Lately, I have been hearing a lot of people ask, “Why are we still using SketchUp when we have Revit and it can do the same thing?”
To understand this issue more, we need to look at each software platform and its inherent capabilities.
SketchUp is essentially a down-and-dirty digital sketch program. It’s light and nimble and the user interface is very simplistic and straightforward. Everything about SketchUp is designed for quick creativity. After only a few hours of training, most designers (and most children for that matter) are up and running. SketchUp is ideally suited for modeling a concept and studying multiple options quickly. It is a wonderful design tool because it allows the designer to think on the fly and to create almost as fast as they can imagine. However, SketchUp falls short when it comes to being a true production workhorse (probably because it was never designed to be one in the first place). With its companion software, Layout, you can produce some very compelling working drawings. However, this tool does not have the depth and capabilities required to tackle a large commercial project.
Revit on the other hand IS a production workhorse. It is designed with the intention of fully managing all aspects of the BIM production process. With its vast array of modeling options and associated database tools, Revit can manage almost anything BIM related with ease. It thrives on information and does a stellar job of collecting and organizing the entire workflow… with one exception: design. Unfortunately, Revit is just not optimized for design like SketchUp is. Its proponents say it is, and say it can be used “like SketchUp,” but in practice, it really just does not handle the modeling process in the same way. It is inherently too complex compared to the very simple modeling process of SketchUp.
Thinking back to my Army days as an M1A1 Abrams tank gunner, I knew that the horsepower and firepower I was in control of was designed for a vastly different purpose than say the infantry soldier and his trusty M-16 rifle. Both could bring it to the enemy, but in very different ways with very different strategies and results. Each one certainly has its place on the battlefield, and when they work together, the results can be devastating to those that oppose.
Revit (the Abrams tank) and SketchUp (the M-16 rifle) are in the same boat. They each have a solid place in the architectural world, and when used for tasks they excel at, the results can be amazing.
Critics of SketchUp say it’s not smart enough and that it does not translate directly to the Revit workflow. I ask those individuals one question: has the architectural sketch ever translated directly to any workflow, digital or not?
It’s funny that in my paper sketching days I never experienced even one person complain to me that my sketch was not translating directly to our CAD software! It was a given that an individual on the project team was going to have to dive in, study the concept and figure out a viable way to make it a reality. Isn’t that why architects and designers become architects and designers in the first place? I don’t know about you, but I LOVE the creative problem solving process. I want to work in architecture, and I want to spend my time figuring out the details of a project.
Maybe one day in the future the wonderful folks at Autodesk will create a version of Revit that adequately addresses the needs of the schematic design phase and provides a SketchUp-like experience. I’m honestly shocked that it has not happened already. Until that happens, like it or not, the SketchUp/ Revit hybrid is going to dominate our design process. Rather than fight it and try to insist that one or the other wins, we really need to find a viable way of having these two platforms coexist, and better still, work together for the greater good.