Building a career in Architecture with SketchUp

Photo Of Pedro

Pedro Sousa

This year has seen more of us than ever reaching out and connecting virtually. At Elmtec, the home of SketchUp in the UK and Ireland, we asked our SketchUp community to dream up their ideal home office in the spirit of keeping us all connecting and creative in the most challenging of times. There were a raft of incredible entries, but were particularly impressed by Pedro Sousa’s winning concept. We caught up with him to delve a little deeper into his design process.

Hi Pedro! Can you introduce yourself to the SketchUp UK community?

I would say I was probably 14 years old when I started using SketchUp. Since that age I wanted to become an architect, and I wanted to develop my creativity design and planning houses, so slowly I started to design my parents house, everything was still new for me. How do I draw this way, or how do I measure etc etc. Until I get familiar with the software and after I finish my parents house, I start designing more and more houses with different shapes and sizes.  This was probably my hobby when I was a teenager on summer vacancies. Few years later (I was 18 years old), I was doing some work for interior designers, nothing major, but it was extra cash. I was 19 when I came to the UK to study architecture, and even now I’ve been using SketchUp on my projects. 
3D rendered image of a building
My dream house. Slowly I’m designing my dream house with my girlfriend, until the age I can afford it.

How does SketchUp help with your design process?

SketchUp is a simple and quick way to represent my ideas in 3D. Some projects take longer than others, but SketchUp is such a dynamic software enabling as many agile changes as I need to to form a solid project in a short amount of time. Creating the concept, I sketch first on the iPad, and then I start modelling in SketchUp, for an easy understanding of space.

What’s the one functionality you’re glad SketchUp has?


The functionality I’m glad SketchUp has is the very software itself! Everyone can easily start to learn 3D just using SketchUp, the basic tools from sketch line by line gives you the freedom to design anything, and by the time you are mastering the program, you can come away with such a great result on your projects, with the same quality as any other architectural software. Another feature that helps me a lot with my design is the ease of ability to link with other software. This improves my projects even further.

What kind of projects interest or excite you the most?

I would say the residential ones, either we are designing for a client or for ourselves, it’s interesting and a pleasure to see a client’s reaction when we present the homes of their dreams for something they imagine themselves living in, in 3D. A house is probably the most expensive investment a family will make in their life and now with the VR technology, it’s even easier to choose the features they like the most, experiencing this virtual reality. Part of architecture is to expect challenges through the projects and that’s what excites me the most: every project is different, purely because every client is different.
Water mill, based in Chelmsford, Essex. Project to develop a conversion of the building for a new use. Uni Project. Water mill, based in Chelmsford, Essex. Project to develop a conversion of the building for a new use. Render of the project. Uni Project.

Water mill, based in Chelmsford, Essex. Project to develop a conversion of the building for a new use. (University project).

Are there any essential extensions you use with SketchUp that help with your workflow?

I do use some plugins which help speed up the workflow of the projects, and also the quality of them. For example, Skin_Bubble, V-Ray, RoundCorner, Lumion LiveSync, and a few others. I believe plugins are absolutely essential for any project. In contemporary architecture the demand for creating something unique, functional, and sustainable is paramount – it’s imperative to employ productivity and functionality via these plugins.

Swimming Pool Centre, Initial concept on SketchUp. University project.

What’s next for you in your career?

I’m completing a BA (Hons) Architecture this year, and I am looking to apply my expertise and knowledge in a role that will allow me to develop and continue to progress. I expect to start my Master’s degree in Architecture next year and then a Ph.D. also in architecture. I also plan to work in Japan for one year, gaining experience and learning different architecture techniques which will allow me to expand my knowledge and hopefully design greater sustainable buildings in the future. For a long term goal, I hope one day start my own architectural firm and make a difference in people’s lives and to help the sustainability of this planet a bit more through architecture. I hope to become one of the most inspirational architects of the world and win the Pritzker Architecture Prize one day. Let this journey begin.
Render work of the swimming pool concept

To view more of Pedro Sousa’s work:

Visualising a Virtual Museum with The Royal Armouries

The Royal Armouries are custodians of the United Kingdom’s national collection of arms and armour, comprising the national collection of arms and armour, national artillery collection, and national firearms collection. It is one of the largest collections of historic arms and armour in the world and is also the keeper of Tower of London history. There are three sites: Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, White Tower in the Tower of London, and Fort Nelson, Fareham near Portsmouth.

Horse armour (1480) Of Waldemar VI, Duke of Anhalt-Koethen
Place: Germany
Location:Leeds, War Gallery

Object Number: VI.379 A-E © Royal Armouries Museum
Horse armour (1480) Of Waldemar VI, Duke of Anhalt-Koethen
Place: Germany
Location:Leeds, War Gallery

Object Number: VI.379 A-E © Royal Armouries Museum

On 30 March 1996, the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds opened to the public. The new building, designed by architect Derek Walker, is the headquarters of the Royal Armouries complex of museums, and houses the majority of the museum’s collections. The project formed part of Strategy 2000, a scheme produced in 1990 to provide the national museum of arms and armour with a suitable infrastructure to preserve, display and interpret its collections.

Field armour (1550)
with decorated and gilt bands, possibly for Roger, 2nd Baron North
Place: England, Greenwich
Location: Leeds, War Gallery
Object Number: II.82 © Royal Armouries Museum

The Leeds museum is built not only to display the national collection, but to tell the story of the development of arms and armour through the objects, a wide range of audio-visual presentations, computer interactives and interpretations to bring the subject to life.

Ensuring that the collection is preserved for future generations is the responsibility of conservators. It is their job to prevent irreversible damage and deterioration through the use of interventive and preventive methods. Audits are conducted frequently as a method of monitoring the condition of objects and highlighting those that require treatment. It also provides the opportunity to identify common factors that might be contributing to an object’s deterioration.

With no prior experience or knowledge, Preventive Conservator Rebecca Hayton, used SketchUp Pro to create scale models of the stores and plot the exact position of objects requiring treatment for easier access (Fig 1). Rebecca learnt the basic functions by watching videos and consulting forums, allowing her to create an accurate representation of the store room from measurements and plans available. Rebecca even made a basic pommel to show that these objects were swords (Fig 2).

Fig 1: Scale model of store recreated in SketchUp
© Royal Armouries Museum

Fig 2: Image showing basic pommel created in SketchUp to illustrate a sword
© Royal Armouries Museum

Following the positive feedback received from colleagues, Rebecca went on to identify other ways in which SketchUp could be used throughout the museum.

Ideas such as plotting where pest and environmental monitoring equipment is located were suggested – as well as experimenting with exhibition design and layout. Another idea proposed was to use SketchUp to create an accurate representation of the gallery spaces, allowing virtual galleries complete with images of real objects to be visualised. This is currently a work in progress but it is hoped that the final result will allow a full virtual version of the museum to be created. This could then be used in the event of a salvage situation to highlight priority objects requiring removal or protection and the safest routes to/from them. For accuracy, photographs of ‘starred objects’ were converted to PNG files allowing them to be imported into a SketchUp model (Fig 3). A step up from this, if possible, would be to import a 3D scanned image of an object allowing for 360° accuracy making walking through the virtual gallery more realistic and allowing conservators to point out hazards and areas of concern to firefighters for example.

Figure 3: SketchUp model of the Cruciform display at Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds with photographic image of Gothic Armour in-situ
© Royal Armouries Museum

You can find out more about Royal Armouries by visiting their website 

To find out more about non-profit SketchUp licenses and how they could benefit you, drop us an email or give us a call: / 01844 263750.

3D City Modelling with AccuCities

Capturing a 3D city model is an inherently complex project. Who is the final user of the 3D city model? How is the model going to be used and updated? What is the most suitable source data, available technology to capture, display and exploit the data, what are the expected production times, costs and investment returns? There are hundreds of crucial decisions on variables like these that can greatly alter the scope, usability and cost of the project. Over the last 3 years AccuCities have worked with over 180 customers on 1,400 small and medium-size 3D context models for sites all over the United Kingdom. We spoke with Milo Spisz and Brais Brenlla Ramos to find out how SketchUp helps them with all of the above!

Tell us about your background and talk us through what AccuCities does

Milo: Howdy! I am Milo, the 3D Modelling Lead at AccuCities. I have been in this industry for the past 6 years, and spent the majority of my degree working with SketchUp. 

Brais: Hi I am Brais, the Lead UE4 Developer. Accucities specialises in highly accurate 3D modelling of cities primarily in the UK from the use of advanced remote sensing technology in order to obtain high detail imagery. Our models are used by clients in a wide variety of fields such as architecture, gaming and film industries. We focus on the built environment – cities, neighbourhoods, development sites and other key areas. The end results we can produce benefit from that same degree of accuracy and end up serving a multitude of purposes. These range from helping construction companies visualise the built environment, or letting consultancies run precise analyses of their area of study. Furthermore, we also put our products together in an interactive app to let our users play around with the model and explore multiple different tools – from data overlays to real-time tools, all with the goal of empowering our clients.  

What do you love most about your job and the industry you work in?

Milo: It would have to be the idea of scale, speed and accuracy that we can produce our models, how we put it together, how everything fits so well and looks the way it should be. It’s also great to see how we can help our clients by providing them with our data. I would also say we are one of those small gears in the process that helps to build and improve the cities we live in.

Brais: This job is a great opportunity to stay up to date with the latest trends in technology, so I’d say that’s one of the things I love the most. Staying fresh in this industry also means learning something new every day, as each new technology that appears on the horizon brings benefits and challenges that we must tackle. The industry itself is great because of that – the thrill of learning something new every day, and the fulfilment that comes after achieving goals that were just impossible a bit further back.

What are your favourite kinds of projects to work on?

Milo: The favourite projects I love the most are high detail models that we produce which we call Level 4 such as Here East model as well as working on the future proposed developments of buildings – with these you get a small glimpse of what is to come in the city.  Our Level 4 models share the same high accuracy as our standard Level 3 but they are much richer in detail on the facades, working on these details can be very therapeutic for me because it takes a keen eye to make sure all the details are in the right place, size and proportion. 

Brais: Those would need to be the ones that challenge me by just the right amount – neither too daunting nor overly simplistic. It’s easy for a tech company to either fall into routine work or face insurmountable tasks, and while that is something that inevitably happens every now and then, projects that strike just the right balance have an easy time to outshine the others.

How does SketchUp fit into your workflow?

Milo: We use SketchUp to deliver the final model to our clients. Many of our clients work with SketchUp already and we provide them with our data in SKP format which enables them to use the model to further aid on their design/environmental analysis.

Talk us through the Here East project!

Milo: Here East Level 4 was a fun model to work with! So, it all starts with the references of the building – part of my job is to source all the reference material such as plans and photos of the model so that we can ensure the accuracy is on point. We then use our Level 3 high detail model which helps us initially with positioning and the proportions of the details. Then the fun part starts which is all the detail – This obviously is time consuming but with experience it becomes easier and you can plan the entire model in such a way where you can save time without sacrificing quality.

As a company your focus is on cities – London, in particular. What are the future challenges involved for the built environment for a city like London? 

Brais: London is always under construction and evolving, there is always a new development happening, where a building is being demolished and that area is being used for a new building or landscape area for the city. So, the challenge would be to keep up with these changes and we at Accucities are always updating our data to make sure our clients can get the most up to date model of London.

In regards to working on cities, the client’s requests can be for scientific research and so we need to take into consideration what the end user is and what type of data the end user will need to gather from our 3D Models. This is ever so in demand due to the environmental concerns and sustainability with increased demand of space. More clients are needing 3d Models to gather science research to deploy better methods on construction or refurb on both existing and proposed buildings within the city.

Any must have SketchUp extensions that make your life easier?

Milo: Our native London model is always geo-referenced so it’s located within the National Grid which is a universal standard within the UK for us and our clients. However, this can sometimes be problematic because the model can live very far from the 0,0,0 coordinate and this can cause some issues within some software. To solve this, we use an extension within SketchUp that “zero’s” the axis back to the model and prevents any issues with the geometries that might otherwise happen.To learn more about Accucities, visit their website.
To download a sample tile. Link:

Playing with Architecture and SketchUp – The Boano Prišmontas way

Boano Prišmontas are a London-based architectural firm, founded by Tomaso Boano and Jonas Prišmontas. The studio adopts a creative and hands-on approach as a strategic tool to propose design solutions to the contemporary world. Each project draws inspiration from myriad aspects of art, architecture, and technology. The duo’s approach to design is via a combination of play, craft, questions, investigation and challenges to both themselves and the environment around us. We spoke to them to find out how SketchUp plays a key role in their visual storytelling talents.

Boano Prišmontas are a London-based architectural firm, founded by Tomaso Boano and Jonas Prišmontas. The studio adopts a creative and hands-on approach as a strategic tool to propose design solutions to the contemporary world. Each project draws inspiration from myriad aspects of art, architecture, and technology. The duo’s approach to design is via a combination of play, craft, questions, investigation and challenges to both themselves and the environment around us. We spoke to them to find out how SketchUp plays a key role in their visual storytelling talents.

Tell us about Boano Prišmontas and what you do

Boano Prišmontas is an architectural firm and creative consultancy that deals with architecture, design, manufacturing processes and new building techniques. We focus our architectural research on self-buildable modular systems and plug-in spaces.

How you came to a career in design/architecture?

We always loved the mix between creativity and rationality, which are both essential in the architect’s work. Before starting our own practice, we worked in large-scale architectural companies for many years. At some point, we felt trapped in an ordinary office life and wanted to gain back that motivation and passion for construction and experimentation that originally triggered our interest in this field. Architecture is a diversified and somehow undefined discipline that allows you to pursue and implement your research, as well as question the way we perceive ourselves and the world around us.

How did you get started in SketchUp?

We belong to that generation of architects who, at the beginning of their formation years, embraced 3D modeling as a tool for studying spaces and representing architecture. Since the beginning, using SketchUp seemed an obvious and powerful choice, due to its instinctive simplicity and high-quality results, which enable us to clearly communicate conceptual ideas and spatial layouts.

How does SketchUp impact your work?

One of the most challenging aspects of our work is merely about “communication” and passing of information with the design team, clients, contractors, and internet audiences. SketchUp facilitates all that with immediacy and quality. It allows architectural spaces to be designed quickly and with great precision. Every detail is just one zoom-click away. SketchUp helps the designer to focus on solving all geometric relations among elements that concur to define the look and the feel of spaces.

Arch 510 – Night
The Arches Project – Vision for London
SketchUp model for The Arches Project
The Arches Project coming together

What are your most used SketchUp extensions?

We don’t use many extensions as we find the basic 3D tools more than sufficient when developing our projects. However, we really appreciate V-Ray and Enscape; delivering the highest-quality images to our clients is always essential to convey the feel and the quality of the space.

Your work portfolio is so diverse – what are your favourite kinds of projects to work on?

We are lucky to be working on a wide range of projects that are all diverse and special to us. From residential schemes to bespoke furniture, from urban design strategies to art installations and structural systems, we believe our work has to be fun and interesting – otherwise what’s the point of it all? 🙂 Our latest work The Arches Project is probably the most interesting one to us as it is still developing and scaling up. We digitally fabricated modular plywood structures to make temporary use of abandoned pocket spaces such as railway arches, undercrofts and carparks. The project, developed with Meanwhile Space, supported by the Mayor of London and the Lambeth Council, recently ranked among the 5 finalists of the Building of the Year 2020 Award by Archdaily. We are most excited working on projects that we feel are useful in some way.

You work on a range of initiatives in London. At the moment, with a saturation point for housing and living costs, do you think London can remain a hub for creative minds?

London is at the center of a radical political and social change. We always stress how granting access to creativity to anyone is truly important, and we criticize that often only privileged people are able to afford studio/workshop rents and art university fees. We believe in the power of creativity not as a mere artistic output, but as a methodology, as a way to discover and question things and processes. Our project Minima Moralia was the first attempt to launch a strategy about creating affordable spaces for creatives by making use of underused public spaces and private backyards. Since then, affordable spaces and modular systems became a constant subject in our work and design research. We often employ our creative thinking in finding ways to challenge the status quo, and we know that many other creatives in this city are doing the same, so we do believe there is hope for London!

Since the Covid-19 crisis hit, Elmtec and SketchUp UK are proud to sponsor Boano Prišmontas in a crowdfunding effort to make PPE for the NHS. If you or your company would like to further support them please visit this page. Thank you, and most of all – thank you to our NHS.

SketchUp Stories: Rainbow

Established in 1990, Rainbow have been helping companies of all sizes create engaging and inspiring office environments for their staff to thrive in. Comprised of a furniture, consultancy and services business model, Tony Antoniou, Managing Director, took some time out to talk us through their workflow and use of SketchUp.

Tell us a little bit about Rainbow and the work that you do.

Rainbow are completely independent suppliers of furniture for corporate, hospitality and educational spaces. 

These include offices predominantly, which has always been our main source of business, from large 1500+ person projects to smaller 20 person offices, helping clients through the rapidly changing workplace but also many stadiums including premiership clubs, Wembley and Twickenham, many libraries, schools, a high end membership club, cinema and a state of the art premiership club training ground.

SketchUp office design

We work directly with large corporates and SME’s, as well as helping architects/designers and fit out companies to improve work-spaces for their clients and bring everything to life.

Our company philosophy is to win clients – not projects. We want to work with companies for many years, not just a one-off project. In order to achieve this we:

  1. Always have the clients best interests in mind at all times, in every decision, suggestion and recommendation we make.
  2. Provide the highest level of service, before, during and, more importantly, after a project has been completed; on-going support and service is vital to maintaining a long term relationship.
  3. Provide competitive prices at all times, so clients have no need to look elsewhere when a requirement comes up.
  4. Provide quality products that will last.
Visualising space for modern, open-plan offices

We have many clients that we have worked with for 16+years, a couple for 20+years and one global organisation for 29 years, so we know that our philosophy works and SketchUp has been key in helping us not just maintain, but foster these relationships.

Project pitch showing multi-use office space
The same pitch from the user’s perspective. SketchUp walk-throughs are key for clients to help them visualise and realise the space before final decisions are made.
Positioning different desk arrangements rather than standard rectangular banks.

What are the benefits of using SketchUp in your design process?

SketchUp allows us to bring our ideas to life, so we can easily tweak and change them before presenting them. Clients can see these ideas and understand what their space will look like when it is complete. They can then make any changes and amendments they feel necessary in order to get it just right before they place orders.

End users really appreciate this because often we are dealing with the facilities manager who understands and can visualise what we are proposing from a standard GA plan. However, they are going to need to explain to other people in the organisation (who are not used to reading plans) what the space will eventually look like. SketchUp drawings, renders and walk-throughs are so valuable in bringing a space to life, showing the design and how it will work. Everyone is able to share in the vision.

SketchUp helps the suggestions come to life; Rainbow’s in-house team digitally recreates the office and places the products proposed into the plan, letting the client visualise how the space will look when the product goes in, giving the client confidence in their choices.

Any must have SketchUp extensions?

Make Face is vital to us because it saves a huge amount of time turning DWG files into a 3D SketchUp. This literally saves us money in man hours and is the reason we are able to turn drawings around so quickly.

Twilight Render and SU podium are also very useful because they allow us to turn the SketchUp designs into high quality and polished renders once all the changes have been made and the client is ready to sign off.

A simple render for a client office
Reception areas in offices can often be the most costly so being able to visualise it before it’s built limits expensive mistakes.

I have been in the office furniture market for 32 years now and up until 15 years ago, offices had not changed much at all. However, the changes in the office workplace over the past 15 years have been incredible.

We have helped so many of our clients understand and implement the changes, such as collaborative working areas, informal meeting spaces, presentation areas, agile working, the shrinking desk sizes, the move away from pedestals to lockers and the change towards less corporate environments – even in very corporate industries.

Lighting design in a commercial interior project

I feel that the major changes had already taken place when all of the above were introduced. However, we are still working with companies to bring a more ‘homely’ feel to the workplace. A focus kitchen area within an office is still very popular.

The changes which are coming in now are more about the people within the workplace rather than the physical workplace. It’s how organisations engage with their people and how they look after their well-being with proper programs. Rainbow always like to stay ahead of the trends and have linked up with an organisation called Yowse to carry out workplace utilisation studies. This study shows exactly how a space is used, who works with who, which departments interact, what are the busy areas, what are the quiet areas, what the actual desk occupancy is (the average is around 60%!) and then not only how many meeting rooms are in use all day, but how many people are in the meetings.

As well as the utilisation study, Yowse carry out one to one interviews with 5-10% of the people in an organisation to find out their opinions on the office, what works, what doesn’t work, what could be improved, and what the culture of the organisation is like.

Together the utilisation study and the interviews produce a complete understanding of how the workplace flows. This is powerful information and allows the creation of a dynamic and successful workplace where employees can flourish.

We’re all becoming more aware of the relationship between the design of our daily work spaces and mental health. How do you ensure balance between client budget and ensuring the work space functions aesthetically and practically?

Companies who look after their people will be the successful organisations going forward, so mental health and well-being in general is paramount.

When we plan spaces, we will always include quiet areas and spaces for private phone calls because not having these in a work place may cause stress and anxiety in people who need somewhere confidential to speak or quiet to concentrate. By providing these spaces companies are then creating areas for all types of work.

Informal meeting areas and presentation spaces away from open plan desks are also very useful because they take noisy meetings away from the main area which can be distracting.

We try to implement open kitchen areas in a workplace because it’s a space where people can mingle, chat, drink and eat. It’s generally a happy space that is well received and liked by almost everyone. Of course we try to keep it away from people working if possible, especially where concentration is required.

Office render interior
Exterior street views help bring the design to life

SketchUp allows us to use lots of detail and one of our favourite additions are plants and accessories. Bringing nature into the workplace with plants, water features and natural materials has an incredibly positive effect on people’s mental health.

Finally, as an independent supplier of furniture we can then apply product choices to the plan at different price points that will hopefully meet most budgets.

Render visualisation of a SketchUp design

Do you have a typical workflow in SketchUp?

When we initially meet with a client we will have a large print-out of the empty floor plan with us and we’ll discuss what it is they are trying to achieve, and we will suggest areas and spaces that they may not have considered. We will then establish the work patterns – how many people per department, who needs to sit near who, how much storage space each department needs, what other furniture or spaces each department requires, and finally the look and feel they are trying to create.

We will make notes throughout the discussion and suggest locations for the departments until we have enough information to draw up an initial plan. When we’re back in our office we take the DWF file, turn it into a SketchUp file and then pull up the perimeter walls of the building using photos we have taken of the area in order to create their space exactly. We then start drawing up the meeting rooms and separating the space based on our initial discussion, position furniture into the area and see how everything works. We will play with the furniture, move it around, provide a few suggestions for collaboration spaces, reception, kitchen area etc, and then present the initial ideas to the client.

This is very rarely perfect but it gives a great foundation from which we can tweak and play with in order to get the space to a point where the client is totally happy. We can then look at colours and finishes and once these have been chosen, we will complete a detailed render of the space.

Bespoke coffee table and bespoke sofa for a reception area

Do you collaborate with your suppliers using SketchUp?

Early on in our SketchUp days, the manufacturers we worked with did not have their products listed in the SketchUp 3D Warehouse so we made lots of them up for our own use but put them into the 3D Warehouse for others to benefit from too. Most of them have been used hundreds, if not thousands of times now.

Now though, manufacturers can see the value in putting their products into a SketchUp file and we very rarely have to make them up. It makes our job a lot easier. It does make sense for manufacturers to do this as it encourages people to use their items.

Rainbow worked with Gensler design, Overbury, & Savills to deliver a fantastic new HQ for the Press Association.

Can you share the details of some of the projects that you are most proud of?

For a small organisation I am extremely proud of all the projects we have worked on. Of course, the large corporate projects have been excellent and really help us in becoming recognised outside of our industry but the SME projects are also really gratifying too. With these ventures, we are often working with business owners, so we can take our experience to them and deliver a project that makes a huge difference to them personally and their business, providing them a work environment they are proud of.

From our large corporates, I was very proud of the Barnardos Head Office project as there were so many factors to take into consideration. They did not have a huge budget because they are a charity, yet at the same time they needed a new workplace to attract new members of staff. They also had a large number of more mature employees and needed a space that catered for these as well as attracting younger team members. On this project we worked with their in-house designer, Naomi Allen, transforming her designs into 3D renders so that everyone at Barnardos could see and share the vision.

The Financial Times – Bracken House was a personal favourite of mine as I have looked after them personally for 29 years, so to be able to supply the furniture for their return to Bracken House was amazing.

The Press Association is a client Rainbow have looked after for over 20 years, so to be selected as the provider for their new office was wonderful. Gensler were the architect on this and did a fantastic job.

At Rainbow we are proud of all our projects, regardless of the client or project size.

To learn more about Rainbow visit their website, or follow them on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook,YouTube and LinkedIn

SketchUp Stories: Voigt Architects Limited

Jonathan Reeve is a chartered architect for the award winning Voigt Architects Limited in Arbroath, a small Chartered Architectural practice in Scotland. Originally from Northern Ireland, Jonathan studied Architecture at the Duncan of Jordanstown College of Art in Dundee, graduating in 2003. Having worked on wide range of projects from tiny balconies to multi-million pound housing developments, Jonathan is currently specialising in bespoke house extensions and private houses.

Having used SketchUp for over 15 years, Jonathan took some time to speak with us about how integral the software is to his work, his thoughts on architecture, and his favourite design projects.

New Distillery Visitor Centre, Angus
The design is a modern standing seam pitched roof to replicate the existing agricultural buildings of the existing distillery and nearby farm.
Aerial view of Disillery Visitor Centre
The ground floor contains a new entrance/reception with a small exhibition space, shop and café. The upper floor contains a private VIP bar overlooking the distillery. Large glazed frontage allow the café and bar occupants to enjoy views across the Angus hills to the sea.
SketchUp interior design for a new Visitor Centre for the hugely successful Arbikie Distillery near Montrose.

Hi Jonathan. Tell us a little bit about Voigt Architects Limited and the work that you do.

What I love the most is the sheer variety of projects we undertake – from small to very large.

I really enjoy small extensions, and private one off houses are my favourite projects. Houses are so personal: it is someone’s life, their home, their ‘castle.’ I strive to produce good design, and seeing your creation built well makes a happy architect!

Private residential design
Interior view of a residential design

How did you get into architecture?

I wanted to be an architect ever since I was a child, from my ever growing obsession for Lego and creating/building things.

Architects are often seen as paper pushers or builder’s agents but making
buildings is a creative design process: Design always starts by hand (sketches). One of my favourite quotes from a tutor whilst studying architecture was to ‘keep buildings simple – you should be able to
sketch your design in 10 seconds using 10 lines.’

What are the benefits of using SketchUp in your design process?

I have used SketchUp for over 15 years now and love that it is so simple and quick to produce 3D models. These days so many people do not understand architectural drawings such as plans, sections etc, so being able to communicate your ideas in 3D is essential to our clients.

Arbikie Distillery New Visitor Centre Animation walk through
Arbroath Flats
The design is contemporary using a mix of natural stone, slate and timber cladding, with extended gables and dormer windows expressed on the main south elevation adding to the character of the building.

Do your have a typical workflow in SketchUp? What happens to the SketchUp model once the concept is approved?

Our typical workflow for most projects consists of producing a SketchUp model of the building (and often the site) as a key design tool, and one to present to the client at the initial stage.
Thereafter the SketchUp model will help in the design development and be used in the main planning drawings and application. Usually it then finishes when we develop the construction drawings but often the SketchUp model is used to check, test, and visualise technical elements and issues. It’s incredibly useful for our technical staff to check the construction drawings against the original design intent.

Private residential extension design concept
Interior view residential extension design

Do you collaborate with your customers using SketchUp?

I love producing 3D models to show clients inside their building before it is made. This had led to us dipping into animations and walkthroughs, and has really helped us not only sell our ideas but help our clients sell their houses/flats etc. A lot of our projects on our website now incorporate the 3D
animations alongside the 3Ds and photos of the building.

We often collaborate with our clients via the SketchUp model, and have sent out the 3D model for them to navigate and spin around at home using the SketchUp viewer. Domestic clients especially love this – being able to walk around and show off their new home to family and friends.

SketchUp aerial view of a church concept design
Church view 3D section
Church view: main hall interior

Can you share the details of some of the projects that you are most proud of?

One of the projects I am most proud of is the Leaf Room at Ninewells Hospital, The project was won following a national 2-Stage Architecture Competition to design a garden room at the hospital. It was a special one for me personally as I live very close to the site and my wife works at the hospital so it is a real community project. For such a small, humble project with a very low budget, it has been fortunate to pick up a few further architectural awards and in 2018 won the Scottish Civic Trust ‘Best Public Space in Scotland.’

Leaf Room: aerial image in SketchUp
The leaf room is inspired from a natural form of a folded leaf – using a green roof overhanging a rectangular shaped timber box underneath functioning as: living room, garden retreat, community room, and educational training facility.
Leaf Room: Panorama in SketchUp
The building is extremely environmentally conscious being constructed primarily in Natural Scottish Timber, and will be uniquely 100% off grid: with no mains service connections, no electricity requirements, a wood burning stove and rainwater harvesting from the roof to help water the garden. The building sits comfortably in the garden space it occupies, creating a strong link between building and the excellent community garden.
The SketchUp 3D image compared to its final realised design

If you weren’t an architect for a profession, what would you be doing instead?

When I was at school I worked in a graphic design studio as a school summer job and often thought of pursuing this if architecture didn’t work out for me. Thankfully I get to use my graphic design skills in architecture.

To learn more about Voigt Architects Limited, visit their website.

Building Futures: The ToolShed and SketchUp

As the construction industry faces a skills shortage with millennial’s turning their back on the many diverse roles within the industry, what is our current educational system doing to help young people whose learning needs don’t fit the prescribed system?

ToolShed students and staff on site, putting SketchUp into practice.

ToolShed is the brainchild of David Lett and John Evans. They have spent the last 10 years developing programmes to help young people find their why. With their backgrounds in counselling and psychology they have enabled young people from all walks of life to make sense of the world around them and their place within it.

In the last three years, ToolShed have helped over 80 young people start a career in construction.  Over 85% of graduates have progressed into work and/or further training. Students have come from varied backgrounds and they had all left school with few to no qualifications.

David and I spoke at length about ToolShed, education, construction and how SketchUp has helped their social enterprise.

I believe that at least 10% (potentially 15%) of young people in every secondary school year group (7 to 11) do not suit a large, “mass delivery” education system. Worse still, this system directly shapes a negative, disaffected, disengaged and disruptive behaviour pattern that causes 90% of the issues in any given state school.

David Lett, Co-founder & Operations Director of ToolShed

Graduates leave the ToolShed with positive attitudes and a drive to make their own living. This doesn’t happen by chance and is very much down to a positive reinforcement model – focusing 75% of the time rewarding positive behaviours versus punishing poor or disruptive behaviours.

SketchUp Beattie Passive design
Construction work for Beattie Passive
SketchUp modelling for Beattie Passive project

For young people who have struggled in the traditional educational system, the use of SketchUp at ToolShed has been key in illustrating concepts for construction in an intuitive, easy and fun format. With a tablet always onsite for construction projects, SketchUp is vital for 3D visualisation and communication of how potential projects can be completed. Furthermore, the use of SketchUp, allows the students to visualise both the creative concept and the practical elements of a career in the construction industry.

The ToolShed Works service was started in April 2016 and since that time has sent over 500 invoices for projects completed (decorating, grass verge maintenance, carpentry, garden makeovers, refurbishments, kitchen and bathroom refits, paving, etc). ToolShed Works now employees 9 people and the aim is to double that number in the next 12 months. All profits from the Works service are channelled into the training service, very much promoting a “profit with purpose” commercial ethos.  

ToolShed team on site

Opportunities within the construction industry are huge and diverse. The ToolShed has capitalised on attracting young people with a natural inclination to work practically and to think about their future in a different way. SketchUp is proud to be part of the process.

Find out more about ToolShed here.

Follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

To find out more about non-profit SketchUp licenses and how they could benefit you, drop us an email or give us a call: / 01844 263750.

SketchUp Stories: Ben Cunliffe Architects

Based in the Lake District National Park, Ben Cunliffe Architects design innovative, elegant, sustainable architecture. Established in 2001, the company has brought together a talented team of architects and designers who endeavour to make design and construction extremely environmentally conscious and fully aware of the carbon footprint a new build can create. They are at the forefront of creating low energy sustainable buildings which incorporate a wide range of green technologies – from solar, bio-fuel and ground source air source in their schemes to self-contained waste systems and reed bed filtration systems.
We chatted with Ed, one of the designers and technicians at Ben Cunliffe, about sustainable construction, how SketchUp staves off repetitive strain injury, and the important issue of whether he’d rather live in a house in the forest or a house by the beach.
Lake District Boathouse

Hi Ed! Can you introduce yourself and your team to the SketchUp community?

My name is Ed Newcome and I’m a designer and technician with Ben Cunliffe Architects. We’re a mid-sized, award-winning architectural practice based in the south Lake District. Our projects are predominantly residential or small commercial, and all are highly bespoke and individual, with project costs in the region of £200,000 to a bit over £1 million.

How did your team get going with SketchUp – and why SketchUp?

We have always used SketchUp for visualising projects in 3D to clients. We love the speed and ease with which SketchUp can bring our ideas to life, and we find it an invaluable aid to communication with clients, planners, builders, engineers, joiners and other trades. We have a large TV on the wall in the office and we frequently take clients on a tour around the project using that. Clients will often comment on the designs and we can make alterations as we go to experiment with different ideas.

What does your typical design workflow look like?

Typically, the concept designs will be outlined on tracing paper by Ben Cunliffe. We then take the designs into SketchUp to develop the design and to illustrate the ideas to the clients. Once we have agreement on a scheme, we produce planning drawings with Layout. .

Lake District Residential

How important is the sustainability aspect to Ben Cunliffe Architects? What are the challenges for environmentally conscientious design and construction?

As a practice, BCA is strongly led by environmental principles and sustainability. As a lot of the houses we work on are old, historic houses, it can be difficult to implement modern technologies and standards, but we do our best to deliver efficient, high performing and environmentally sound buildings. Most of our projects incorporate renewable technologies, and some of the new houses we’ve designed have been built using SIP panels.

What about your own dream house? City dweller, beach, forest?

Personally, I like the mountains, so I’d love the opportunity to design a spacious pad deep and high in the hills. There have been some fantastic modern chalet projects in the European alps in recent years. Being able to ski from the door in the winter would definitely be a bonus too!

Lake District Kitchen Residential

What’s been the most challenging/proudest piece of work you’ve produced?

Every project has its own particular challenges as each building and site we work on is totally unique. From a SketchUp perspective, on a recent job we had all the contractors querying how a particularly awkward roof structure was going to go together, incorporating steel, oak purlins and timber rafters. It was great to be able to work this all together in 3D, which put everyone clearly in the picture!

Are there any plug-ins that you’d consider absolutely essential?

Solid inspector, 1001 bit tools, Mirror, Follow push pull – to name but a few.

Any keyboard shortcuts you couldn’t live without?

All my keyboard shortcuts are assigned over to the left hand side of the keyboard so I don’t have to move my hand around while I work. (Prolonging the onset of RSI and speeding up the workflow). I use shortcuts for every single tool as far as possible, with others mapped to the extra buttons on the mouse. (I have a 9 button mouse for modelling).

Lake District Property

Finally, in a parallel universe, if you weren’t doing what you do for a living now, what would you choose? 

If I hadn’t got into architecture I would probably still be doing various dead-end jobs and puzzling over how to earn enough money to pursue my hobbies and sports while doing very little work at all. I’m not sure this actually exists in reality, but luckily I love what I do now so it’s a less pressing concern.  

To view more of Ben Cunliffe Architect’s work head to their webite, follow them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Houzz.
Ben Cunliffe Architects were introduced to us via UK reseller TCS CAD & BIM Solutions. One of the main benefits of purchasing through a local reseller is to take advantage of their product expertise and training.

SketchUp Stories: Paul Hensey

Based in West Sussex, Paul Hensey designs and manages landscapes and garden schemes throughout the South of England and works on location for projects further afield. A frequent exhibitor at several RHS Shows he has won gold and best in show. His work includes intimate back yards, roof terraces through to large country estates and woodland burial sites. If that wasn’t enough, Paul also lectures on design and is a SketchUp evangelist. He’s also a published author and contributes to several trade journals and magazines.
Yep, Paul is one very busy chap, so we were thrilled to be able to catch up with him to chat about design, data visualisation, and the importance of LayOut.


‘Courtyard for corporate offices’: Oct ’17

Hi Paul, thanks for taking time out of your schedule to chat with me! Can you introduce yourself/your team to the SketchUp community?

From the earliest age, I took things to pieces. It’s not until recently that I have learned how to put them back together again. I created frequent and unexpected expenses for my parents when they had to replace objects and gadgets that I’d promised only needed a small adjustment or cleaning. I recall the realisation that everything around us is the product of someone’s ingenuity and thought process and I wanted to be one of those decision makers.

I trained as an Industrial Designer. It was a few years before the introduction of CAD so the drawing board was my home for the first several years of my career. CAD was pretty much created to help Industrial design and so it’s something I’ve used continuously from the early 90’s. I moved jobs and countries in the late 90’s and I had the opportunity to slip into designing both the objects and the landscapes that they sit in. Garden and landscape design was a career that I hadn’t heard much about –  but it quickly dominated what I did – and it has proven to be endlessly rewarding.

So, why choose SketchUp?

Whilst I’ve used most CAD systems on the market, when it’s your own small business, the priorities and justifications are different. Seats of the CAD software I was familiar with were beyond our ability to fund in the early days so we needed an alternative. I picked up SketchUp around 2005, shortly before Google acquired it. It didn’t do everything I wanted, but with some perseverance it got me most of the way when I was designing outside spaces. Something I learned, as an Industrial Designer, was that you should only use one CAD application, appreciate its strengths and weakness. Using more than one dilutes the time and effort you can devote to practice and will always be a compromise. If you know how your tools operate you can work around most problems. SketchUp (Pro) has developed enormously as a tool. In the early days it lacked drafting functions, but now I able to undertake the entire workflow of a project on it. I still have a flare of excitement when I open the software, wondering where I’ll be going today and what I’ll learn. Isn’t that the essence of a good product?

I also teach SketchUp, either in colleges or at my studio. Many designers are either new to CAD or are looking for something that is perhaps more intuitive to an occasional user. It’s always satisfying to see complete beginners develop from ignorance through to getting an idea from their mind realised as a 3D structure all within the space of one day.

‘Volumetric model for a natural swimming pool’: July ’18

Do you tend to have a typical workflow?

Something that attracted me to garden and landscape design was that almost everything I designed was built. Unlike Industrial design where you might design 100 things and see only a few reach fruition. And unlike Industrial design, where the designer is somewhat detached from the end users, I get to know everyone I have designed a garden, landscape or water feature for. It adds a burden of responsibility but, on the flip side, it generates the most sincere sense of satisfaction.

Whilst no two projects are alike they usually follow a common workflow. I take the initial survey of the landscape, whether as a 2D drawing or, more frequently, as a digital map or set of cloud points, and generate a 3D model of the terrain. Typically this takes a day. Survey data is rarely created with the intention of it being used to create 3D maps, so there is often a lot of cleaning up. Sometimes I start developing ideas for a space directly in SketchUp, working directly in 3D, however there is little to beat the thrill of a 6B pencil and a sketch book in a project’s early stages. When I have a few ideas that I’m happy with I record them as Jpegs (scan or simply photograph) and import them. Setting the scale of the imported sketch and within a few minutes the ideas are turned into 3D.

I usually give a client a few different options. I make the images presented to a client in the early stages a little ‘loose’. I’ve found being too realistic locks down the design down too quickly and clients can interpret this as being more finalised when,in reality, the design process is only just beginning. A water colour filter is a quick and easy way to soften the SketchUp outputs, whether through Photoshop or stand alone software such as Sketcher. When the design has been agreed with the client, then the detailing can be worked out. This always requires a new Master model (the early ones tend to be built quickly and don’t lend themselves to being used for the detailed stages). Every material junction and interface is detailed as a mini-assembly, usually within a single model. I model every element, from paving slabs to wall ties. It may seem a large undertaking but once modelled they are available as parts in every future project. Probably half of my time in the detailing stage is spent setting up scenes and sending them to be pasted together as construction and fabrication drawings in LayOut. I love the detailed construction design process so much that I now support the creative process of many other designers, sculptors and structural engineers, translating their ideas into realistic details with all of the supporting models and documents.

Would you say that there is one particular functionality you’re glad SketchUp has?

It’s definitely the automatic update of elevations in LayOut when the master model changes. Having individual components assembled into details means that when scenes are created, cross sections and elevations will show the true relationship and outline of those parts. This takes time to model, but when, not if, the design changes for, say, paved areas, wall lengths, water feature hydraulic systems etc its very simple to move or edit components knowing the drawings are taking care of themselves. Coming from a drawing board I still delight in seeing all the drawings in Layout update in line with the model changes.

‘Private garden for a client’: Currently under development

Any there any plugins you find essential for your work?

JHS powerbar: free. It’s a collection of some of the best plugins around. I use the pipe generator a lot for water hydraulic schematics. Anything by Fredo6 is worth having. A very simple plugin is DzConvert to construction linedz by Daiku (Extension Warehouse). It will convert finite line lengths (inc curves) into construction lines/ guides. Very useful for aligning organic shapes/ pipes and assembly drawings.

‘Construction detailing for retaining structures’: Ongoing library of details

Tough question, but is there one project you’re especially proud of?

The best projects are invariably those that push my own skills and use of the software but are not necessarily very glamorous. I design a lot of water features and natural swimming ponds. These are very organic in shape. It took some patience and practice to learn how to model then so that information, such as surface area and water volumes in different zones could be made visible in the entity information. This is used to specify the correct hydraulic systems, so is critical.

Favourite keyboard short cut?

Space bar and Cmd-Z (Ctl-Z on PCs)

Finally, what would you do if you weren’t designing gardens?

I evolved into garden design from industrial design. The process is very similar, solving special problems and communicating ideas and instructions through drawings and models. I do have a fascination with data visualisation. I can imagine loosing days creating compelling diagrams and graphics.

See more of Paul’s work on Twitter and at Green Zone Design.

SketchUp Stories: Gintare Sidaraviciute

Gintare Sidaraviciute

Gintare Sidaraviciute is an award-winning Interior Architectural Designer / 3D Visualizer with a recent First Class Degree Honours from Southampton Solent University. With a wealth of international experience in interior design, 3D rendering, plus scooping up a raft of awards, Gintare has now focused her talents on the 3D visualization market. We spoke with her about winning accolades, having afternoon tea in the House of Lords, and how she turned her passion into a career.

Hi Gintare – First things first – You have the coolest name in the world. Now we have that out of the way, can you introduce yourself/your team to the SketchUp community?

Haha, thank you! It’s not the easiest spelling and pronunciation! I’m an Interior Designer / 3D visualizer. I graduated with first class degree honours from Southampton Solent University in 2016. In the Final Year Show Exhibition 2016 (which was held by my university SSU to exhibit all students’ final works from design courses) I received The SBID (The Society of British and International Design) Award for my final year project – Durdle Door Resort in the category of sustainable innovation and interior design. My project was awarded as the best out of 62 universities across England. In November 2016 I was invited to attend afternoon tea in House of Lords, London where I received my award. A year after that I was nominated and announced winner as NAS (National Association of Shopfitters and Interior Contractors) Young Designer of the Year 2017.

I worked as freelancer and did internships and I found that companies were actually more interested in my visualisation skills and that is where the whole idea was born – to set up my own 3D Visualisation business. It was a bit scary to take the first step but I did that and never looked back and it was the greatest thing I ever did. I now have some amazing clients (internationally and home) and I get to create absolutely amazing projects. I have some really fascinating projects that I am working at the moment. I can’t wait to share them all with you!

How did you get going with SketchUp and why SketchUp?

I was introduced to Sketchup in my first year of university and I was instantly hooked. Even though it was my very first time using Sketchup, I found it so easy and user-friendly. I remember going home after lectures and spending my evenings trying to learn more. My first project was quite simple but when I was creating my second project I had so many questions to lecturers that (funnily enough) even they didn’t have all the answers for. Of course, all the problems that I had back then now seem so silly and easy. However, I did get a 1st on my second project which was so encouraging and it inspired me to go even further with my SketchUp learning. Now, after 5 years of using Sketchup I have learned so much and still love working with it.


Girls Bedroom

You won the SBID (The Society of British and International Design)  for your final year project – Congrats! What doors did that open up for you?

Thank you! Winning The SBID award was an absolutely amazing experience. I worked really hard on my final year project and I was really honoured to receive the award. But I would be lying if I said that it opened a lot of doors to the interior design industry. I had to work as hard as anybody else in my interviews and jobs. The great thing about it was that I got some good contacts and had the opportunity to attend some helpful networking events where I met many brilliant interior designers.

What does your typical design workflow look like?

Every week is different and every day comes with new challenges. I have weeks where I work on multiple projects at once and I have weeks where I work on one project. Having clients from Australia to USA and working with different time zones can make my work day up to 16 – 18 hours, but the time flies because I do what I love.

Is there a piece of work you’re most proud of – or one that was most challenging/interesting?

Every project that I do I feel more and more confident with my SketchUp skills. And my last project always feels like the best work but then the next comes and I feel like I improved even more. I think my proudest pieces are still to come which makes everything so exciting.



What’s the one functionality you’re glad SketchUp has?

Components and groups. I just don’t know how I would live without them – it makes my workflow so much smoother.

Definitely. That would be my #1 rule – if you’re going to use something more than once in a model, make a Component of it! What about keyboard shortcuts – any you can’t live without?

The great thing about SketchUp is that I can make shortcuts myself and I did to quite a few of them. However, my most used are C (circle), L (line), R (rectangle), S (resize) and Ctlr+F (follow me).

Are there any essential plugins that you use?

V-Ray is my number one plugin. But there are quite a few other plugins that I often use and could not live without  – Round Corner, Curviloft, Artisan, ThruPaint, Soap Skin and Bubble are all in frequent rotation. 


Master Office

Finally, If you weren’t doing what you do for a living now, what would you be doing instead?

Before starting in the interior design industry, I loved taking photos. I was part of a Photography Club and loved every minute of it. All of us were going on trips and making amazing photos. A few of my photos were even exhibited in a Café. It was a proud moment. But if not interior design I would definitely still be doing something creative. Maybe I would be a travel blogger – I even thought about being a hairdresser. But all those hobbies (as I refer to them now) have eventually faded away once I started in the Interior Design Industry. I have so much passion for what I do now – it’s so much stronger than any of my other hobbies. I read a quote once saying, ‘It’s a beautiful thing when a career and a passion come together’ and I feel exceptionally lucky to get to spend all my time doing what I love.

See more of Gintare’s work at

Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and on Facebook.

About Elmtec

Elmtec have been the UK distribution partner for SketchUp since 2010, and service a network of UK and Irish resellers. We have over 22 years’ experience within the digital design community.

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