SketchUp

This software is the opposite of CAD— Computer Aided Design— which is detail-driven. SketchUp gives you total flexibility messing with the FINAL look of something. You work directly with the vision you have, learn what’s wrong or right with it, and keep trying variations or starting down new tracks.

You can flick details in and out. How about a corrugated steel roof on the house? No, try standing-seam metal, um, in red. Not bad. Could the pitch of the roof be steeper? That’s better. Where should the chimney go? Here on the peak? No, put it over the wall corner for a corner fireplace. Going inside, how would a kiva fireplace look in that corner? It would be better if it was bigger, like that. Plop a couch in there for scale. Better move the doorway over a bit. Yeah that’s good enough for now.

I came to this program because I was designing a house I want to build, and I could NOT draw a convincing hip roof. Suddenly with SketchUp I was drawing the whole house, and a basement, trees, and an adjoining building and visualizing the whole site with textured surfaces, in wireframe, in X-ray, with sun shadows, at night with lights on, in walk-through mode. I tried a clerestory my wife fancies and found that it probably wouldn’t work with this design. I tried a house based on an existing barn’s dimensions and found that wouldn’t work either.

Check out the longer feature-tour video. That’s what sold me. This is one powerful program, shockingly intuitive to use. It works for a lot more than buildings— landscapes, worlds. Video game designers use it. Architects use it but don’t let their clients touch it for fear of being replaced. There’s a whole online community of people creating new downloadable components and textures for it— humans, pets, kitchen sinks, cappuccino machines, beds, wallpapers, stones, masonries, cars, trees, fences, doors…

The full version, SketchUp Pro 5*, costs $495. It’s a bargain. Works on Macs and PCs.

–Stewart Brand

SketchUp is unbelievably good. It’s everything software *should* be, but isn’t: intuitive, productive, stable, and fun. Using a remarkable technology they call “inferencing,” SketchUp has an uncanny ability to figure out which direction you wish to draw; using “locking,” you can fix that direction and then reference it to other points in the model.

My productivity is skyrocketing. My ability to freely experiment with designs without punishing amounts of rework, and the sheer thrill of seeing what I’m imagining quickly and precisely come to fruition, has me raving to all and sundry about this great product. There’s an eight-hour demo available. The product is pricey, but if you do any sort of commercial work, I swear it is going to pay for itself within days. It is simply that good.

– David Priest

SketchUp Pro7(*Now v.7)
$495

Google SketchUp
Free