utilize often. You can also find a wide variety of additional tools on the Extension WarehouseThere’s always a way to do what you’re envisioning in SketchUp, it’s just a matter of correctly utilizing a built-in feature or finding an extension to do the work for you.

About the Author

Josh originally joined the team for a year with Google as a SketchUp Trainer in 2008 and later rejoined SketchUp with Trimble in 2013. He is a map nerd, enjoys long walks in the mountains, skiing, playing soccer, kickball, disc golf, and... any sport or backyard game out there!

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