Revit vs. SketchUp

Welcome to Design Under Influence.  Today’s discussion is concerning Revit and SketchUp and why you may need one or the other to complete your project.   

What are some of the intricacies of the Revit and SketchUp platforms?

A lot of people are familiar with these tools to some extent, and some are using them heavily. Autodesk owns Revit and Trimble owns SketchUp.  Because Revit is owned by Autodesk, it also integrates with AutoCAD and other Autodesk tools.  SketchUp and Trimble have a whole suite of their own tools.  There are great reasons to look at these two tools in a competing fashion.  

SketchUp is easy to learn and extremely powerful at created iterative design. SketchUp can assist in creating lots of different iterations of a particular portion of a building or the entire facility itself.  Speed is SketchUp’s number one capability.  It is what drives people to it. 

Revit, on the other hand, is an incredibly powerful and more complex tool.  While it is not known for its quick speed, it is a database-driven design software, allowing you to work from the early stage of design all the way to the end of construction.  Because it is an all-in-one tool, each one of those different phases may have some suffer from slight disadvantages in terms of speed or efficiency.   

In comparison, SketchUp is a much more specialized toolset than Revit.  One comparison may be using a Swiss Army knife vs. a specialized knife for scaling fish.  You could certainly use a Swiss Army knife to complete the job but using a specialized knife instead may prevent you from covering your kitchen in fish scales.   

Breakdown of the design cycle:  choosing the right tool for each step. 

In considering the strengths of these tools, regarding conceptual or schematic design and design development reconstruction documents, SketchUp is very nimble and capable of creating different designs.  The layout is part of the SketchUp toolset which allows you to create plans and elevations.  When working in those phases before detailing occurs, SketchUp is a great choice.  However, once you begin the detailing, you will find that Revit can take you all the way through the project with a variety of other drafting tools.  With SketchUp, you will reach a point where you will have to take your project to the next level in terms of documentation.  That next level is where Revit’s capabilities lie.  

But before that next level in design, there could be multiple iterations.  SketchUp excels at the ability to quickly iterate and get the project variance down a few selected choices.  However, SketchUp is then handicapped because it is not database-driven.  It is more of a design-driven tool.  To build construction documents you will need to go to Revit (or another BIM or CAD-based tool).   

Transitioning files from SketchUp to Revit 

The transition has improved between SketchUp and Revit.  SketchUp has tiered versions of their software – we’ll be talking about features in SketchUp Pro.  This version offers better capabilities in terms of exchanging files so you can export a model, DWG files, or an IFC (industry foundation class).  It allows you to translate one model into another model’s software. When translating, there will always be some loss of fidelity, no matter how much you try to structure the model development. Therefore, many people would rather have a tool that will take them all the way throughout the life cycle of the project.  This is where it may be worthwhile to get your staff trained in Revit.  It depends on where your specific project delivery challenges are.  If it is about getting a client to decide or just putting a few different sketches of an entryway or some other design element in front of them, then you can do that a lot faster with SketchUp. However, SketchUp will likely require that you translate data into another program to complete your contract.   

Examples of when to use SketchUp and Revit 

On larger construction projects it would be a good investment of time to use Revit during the whole project lifecycle.  However, if you are part of the request for proposal or early design where you are competing with other firms for the project, you could use SketchUp, as it will be faster, and you will have less time invested in creating the initial design.  Then once the project is approved, you could translate it to Revit.  In this case, you win in terms of efficiency and less time invested into putting the initial design together.  There is also less uncertainty about the time invested if you do not win the project. The more capable you and your team become at Revit the less necessary this scenario may be.  

For example, If your architecture firm is bidding on a development project where 15 out of 50 homes, and only 15 are going solar, SketchUp could allow you to create nice illustrations of your PV design for the roofs.  However, if you did that same design illustration in Revit – then once the client gives you the approval sign-off, you can propagate that change to all those 15 different models in your Revit model, using the database-driven approach.  Design it in SketchUp, use SketchUp to pitch it, win the project, then use the Revit model for all the roofs to create the designs.   

How great is the time savings in using SketchUp or Revit? 

Revit is a powerful tool.  Revit allows you to change hundreds of things at once.  The beauty of SketchUp is its simplicity for the user.  In our example above, you would spend more time doing the solar panel layout with Revit, but once it is completed, you can link that model hundreds of times in your development.  The time savings would be greater when using SketchUp for just one model, but if you needed to make the change for two to ten models, it would be negligible between SketchUp and Revit.   

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