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Stack Rock Group: A team of landscape designers working and playing in SketchUp

Trevor Ball is a designer and partner at Stack Rock Group, a landscape architecture firm based out of Boise, Idaho. Nearly 10 years ago, Trevor was given free reign to select a 3D modeler of his choosing... that choice was SketchUp. Now as lead 3D designer, Trevor and his team use SketchUp for all of their visualization projects. 

Stack Rock Group Union Block

Stack Rock Group is what we call a “SketchUp firm.” What does that mean for your workflow? 

As landscape architects, it’s very important that we express our designs to clients in a presentable and digestible manner. For that reason, we use SketchUp for all of our 3D projects and have always been strong proponents of pushing the envelope when it comes to visualization.

We serve as the lead on many projects, large and small, and having a 3D model for each site is imperative to our workflow. We’re able to make changes as they arise and present them to all of our necessary constituents. Modeling in 3D also helps our clients fully understand the site and gives them a feeling of what the final product will eventually look like.

Stack Rock Group Site

SketchUp is also great for quick concepts. We can import the linework of a concept and have it modeled in a short amount of time, which is no small thing when it comes to deadlines and client meetings. This is only possible due to the ease of modeling within SketchUp. In that same vein, we also use SketchUp for live modeling. For example, when we meet with a client we can make necessary adjustments to the model in person. 

Stack Rock Group Sketchy House

You’ve referred to yourself as a “total SketchUp nerd.” We love that!

I’ve definitely become a total SketchUp nerd over the years. For example, I created 2D SketchUp components for everyone in my office, similar to the SketchUp team components. But in all seriousness, I’ve been working in SketchUp nearly everyday since I started at Stack Rock Group. I love SketchUp’s native commands and the ability to customize my toolbar, and I’ve found numerous groundbreaking extensions that have become part of my workflow. But, there are also some native tools that I love and use everyday: Follow Me, Sandbox tools (From Contours and Drape).

Simply being able to talk about extensions to this extent is what I love about SketchUp. No matter what field you’re in, you can make SketchUp work for you. There’s an extension for anything, and if there isn’t one, just wait!

I also love the SketchUp community forums. There are plenty of SketchUp Sages that will answer any questions that you have (in record time), plus a ton of other helpful users and SketchUp team members. 

Stack Rock Group
There's no shortage of fun around the Stack Rock Group office.

You have a small team at Stack Rock Group, but it sure looks like a fun one. What’s it like there?

Small but mighty! There are currently 11 of us at Stack Rock Group. We’re based in Boise, Idaho, and have a small, but growing, office in Salt Lake City, Utah. We design projects all over the country—from California to Florida and everything in between. We take our work very seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously, as you can see from our company bios on our website.

We have it really great here and we don’t take that for granted. We’ve all worked elsewhere and know that we have the opportunity to make this firm exactly the place we want it to be. If we don’t like something or see an area where the company can improve, we can do it. The better idea always wins. The phrase “but its always been done that way” is prohibited.

I truly believe our firm would not be where we are today without SketchUp.

It looks like your team handles everything from residential design to mining reclamation. What can you tell us about the work you do?

You’re absolutely right! If it’s outside, we design it. We’ve designed a lot of projects around Boise: everything from small backyard planting and parks, to medical and college campuses, to custom luxury residential properties and corporate campuses, to mining reclamation, developments, and commercial projects.

Stack Rock Group designs everything from small backyard planting and parks, to medical and college campuses, to custom luxury residential properties and corporate campuses.

One of our major commercial projects was the HP campus located in Boise. It’s the first Sustainable SITES Initiative certified corporate campus in the world. SITES is the U.S. Green Building Council sustainable rating system for landscapes (similar to LEED for buildings, but for landscapes). The campus is more than 200 acres, including 46 acres of irrigated turf grass; 36 acres of active farmland; 3 acres of ponds that serve as the source for irrigation water; 93 acres of hardscape that includes buildings, parking, a 2-mile walking path, and roadways; 15 acres of prairie; and 5 acres of shrubs.

The HP campus master plan designed by Stack Rock Group
The HP Campus master plan designed by Stack Rock Group

HP, and the entire design and construction team, sees this project as an investment in our local ecosystem services and as a sustainable model for site users and the community. The project furthers HP’s global sustainability initiatives and demonstrates that HP is a leading contributor in the technology industry as an international model for success.

One of the more intense projects we completed in SketchUp was a mining reclamation initiative in Idaho. Our team was given the task of modeling the mine, the surrounding area, and depicting the lifespan of the mine. The client wanted to present a rendered video to community members and stakeholders in order to communicate and visualize the scope of the project. It was very important to show what the reclaimed mining area will look like when the project is complete. We were able to model the mine as well as the river and creek. We were able to adjust the video in multiple ways depending on the audience.

Midas Gold Mine Timelapse created by Stack Rock Group

What’s next for Stack Rock Group?

We continue to focus on taking care of our current clients while also seeking out fun, new projects to work on. We have plans to open more offices across the country, and continue to build on what we have now. We also are going to keep using SketchUp as we continue to grow and push the limits of 3D modeling and photo-realistic renderings. It’s exciting to see how far it’s come but more exciting to see where it’s heading in the future.

We’re also dabbling with VR (virtual reality) and alternative routes for rendering. It’s very easy to place our 3D models in our VR application, and we’re now presenting these models to our clients on a weekly basis. We’ve also been exploring new rendering options as there are numerous extensions that work with SketchUp that produce breathtaking renders. We feel that it’s essential that a firm is well-rounded and can produce multiple types of renders in numerous styles.

About the Author

A Boulder transplant by way of Florida, Caroline loves the sun, exploring new places, and not getting lost on trails. When she's not at the office, you can usually find her on her bike or trying to wrangle her loving dog who missed the memo about outgrowing puppyhood.

Profile Photo of Caroline Early