GOOGLE SKETCH UP

Google “SketchUp 6” is a free graphics program that, as you might expect, is quite different from other graphics programs. Its focus is architectural, and the core of the cleverness is you can push or pull parts of anything you create to make courtyards in solid buildings, or add domes, wings and colonnades to simple cubes.

That’s just the basics, because there’s a lot more you can do. For example, a freehand tool lets you draw any kind of figure and push that down to ground Sketchuplevel to create an atrium or court, or pull on the drawing to create a tower or bridge. Any shape, whether a simple square or circle, or a closed freehand curve, can be pushed right through a structure to create a tunnel or the kind of architectural hole-in-the-wall you see in some modern buildings.

You can model any kind of building you can imagine, and then add windows, doors, decks, sheds, arcades, etc., and have them done with dimensional accuracy to match the rest of the building. A “components” library has figures of people, furniture, trees and shrubs along with stuff you seldom think of, like microphone stands, in case you’re designing a stage or recording studio. The textures library lets you set your walls in brick or stone, floors in wood or tile, etc.

The drawings can be extended to make entire cityscapes or landscape settings by adding surrounding buildings and settings from the real world. Pictures of existing buildings and grounds can be traced and those structures added to the one you create. Alternatively, you can start with a photo of an existing building; either alone or in its setting, and modify that to see how your changes fit.

Enormous power here, and all for free. The professional version of SketchUp Pro 6 is available for $495, but what it primarily adds is the ability to use drawings from other architectural programs, like the market leading AutoCAD, from Autodesk. The pro version of SketchUp also lets you take the 3-D model you created and make two- dimensional floor plans and layouts, which would then be used for blueprints. You can see lots of examples of finished and semi-finished work by going to Google.com and doing a search on the key words, “SketchUp Gallery.” You can get the program itself at SketchUp.com.

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