03 March 2008

Google does architecture. Brace yourself.

Virtually all architecture and design is drawn on a computer any more. A couple of us can still render by hand, but I would hate to have to rely on my hand drawings to make a living. Hand renderings take a long time to produce and editing them means starting over. That's bad. Although they are pretty and I consider them to be art. But that's just me.

About 20 years ago; the worlds of drafting, design and architecture started to adopt AUTO-CAD (Computer-Aided Drafting) and other CAD-based drawing programs. AUTO CAD and its derivatives changed an industry and allowed creative professionals a means to experiment with shapes and sizes in a virtual environment. Contemporary CAD programs allow one to draw in two dimensions and then preview in three dimensions. CAD has a pretty steep learning curve and as professional software, a pretty hefty price tag. For the last 20 years, the several thousand dollar price tag and learning curve have functioned as a pretty effective barrier to entry. However, something landed on my desk a couple of weeks ago that's going to change all of that.

My dear friends at Google have rolled out a new software product called Sketch Up. Sketch Up comes in two versions; a free one for household use and a professional version that costs $500. It's not only reasonably priced, it works better than what we use now.

The world of Interior Design and Kitchen Design in particular are held captive by a irritating piece of CAD-based software called 20/20 that has a lock on the industry. I know of no one who uses it for any reason other than that they have to. 20/20 is as cumbersome as it is unstable and that's being kind. Since the company who makes it has no competition, they never need to improve it. About the only thing I trust it to do is crash unexpectedly. An architectural drawing program that can't add and subtract reliably is a problem waiting for a solution. An entire profession that ready to rise up in revolution is a market waiting for someone to come to the rescue.

Enter Google and Sketch Up. I downloaded it a couple of weeks ago and have been playing around with it since. It rethinks a lot of the ways that CAD works and streamlines the process of creating a rendering. Even though it's streamlining the process, it's not cutting any corners. I cannot get over the level of control left in the hands of the operator.

The biggest difference between Sketch Up and CAD is that you draw in three dimensions in Sketch Up. This takes a little getting used to when you're accustomed to drawing in two dimensions. But man, is it cool or what? It can pull off a rendering so quickly it makes my head spin. I whipped out this bathroom in about two minutes this morning. It's basic of course, but I was trying to make a point. Drawing the same bathroom in 20/20 would have taken a half an hour.

Changing that bathroom to a living room with a different color scheme took a whopping four minutes. The same change would have taken another half hour in 20/20 not including re-boot time, because an operation like that would have made it crash at least once. Sketch Up is amazing.

The home version will allow you to draw architectural renderings, or package designs or make art. It will also enable you to draw a building and then insert it in your copy of Google Earth. Astounding!

Go get your own copy!


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