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American Society of Landscape Architects


April 2008 Issue

Lessons from the Studio, Part Two
Build site models with SketchUp.

By Tim Johnson and David Goldberg, ASLA

Lessons from the Studio, Part Two Autocad draweing by Pennterra Engineering, Inc; Sketchup model by The Vic Group

In the past few years SketchUp has become an indispensable tool for many landscape architects. As discussed in the first article in this series (December 2007), with the right techniques, process, and a little practice it can be used as an effective tool for site design and visualization.

In addition to being easy to learn and use, SketchUp provides a flexible modeling environment that can be adapted to modeling anything from small details to a large site. With the addition of the Sandbox Tools for terrain modeling, SketchUp became capable of modeling large sites with landforms, making it much more useful for landscape architects. Larger sites and 3-D terrain present some unique challenges to modeling efficiently and effectively in SketchUp. We explain the site modeling process below and explore techniques for overcoming those challenges.

AutoCAD to SketchUp

Although SketchUp is a great visualization tool, it canít do everything. Fortunately it is designed to be able to exchange files with other raster- and vector-based graphics and CAD software. Understanding the correct process, formats, and techniques for moving files back and forth from SketchUp to other programs is essential to getting the most out of your models. Several ďadd-onĒ programs are available that allow you to extend SketchUpís features.

You can create a site model from scratch or from a scanned image, but often you will begin with a site plan imported from an AutoCAD drawing file. Using an AutoCAD drawing can save you time redrawing elements that have already been drawn once, but it can also be very time-consuming and frustrating if you donít follow a few basic guidelines. The first step in modeling from an AutoCAD drawing is to simplify the drawing in AutoCAD. Purge any unused layers and any elements that wonít be modeled such as labels, road centerlines, underground utilities, and hatching. Layers containing elements such as tree symbols, site furnishings, and lighting should be preserved so they can be used to locate these elements using components in SketchUp.

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