Beyond Final Renderings; Using 3d Modeling Software to Design

3d digital modeling all harkens back to Legos for me. No, not the fancy preset kits of today’s Legos with specialized parts to build one specific model, but that big bin full of assorted blocks ranging from the easy to lose 1x1's to the bulky 2x8's. That bin of Legos contained all the possibilities in the world and simultaneously, nothing. The Legos weren’t anything tangible until you put something together. They didn’t have life or tell a story until you crafted them into one. The way we create and design using 3d modeling software in Architecture today is no different.

THINKING IN THREE DIMENSIONS

Legos were how I got my real start and passion for architectural design, not 2d drawings. Even early in my architectural education, it was the abstract museum board and basswood models that made sense to my mind. Architecture was three-dimensional and longed to exist in that form, first and foremost. Documentation could come later. I am certainly not discounting the importance and art of two-dimensional representation. Architectural 2d drawings can succinctly convey detailed information and they can be spectacularly beautiful works of art. They can hint at depth, feel and experience. But they will always be two-dimensional, no matter how artfully crafted.

CREATING IN THREE DIMENSIONS

This is where digital modeling comes in. The great thing about creating versus just presenting in digital 3d is the fact that it is how designers inherently think. And of course, it is the ideal final output for most architectural designs. Every architectural designer dreams of having the abstract creation from their mind become something tangible in the real world, in all real world dimensions. 3d digital modeling as a design tool can be flexible and fast. Just like a sculptor with clay, when you are proficient and comfortable in a modeling program even a seemingly complete rendering isn’t set in stone. Initial concepts can easily morph, change and grow as the design reveals itself.

This skill can be incredibly valuable in the early phases of a project, allowing architectural concepts to evolve alongside budgets, client preferences, consultant information, etc, all from day one. It is generally simple to quickly test drive different designs ideas, layouts, options, materials, and phasing. The only thing limiting the speed of ideas is how quick you are with a mouse.

LET’S INVOLVE THE CLIENT

Thinking and designing in a 3d modeling program from the beginning of a project is not just advantageous to us as designers. It can be a powerful tool from a client-perspective as well. Digital 3d modeling allows you to easily convey ideas to clients early on in the process. Often with renovation or expansion projects, the first step we take at WORTHGROUP Architects & Designers is to model up the existing facility and site. Even a simple 3d fly-around of an existing building can give context to the client, helping them to make tangible connections between the digital and real world. It becomes so much easier for clients to envision new design concepts in a medium that is familiar and contextual to them. Introducing 3d modeling early on sets the stage for more comprehensive design discussions for the entirety of the project. Another great benefit of 3d modeling is the opportunity for design charette modeling on the fly. This can cut back on time and design miscommunication when the client can see changes occurring in real time right in front of them. Design becomes instantaneously more collaborative and, dare I say it, fun for all?

WHEN CLAY BECOMES BRICK

3d digital modeling isn’t just useful for the initial design phases. Having the bulk of preliminary design work already modeled up can assist in the transition from design development to construction documents as well. Every 3d modeling program I have encountered offers export options to mediums used for document production, be it Autocad, Revit or another program. Sometimes "sketch" models need a bit of refinement before going into production renderings and animation, but the bulk of the modeling work has already occurred as a natural part of the design process. When construction document information springs directly from the design created in correlation with the client, everyone wins. Design intent is retained. Client expectations are met. Time is saved in production, editing and coordination.

A DIGITAL BIN OF LEGOS

Whether it be in the simple style of SketchUp, or in my personal favorite 3DS Max, 3d modeling isn't a tool that should be relegated only to the presentation phase of architectural design. It is useful to all parties; designers, production team, consultants, and most importantly, the client. When you utilize 3d modeling throughout the entire design process, it introduces a powerful communication tool from the start that can save time, money and minimize miscommunication. It can liberate design from the constraints of two dimensions and allow the imagination to roam, inspiring innovative solutions. It can be your best friend if you give it a chance. What designers are attempting to do in most architectural projects is make a powerful and positive impact on the real, 3d built environment. Shouldn’t we be thinking and creating in three-dimensions from the very start?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

With a Masters of Architecture from Montana State University and a post-professional Master of Science in Architecture from Pratt Institute in New York, Marit’s diverse background combines cutting-edge digital techniques with a strong foundation in place-specific concepts. She utilizes technology to develop, model and animate project designs, using digital techniques as an integral part of the design process as well as a means of presentation.