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A Constructible Model with M Moser Associates

We spoke to Jason Li, Associate and Charles Corley, Director of Organisational Development at M Moser Associates about how virtual design and construction complements an integrated project design and delivery approach.

Over the past fifteen years, M Moser, a global AEC firm with an extensive track record in workplace design and construction, has used SketchUp and LayOut not only for design and conceptualization but as a vital communication tool throughout the project delivery process.

 

 

What does the term “VDC” mean to M Moser?

Charles: It’s Virtual Design and Construction and by that we mean an entirely constructible 3D modeling workflow that empowers any stakeholder to understand and participate in a project. We can create a working virtual environment that makes everything clear to all project participants regardless of training or experience. Rather than relying on a highly coded or flat and disassembled, abstract set of documents, a visual reference is universal. A desk looks like a desk; a wall looks like a wall. You don’t need an expert interpreter of construction documents in order to understand fully and collaborate.

M Moser prefers to own as much of the responsibility on a project as possible. The best case scenario is we’re the designer, engineer, purchaser, and contractor. The deliverable, if you will, is the completed project. Throughout all of our offices worldwide, we use virtual design and construction out of a need to have everybody understand each other. We have an array of cultures, understandings, and backgrounds in construction. We want people to engage meaningfully and get the best out of each other’s contribution and expertise by constructing a project in SketchUp well before reaching the site. VDC is a communication tool that gets everybody on the path to the right result.

 

What types of projects do you focus on as a business?

Charles: We design and build workplaces. Not only corporate offices but corporate campuses, laboratories, private hospitals, private education facilities, and workplaces of all types. You name it, we’ve done it.

Using a nimble tool like SketchUp is also extremely important as these types of projects can be ever-changing. With more traditional building projects you have to nail down things well before construction for many reasons such as permitting, structural calculations, and ordering materials. But workplaces, even extremely large ones, can remain fluid in design. Even the size of the premises could change considerably. Departments can move around. Mergers and acquisitions could change the whole landscape of the office. The flexibility of SketchUp allows the entire team, including clients, specialists, and contractors to keep up.

 

Virtual construction starts to become tangible.

 

Render; not just a pretty facade, the engineering can be equally eye-catching.

 

What is unique about the way you operate?

Charles: In some ways, we’re sort of the enfant terrible. We’re radical about change and are constantly evolving the way we think about construction information. Where many firms are steeped in more traditional documentation, we’re trying to make any record of construction information a by-product of the real collaboration and 3D work.

We don’t want to send out stacks of documents to people who have never seen it before and say, “Go read this and get back to us with a price.” We’d rather have them involved from the very beginning. This means, all the trades, contractors, suppliers, and the client working together in 3D, from concept to completion.

We’re trying to shake the tree where a lot of people don’t want to change. Jason and I have a lot of war stories about how people are incredibly stubborn to change and don’t wish to consider alternatives. We’ve broken down a lot of assumptions like, “You can’t use SketchUp for official documents to send to the government,” or “It’s not accurate enough,” or “We can’t collaborate with consultants using other programs.” These arguments have melted and fallen by the wayside.

Jason: M Moser could be considered quite unique in the industry because our focus is not just on the design. We have to consider the contractors and the build. For many companies, their role ends when they hand over the designs and completed documents, whereas we handover a complete result. And even beyond that, our role sometimes continues into operation and maintenance.

Construction detailing in LayOut can be templated for all projects in a region.

 

Your designers are charged with producing constructible models. Can they do this on the first pass?

Charles: Not every designer has the experience to really understand construction. They tend to draw the design intent, then they have to work with others to discover what’s possible.

As an example, just recently we had a team discussing an intricate reception counter. The contractor in the room pointed out: “If the table were four inches shorter, we could use off-the-shelf components and wouldn’t have to manufacture any custom pieces.” The designer made the change right then, rationalizing that it wouldn’t really impact the overall look but offered a significant reduction in cost and lead-time. Thousands of collaborative discussions like this occur constantly, many of which wouldn’t be possible in 2D. Jason: We collaborate on a daily basis; it’s not really like a factory where I do my job and pass to someone else, or “Here’s a stack of drawings, you go and do it.” Projects are realized through discussion and brainstorming. People have different backgrounds and this way we can truly avoid misinterpretations on what the designer intended.

 

Virtual construction sequencing can save months onsite.

 

People will always have differing opinions, so does it always go as planned?

Charles: What you would see in our meetings would be a group of people from very different professions, looking at a model being rotated on a large screen. The person leading the meeting is not coming up with all the answers, they’re the “chief question-asker.” The team answers the issues together, marking the live model and taking screen captures. They talk about what needs to change and sometimes even make these changes on-the-fly. It’s very much a team activity.

The notion of success mostly comes from the client but often there are multiple opinions. One might say, “I want to make sure I have the correct amount of meeting rooms;” another person says, “I want to make sure we finish on time;” another, “I want to make sure my boss coming from overseas is happy,” and so on. Those objectives blend together and form the definition of a successful project. Jason: We’re using VDC as a methodology to ensure designers, engineers, professionals, specialists, and the client can communicate on an equal platform. Our goal is that everybody understands the project objectives to achieve results.

 

Collaboration throughout a project makes for a smooth delivery.

 

A slick reception area before, during, and after the build.

 

Building constructible 3D models looks to be a time-consuming exercise. Is it more efficient than it seems?

Charles: Many would say that you can do something in AutoCAD faster or easier than you can in SketchUp. We have found that is not the case if you use it intelligently. There is often a false understanding of time efficiency. Hand a project to a couple or draftsmen and they may spend hundreds of hours doing the drawings, not taking the time to understand construction. A senior stakeholder would then have to go through each page of the drawings to check them, applying the required 20 years of experience to effectively decipher it. Then there are the perspectives. Visualizers can spend an inordinate amount of time setting up beautiful—but only a limited number of—renders. All those hours really add up.

Jason: VDC forces the people who are doing the drawings to think about what they’re building, they can’t just draw lines. With our methodology, the modeler creates everything in SketchUp.

Then they split the model into different viewports in LayOut to see right away if something’s not working. The key difference is, any changes are immediately echoed through the entire set. Everybody’s job is faster and easier. The whole workflow is compressed and more evident to everybody at a glance. Errors are glaring, “Oh, look, this wall is not meeting the mullion correctly.” We can see where buildability is correct and where it is failing, and we can catch it early. There’s also less time spent on visualizations. We can use an extension to quickly do perspectives from any position in minutes instead of hours.

 

 

Finding a clash here, is one step closer to eliminating onsite issues.

 

Get everyone on the same page with exploded 3D fly-through animations.

 

What perspectives can your clients expect to see in the early design stages?

Jason: We do aim to deliver spectacular visuals to help convey our idea. At one time, we had a team of visualization specialists dedicated to rendering, but it became a bottleneck because time had to be booked with the few 3D visualizers trained in that software.

We now have established ways to do as much as we can in SketchUp, which is the fastest way. There isn’t a steep learning curve. Everybody can have it and everybody can use it to develop gorgeous renderings with extensions. We don’t need so many specialists. In Shanghai and Singapore, we use renderers such as Enscape. In India, we lean more toward CPU-based renderers, including SU Podium.

Charles: We also had a problem with third-party drawn perspectives. A designer would freestyle to make something look better. In this process, they might have a detailed understanding of what the interior would look like, but would often leave out the air vents, access panels, joint lines, and sprinklers because they thought they were ugly. Even worse, they would enlarge or shrink objects to give a false impression of what one would experience.

By transitioning to the VDC methodology, we ensure that perspectives remain true to life. We can also deliver beautiful renders instantly, so you can quickly look at things from a different point of view. There’s a nimbleness that is lost when creating perspectives with other workflows where the same limited views are updated over and over again.

 

 

Render; a visually stunning workplace is a productive workplace.

 

Does your methodology transverse regions?

Charles: We developed our approach because we work with contractors trained in very different ways and to some extent that continues today. However, we think that the constructability aspect of VDC is applicable anywhere. There’s a great deal of value in being able to do virtual mock-ups and say, “Are you sure this is what you want? Because look here, this could be improved.”

Constructible models eliminate wasted resources and materials and allow for an unprecedented attention to detail before reaching the site. If you think of everything in a project as separate systems that must come together, there’s a huge amount of coordination required in what was traditionally called the design development stage. We now choose to call this integrated development because we are essentially combining the power, lighting, partition, and furniture systems. The integrated development stage is where much of the change occurs and decisions are made. Documentation for the record is memorializing what we had agreed during all this collaborative effort. Documents may be still necessary for now but they record what was already worked out and understood by all and don’t serve to gain that agreement. That was done through a highly constructible model—a virtual construction.

 

Photograph; the finished product, a clean and crisp space featuring natural materials.

 

About M Moser Associates

M Moser Associates has specialized in the design and delivery of workplace environments since 1981, with clients from the corporate, private healthcare, and education sectors. With over 900 staff in 16 offices on three continents, the company provides a holistic approach to physical and digital workplace environments of all scales.

 

Making a door and window schedule in SketchUp

Let’s take a look at how you can combine Advanced Attributes and ‘Group By” aggregation in Generate Report to create door and window schedules.

To generate a schedule, we’ll start by adding a few attributes to the door and window components in my model. Specifically, we’ll add a Size using the new Advanced Attributes (access these through the “More” button in the Entity Info window). In addition to Size, there is a new attribute for Price, URL, Owner, and Status. These fields allow you to add information to any component, and they can also be called upon by LayOut labels (we’ll look at those a few paragraphs on)!

 

These attributes can be used to add data to components without creating Dynamic Components.

 

In addition to defining a Size for all components, we also want to make sure all components have an instance name. Instance Names are also defined in the Entity Info window, and are the data object we’ll use to create an aggregated schedule for our doors and windows.

In most cases, all instances of a door or window will have the same Instance Name, but in some cases (such as a door which can swing either left or right) a single component may end up having more than one Instance Name. In this example, we had one door component. Two of these doors swung left and were labeled D1. The third, a right swing, was labeled D2. Same component, but different real world thing: each real world thing should have a unique Instance Name!

 

The Instance Names will populate the labels once the model is in LayOut

 

Once the data is all set in the model, it’s time to run a report! In Generate Report, we’ll create a brand new template. Make sure to give your new template a name and save it (The guy who made the video below forgot this important step!).

The first step in creating the new report is to choose where the information will come from. In this example, we want to report upon the entire model and choose to report upon a specific nesting level. In this case, Level 3.

“What the heck is a nesting level?” you ask? Level 1 is the model, Level 2 is the buildings and loose components. Level 3 is the door and window components inside the buildings.

 

 

Now, we’ll set the Group By value. This is the attribute by which Generate Report will aggregate components. In this case, we want all components with the same name to get consolidated together, so we will drag Instance Name into the Group By field. Finally, we can add any additional attributes that we would want on the schedule. In this example, we’ll add Quantity and Size to the Report Attributes list.

 

Saving a template allows you to run the same report on other jobs in the future.

 

Now we’ll Save and run the report. Once I run the report, it looks like a door and window schedule. Success! The final step in SketchUp is to export the report, so that we can load a .CSV into LayOut as a Table.

 

All the data you want, and nothing you don’t need!

 

Over in LayOut, the report comes in as a Table, which means it can be edited and styled (so we can change the column heading from Instance Name to Label). Even better, we can use the Label tool to add call-outs to the Model Window for the Instance Name of each door and window. Since the Instance Name was a standard attribute from SketchUp, we’ll simply choose it as an automatic label from the label dropdown (we could also use the Size or Component Name, if we wanted).

 

It’s just that simple!

 

There you have it: A little bit of pre-work in naming and organizing components while modeling, and then you’re off to the races when it’s time to turn your model into a project. Happy sketching!

 

 

 

From concept design to construction with SketchUp

Northpower Stålhallar is a construction company based in Stockholm, Sweden that specializes in warehouse construction. They build industrial warehouses using SketchUp from concept design all the way to the construction phase, including LayOut for construction documentation.

 

Tell us about  Northpower Stålhallar. What do you do?

Northpower Stålhallar was started in 2006 by two brothers from the northern part of Sweden. We were something completely different from the company you see today. Our founders were sitting in a small office by themselves. Since then, the company has grown to almost fifty employees. Fifteen people work in the office, five people weld in our manufacturing department, and the rest are on our work sites building the projects.

Northpower Stålhallar’s office building. This includes a manufacturing unit, where many SketchUp designs come to life.

 

What was the company’s first experience with SketchUp? When did you first use it and why?

In the beginning, the two brothers were looking at other construction companies working in 2D and thought, “We don’t want to use 2D, we want to use 3D because you can visualize designs so much better”. They started to look around to understand what types of tools were on the market.

A company delivered a staircase to them for a project and one of the founders noticed it was drawn in SketchUp. He thought, “If they can do it, I can do it.” So he downloaded SketchUp and tried it. He found it to be fantastic. The cost is much lower than some of the other programs, so that was great too!

 

Can you talk about the space you are sitting in and its design in SketchUp? We’d love to take a virtual tour.

When you walk through the entrance, you have a view of our manufacturing unit. Everything made there is designed in SketchUp. You can see the steel being welded together. Northpower Stålhallar builds steels halls so our building is, of course, built with a steel frame.

Steel hall designs are a signature from Northpower Stålhallar

 

From the lobby, you can access the saunas (it’s a must in Sweden). There’s also a lunchroom, where we all sit and have lunch together. You can take the elevator up and that’s where we have our offices. When you come up, you’ll see a big open lounge area with sofas and TVs where you can sit and relax while waiting for a meeting. We also have table tennis, billiards, and an exercise room.

We modelled the whole thing in SketchUp. The painters were painting the designs exactly from the model. All of the furniture is inside the model too. This office is exact to the millimetre of its SketchUp model.

 

A lunchroom scene from the model of Northpower Stålhallar’s office

 

Walk us through a project lifecycle. How does SketchUp impact this?

In a typical project, our customer will have some idea of what they want to build. We sit with customers and discuss their needs. Our team will draw an initial idea live in SketchUp. We get a sense of the size of the space and we say, “Do you want a wall here or here? Do you need a window here or here?” That’s the best thing you can do with SketchUp—we decide everything directly and very quickly. If the client has a good sense of what they want, you can draw and deliver this initial idea in a couple of hours. It’s super.

 

A 3D SketchUp model allows the Northpower Stålhallar team to visualize what they want to build

 

It’s always interesting when you start working with a customer and they see the 3D models. In the beginning, they see how much you can model and how quickly. They are accustomed to doing sketches on paper and they have to erase, draw it again, and do it that way. And when they see how much we do in SketchUp they say, “Ah! I have to learn this too”.

Once we finish the initial design, we have to do the drawings. We use LayOut to present drawings to our customers. It’s easy to update our documentation with LayOut as we make adjustments to the model.

Our clients normally need to submit architectural drawings to the government for planning approval. These help the government understand our design. From these, we get permission to build. When a client gets that permission, we begin the construction drawings. Our engineers take another week or so to work on the construction documents. In the meantime, we order and begin sourcing materials from our suppliers.

A construction drawing created in LayOut

 

Can you talk about how you collaborate with your suppliers using SketchUp?

We always push our manufacturers to deliver everything to us in 3D. If you can’t draw it in 3D, we won’t buy from you. We’ve done this for a couple of years and almost everyone has followed. So today, when we order something, we send them our model and show them what we need. They look at it and can say, “We can deliver these parts for this price”.

 

For Northpower Stålhallar, everything is designed in 3D, including the screws and bolts

 

Once we agree, they send us the 3D model for specific parts, normally as IFC files. Then we’ll import the IFC file into our SketchUp model to see if there are any clashes. It’s much easier to look around a 3D model than 2D drawings with measurements, for example. All of this is checked in SketchUp directly.  

 

When you start a new project in SketchUp, do you start from scratch? Do you have any workflows that save time when working on a new project?

We implemented standard measurements that we apply to models as much as we can. It’s much easier for us to use SketchUp this way, like a grid system. We push customers to use these standards so that we can design it and build it more easily.

 

Northpower Stålhallar takes this design all the way to finished project using SketchUp

 

We also start most projects from a standard model. From there, we like to take solutions from previous 3D models. We copy solutions from project to project. When you’re designing in 3D, it’s so easy to pull these things in. We started a library in SketchUp to help with this where we collect the solutions that we’ve come up with before. Now, you can just drag it directly from the library to the model.

 

Copying solutions from project to project allows Northpower Stålhallar to save time when iterating through designs

 

As a company that uses SketchUp from concept design all the way to construction phase, can you share your take on using SketchUp to build a constructible model?

Before I started at Northpower Stålhallar, all I heard was people using SketchUp to design an idea of what something would look like; the outer shell let’s say. However, I learned that you can use it to design exactly what and how you will build. As engineers, if something is 3 millimetres wrong, it won’t fit. So for us, we draw everything down to the millimetre precision. We order components from our suppliers to the millimetre. For us, SketchUp does this perfectly.

 

This scene focuses on a warehouse’s steel frame; finding a clash here eliminates issues on-site

 

How do you use SketchUp models to work with your construction staff on site?

We share models with our construction workers. This way, they can look at them on-site using their laptops or phones. Every time we update something important, they see those updates to the model. We know they’ll look at the model, so it’s important for it to be up-to-date and accurate. We’ve noticed that the more our construction staff use the product, the fewer questions we get.

 

A construction team member navigates through a SketchUp model

 

Before, they would have questions about the measurement on a beam for example. Now, they’ll look at the model themselves and answer their own questions. For them, it’s easier to be able to access the information directly from the design.

Some of our construction teams have no prior experience with SketchUp. One advantage of SketchUp is how easy it is to learn compared to other programs. We sit with our staff, even just two hours, and they understand how to look around a model and access the important information.

 

Get everyone on the same page; collaboration makes for a smooth project delivery

 

What’s next for how your team uses SketchUp?

We’re trying to expand our use of ‘generate report’ to get more information from our models. We’re also trying to get more information into the models. What we want is as much information as we can get into our 3D models so that the model is the only thing we have to work from.

 

Extensions you can’t live without?

IRender, CleanUp, Cutlist, Auto-Invisible Layer

 

The Northpower Stålhallar team in SketchUp