Google SketchUp

May 01, 2008
May/June 2008
A version of this article appears in the May/June 2008 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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A growing number of companies providing products and services to the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry are diving into virtual reality. Whirlpool Corporation has a division dedicated to translating its entire product catalog into digital 3-D files, and McGraw Hill Construction has created a platform to distribute 3-D files from building product manufacturers seamlessly online. And wouldn’t you know it . . .  Google is at the forefront of it all, with Google SketchUp and the Google 3D Warehouse.

Google SketchUp is a 3-D modeling program that is the closest thing to a pencil and paper on your computer. Since it’s for everyone, people use it for designing, for problem solving; as a what-if tool, a consultation aid, a brainstorming tool; and some users even call it therapeutic. Apple calls it “deceptively simple.” Companies such as Whirlpool and McGraw Hill use SketchUp to quickly and inexpensively build product catalogs that can be shared online. The Google 3D Warehouse is the online repository for storing and sharing 3-D models that can be uploaded and downloaded for free by SketchUp users around the world. What’s very exciting about these tools is that users can plant a design into Google Earth to show how that design is related to its setting in the world.

SketchUp is enjoying widespread adoption by AEC industry professionals—and no wonder.  SketchUp is easy to learn, integrates with nearly every major 2-D and 3-D application, and plays nice with your pencil sketches. Even better, there is a robust version of SketchUp that is completely free. With the new trend for companies to add their product catalogs to the 3D Warehouse, allowing designers to drag and drop real brands into 3-D computer design sketches, it’s easy to see why so many professionals are hooked on SketchUp.

The number of companies participating in the 3D Warehouse has grown rapidly. It was launched in April 2006, when Marvin Windows and Whirlpool were among the only companies who contributed “assets” to the 3D Warehouse. Now, about 85 companies are participating. The rise in popularity is due largely to the fact that companies must use the Warehouse to remain front-of-mind during the design-and-build process. Here’s the strategy. Companies supply professionals with virtual products early in design development. This increases the odds that designers will specify those products later, during construction documentation. Standard marketing strategies, such as banner advertisements and e-mail newsletters, can’t entice the end user the way 3D Warehouse can. 3-D models engage everyone in the process of building. The designer, the product developer, the architect and the client all find a new opportunity to engage in meaningful interaction together online with 3D Warehouse.

Imagine how incredibly useful these tools really are! Think about the general contractor on-site who is struggling to see how a detail of a particular installation will actually translate in the field. He can look the model’s image up in 3D Warehouse and see the construction detail of the real-world product. He saves time, and he reduces the potential for error.

Designers can find anything from Marvin windows and Whirlpool ovens to Tyvek house wrap and Sherwin-Williams paint. However, many large and small brands still haven’t taken advantage of this unique tool, either because they don’t know about it or because they don’t have the capital needed to create the 3D assets.

Fortunately for manufacturers, there are two factors of production that are shifting in their favor. First, specialized individuals and companies are stepping forward to offer SketchUp modeling services. Second, SketchUp’s rapid rise in popularity among professionals in the AEC industry has encouraged software developers to create tools that can convert the SketchUp file format (.skp) into most other 3-D file formats.

I expect many more designers and builders to adopt the 3D Warehouse in 2008, because its ease will make it the industry standard for communication about the physical world of design and building. In order to sell to target audiences, brands must create tools that will help professionals on the job. Product catalogs will be created in 3-D and will be made freely available for download on the Google 3D Warehouse. Thank you, Google!

Alex Oliver is the CEO and founder of Igloo Studios, Incorporated, an innovative design firm that incorporates 3D technology into architectural, graphic, and video content.

For more information:

To learn more about Sketchup and 3D Warehouse, go to

For more on Igloo Studios, go to

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