Revit and SketchUp: Match Made in Architectural Heaven

Architects are always in search of the perfect workflow process that combines design, redesign, and production into a cohesive, seamless, well-oiled machine. The problem is, there isn’t one single piece of design software that can handle the demands of all the components that make up an architect’s job.

SketchUp has tried to bridge this gap with the introduction of Layou, an auxiliary program to the base software that allows you to set up sheets, dimension, and create a crude set of construction documents to hand off to contractors or builders. However, the program is limited at best, and would only be capable enough to produce drawings for small renovations or interior overhauls.

SketchUp is a great design tool because it is fast, nimble, and easy for your clients to understand what direction the design is heading. Also, from a presentation and rendering perspective, there are a number of great plugins that transform it into a visualization powerhouse. These are its strengths. As mentioned, however, it falls well short as a tool to produce realistic and accurate construction documents that can aptly tell a contractor how to execute your design.

In steps Revit, the pre-eminent building information modeling program that has the power and toolset to create detailed construction documents, take-offs, and material schedules that can shed light on the blind spots that continue to plague SketchUp.

It’s unfortunate the two programs don’t directly interface, but if you build your workflow and design process around the back-and-forth between these two pieces of software, the result is the best of both worlds: design and documentation.

How Does It Flow?

Of course, every project starts with the design, or as I like to call it, SketchUp territory. The building or renovation doesn’t need to make its way into full-blown documentation for sometime, although even in early stages it’s important to create a rudimentary set of working drawings in Revit. There must be an exact replica of the site constraints and general building massing in both Revit and SketchUp, and those 3D models should be developed in parallel throughout the process.

At the front end, though, the emphasis stays on SketchUp as client meetings are frequent in an attempt to iron out big picture design issues and functional organization. Visualizations can be created at this point, although it is risky to show too much of a finished product to the client before the design has had enough time to evolve.

Once the design is more or less frozen, the Revit model can be detailed and the drawing set can be built-out. The SketchUp model should be used as a constant point of reference, making sure the plans, sections, elevations, and details all reflect the design intent portrayed in the SketchUp model. Revit is not best used as a design tool (slow, methodical, a tad clumsy), so it is important to keep working the design in SketchUp if things need to be changed, updated, or modified.

Why Can’t Revit Do Everything?

If only it could. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, Revit’s capabilities as a design tool simply aren’t good enough to lean heavily on it at the onset of a new project. Even when the project reaches the later stages of development and you’re drawing detailed interior elevations, those interiors should be considered in SketchUp before a single drawing is created in Revit. Even though you’re building a 3D model in Revit, it’s hard to properly visualize it without spending countless hours with the clunky system of viewports, section boxes, and rendering plugins.

And while 3D views in Revit can aid in portraying the design intent of a 3D space, SketchUp is always going to be better. It is possible, however, to create jpeg images from SketchUp, import them into your Revit drawing space, then populate that drawing with an overlay of text, schedules, or even linework.

This hybrid approach to construction documents is a perfect pairing of technical, dimensional construction information and easy to digest design information. The contractor is going to build off the dimensioned plan drawings, but if you show them something they can wrap their head around with a few descriptive notes, you’re one step closer to designing a building that will get constructed as intended.

By themselves, Revit and SketchUp are powerhouses in the architectural design and visualization industries. But, when paired together, they represent the perfect mix of the design and construction sides of building development, and have the potential to streamline your design process and produce better work as a result.

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