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Creating immersive rooftop and outdoor amenities with the help of SketchUp

From traditional drafting in an architecture class to designing large commercial outdoor experiences, we check in with Brandon Reed from LOFTSIXFOUR to explore his landscape architectural design vision. See how he uses SketchUp and LayOut to visualize and execute unique, immersive rooftop and outdoor amenities for a variety of top-level architects and real estate developers.

Render of an outdoor rooftop with fireplace

You've been involved in the landscape architecture industry for a while now. How did you get started? And where has that taken you?

I’ve always loved art and design. In high school, I took a lot of art classes and drafting classes. That carried over when I attended Utah State University where I took a graphics class in the Landscape Architecture Department. It seemed to blend art and design, which I loved. The department seemed a bit more open to unlimited possibilities than becoming an architect. So, I was hooked and graduated in Landscape Architecture in 2001. I’ve been working in the realm of landscape architecture ever since and have become even more passionate about its possibilities as each year passes.

Currently, I am the chief visionary officer and principal landscape architect for a design studio called LOFTSIXFOUR. Our purpose and passion come from our ultimate goal of creating opportunities for people to connect. With this in mind, we have discovered a unique way to help architects and developers create immersive rooftop amenities and outdoor living experiences for luxury hotels, resorts, and apartments. So within the context of landscape architecture, we are enamored with the idea of creating original, thoughtful rooftop and outdoor amenity spaces that help create unique opportunities for people to connect — with their surroundings, with the architecture, with each other, and with their communities and cities that surround them.  

We are focusing more and more on dense urban city environments where these types of projects are more common. We find that these projects not only add huge value to a city, but it also helps developers make a statement and differentiate themselves from their competition. On top of that, it allows them to make a positive impact on the communities in which they construct their projects.  

photo of ourdoor space with city backdrop
photo of two chairs by an unlit firepit
photo of a man sitting on the edge of an outdoor fireplace

Creating the perfect environment for people to connect in the city.

Do you use SketchUp in your workflow?

We use SketchUp on every project. In the conceptual stages of our process, we use SketchUp study models to help us visualize our spatial diagrams. As we progress into design development and construction documentation, SketchUp models help us further refine our design ideas. LayOut has also played a pivotal role in helping us create 3D design details of all of our custom design elements. This has greatly helped the design team and contractors visualize what the finished product will look and feel like.

SketchUp model of big building with rooftop pools and landscapingSketchUp model of big building with rooftop pools and landscaping - aerial viewCloser view of SketchUp model of rooftop pools and landscaping

Utilizing a bird's eye view with SketchUp.

SketchUp model of rooftop ameneties and landscapingSketchUp model of rooftop ameneties and landscapingSketchUp model of rooftop ameneties and landscaping
Using scenes and entourage to help visualize the final space in SketchUp.

What does your workflow look like on an average project? 

We start off by taking an architectural Revit model and converting that to a 3D DWG CAD file and then importing it into SketchUp.  This helps us relate our design to the architectural design, which we see as integral to the success of these outdoor spaces.  These designs need to communicate the location, dimensions, and style of doors, windows, building materials, and interior spaces.  

When the building of exterior and interiors are considered and planned in unison with the exterior amenity spaces, the results are stunning. This creates a harmonious outdoor and indoor relationship that resonates and connects people more deeply to their surroundings.

We will iterate and refine our models to greater detail as we proceed to each phase in the project including conceptual, schematic, design development, and the construction documentation phase. Our SketchUp models are used from beginning to end.  During design development and construction documentation phases, we use SketchUp and LayOut to create 3D details that include all of the outdoor elements such as, but not limited to, overhead structures, fire pits, seating, planters, fencing, BBQ counters, and islands, paving surfaces, pools, hot tubs, and cabanas.

We detail all of these elements in LayOut, first using a SketchUp model, then importing the model into LayOut. Not only do these LayOut documents create captivating and compelling details, but they also help better communicate these details by making them easier to understand by contractors who bid and construct them. This helps our clients visualize the final, end-product for the benefit of more beautiful and successful outdoor spaces.

Project details in LayOutProject details in LayOutProject details in LayOutProject details in LayOut

Bringing the design across the finish line to the construction phase. It's all in the details with LayOut. 

How do you collaborate on design ideas with your team? 

We do design charrettes where we all sketch and discuss spatial layouts for the outdoor spaces we’re designing.  This allows us to ‘rapid-fire’ ideas as a team and comes up with better end solutions than if we had just one person do the design. Once we get some solutions we’re happy with, we will then take those designs to a more refined level and create 3D versions of these layouts using SketchUp.

Why do you use SketchUp? Any benefits? 

It’s still the easiest and fastest way to get ideas into 3D.  We have a long list of reasons why we use SketchUp. Some of these include ease of use, user-friendly software, fast and accurate modeling, relatively inexpensive, used by all our architect and developer clients, interoperability allowing us to import and export to many other software platforms such as Revit, AutoCAD, and Lumion.

What challenges do you face when working with clients? Does SketchUp help you solve any of these? 

We have a couple of challenges. One is communicating our designs to owners and the design team. SketchUp helps with this because it works well for quickly visualizing designs and 3D study models. We take these models and are able to hand render over the top of them, send it back to the architect to incorporate into their files, or we import them into Lumion for more professional renders.

SketchUp model of big building with rooftop pools and landscaping
Rendering of big building with rooftop pools and landscaping

From concept to a rendered image, scroll through the gallery to see how SketchUp helped bring this idea to life.

Rendering of big building with rooftop pools and landscaping
Render of an outdoor rooftop with fireplace and landscaping

Creating beautiful, realistic SketchUp renders through a Lumion workflow.

What are some of your favorite projects and why? 

Some of my favorite projects are Sugar Alley, 6th and Main, Park Avenue, and The Citizen.  They all share similarities in that they are based in cities and urban environments. They also all involve us designing outdoor living experiences on multiple building levels over podium levels, on rooftops, over structures, and involve a street-level interface with the city.  These require very tight and precise collaboration with the architect and engineer consultants including structural, electrical, plumbing, and interior design.  These types of projects are integrally tied to the building structures and systems themselves.

View of building rooftop space from interior
rendering of rooftop pool and landscaping with people
rendering of rooftop fire pit with people sitting around it at dusk
rendering of a large buiding with a big sign that says 'SUGAR'

Highlighting some favorite rooftop and urban design projects including Sugar Alley, 6th and Main, and Park Avenue.

Where do you see the landscape architecture industry headed? Any new trends on the horizon?

That's a big question because landscape architects do such a broad range of work.  We see a huge opportunity in exactly where our expertise lies: designing rooftop and outdoor living experiences that are integrally tied to the buildings themselves on multiple levels.  We enjoy creating rooftop and outdoor amenities that give you the sense of not being on a rooftop. Rather, they are compelling, beautiful, functional, and unique outdoor experiences that just happen to be over a rooftop or over a building structure.  

When it comes to tools, I see products like Lumion and VR becoming more popular. For example, being able to use SketchUp models to render realistic outdoor environments with Lumion, or incorporate a more immersive experience by using VR. Also, 3D printing seems to be something that is super cool as well and may take the place of physical models for projects in the future.

What is your favorite SketchUp command? 

We have a few favorites starting with Push/Pull because of how quickly you can take shapes and extrude them into 3D objects.  That feeling of seeing flat, two-dimensional shapes transform into 3D forms never gets old.  We find Offset and Paint Bucket also very useful.

We also have a few favorite extensions such as Eneroth Face Creator, Sandbox Tools, and Soap Skin & Bubble. These are very helpful with the types of designs we are creating.

Really, we love any command that allows us to do more designing and less input of commands.

That is the beauty of SketchUp that has always shined through and why we continue to use it daily ⁠— because it made creating 3D models fun and easy!

Ready to start your next amazing design project? Try SketchUp free.

About the Author

When Cara's not writing copy or learning about customer workflows, you can find her on top of a 14,000 ft mountain, hitting up those Colorado ski slopes, or binging Netflix shows on her couch.

Profile Photo of Cara Bell