My wife and I just moved to an apartment with a great backyard, but neither of us think spatially. Using Google Sketchup, it’s been easier than I’d imagined to plan our Ultimate Patio 4000.
If you’ve got a similar kind of project that you want to mess with in three dimensions before buying or modifying anything, Sketchup is a free solution that might work perfectly for you. It’s powerful enough to garner an intrigued look from the one SolidWorks-using engineer I know, but user-friendly enough that liberal arts majors like me can put a 3D model of their house on Google Earth, model things to build, or, as we’ll detail below, recreate any space, indoors or out, to inspire an Extreme Makeover: Geek Edition.
Hyperbole Check: This isn’t a quick one-hour project, and you will have to use measuring tape and some scratchpad/calculator math to measure and build your virtual space. That said, after about 5 hours of measuring and designing, I was able to take this backyard patio:
And spin it into this not-yet-completed 3D space:
It’s not the Sistine Chapel, but it’s not bad for a few hour’s work. More importantly, it’s set to scale, and it answers the questions we’d normally argue out in the middle of an aisle in the hardware store: How wide is the space on the yellow brick wall between the window and the edge? Would this free-standing planter be visible over the fence? How much space should we leave if we bust out the grill? Finally, for the wife’s consideration, what colour should a lounge chair be to blend with the brick, the clay flooring, and the (not installed in 3D yet) garden stones? The kind of questions that leave action-oriented husbands with furrowed brows and over-taxed memories.
Once you’ve got your numbers, go ahead and download Sketchup 7 for Windows or Mac OS X. If you’re a Linux user, your best options are to give it a try with WINE (and here’s our guide to running Windows apps with WINE to get you going).
Google has a comprehensive, conversational set of Sketchup training videos that could fill in the gaps if you’d like to learn by tinkering. But let’s nail down a few basics to get you started. Start up Sketchup, choose the default perspective/setup (Architectural, inches and feet in this example), and let’s get rolling.
So, it’s been fun playing with this play set, but now need this box to be exactly four feet square, and exactly as tall as our VAP. No problem! Let’s create another shape to try that out. Select the Line tool again and click on the ground to create a new line. Line it up with an axis if you’d like, then type in 4′, or 48 inches, or 3′ 12″ or however you’d type it in an email, then hit Enter. You could also click somewhere close to drop your second point, then type in your length to correct it. Either way, Sketchup will understand the length you’re shooting for, and snap the line’s end point exactly to it.
That’s why you spent all that time with the measuring tape. Sketchup is easy on those of us who aren’t precise with measurements, but generally know how big something is. This drawing method—start, mouse to determine angle and direction, then type length to complete—is how you determine the radius of a curve, the indent of a window, how far you move an object, and pretty much complete everything else in Sketchup.
Now that you’ve got some experience under your belt, head over to the Sketchup team’s tutorials, and feel free to start at the intermediate, “Familiar with Google Sketchup” level.
Got a Sketchup project you want to show off for your fellow amateur architects? Found another use for Sketchup that got your imagination running? Tell us about it in the comments!