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How to place BIM in urban environment with SketchUp and Tridify

This is an example, with tips, of how to place an ARCHICAD BIM model into an existing urban environment (Tridify Viewer example) using SketchUp Pro, SketchUp IFC Manager (a plugin that improves IFC export) and Tridify.

End result: model placed in urban environment in Tridify Viewer
End result: model placed in urban environment in Tridify Viewer

For this exercise, we used a public model by City of Helsinki, selected an area and download a model of it. The model is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

If there isn’t a SketchUp model available for your location, you can download 2D curves and build some boxes in SketchUp by hand. To ensure that all the surrounding buildings are included, we advise that you select a bigger area than you actually need; unnecessary buildings can always be deleted later.

In this public model, buildings are not very detailed; for example, a model of the railway station square lacks some defining qualities such as the clock tower, roof lines etc.

City of Helsinki model imported to SketchUp
City of Helsinki model imported to SketchUp

For people to recognise a place more easily, consider working a little on the background model too. Some well known buildings might be even available from SketchUp 3D warehouse. Just be mindful to not over clutter the background as too many models can be distracting!

SketchUp model with Posti building imported from SketchUp 3D Warehouse
SketchUp model with Posti building imported from SketchUp 3D Warehouse

The next objective was to place a BIM into the new environment. We chose an area suitable for an apartment building, selected and downloaded it. This is the Konepaja area in Helsinki where some recent residential construction has been taking place.

Urban environment model and a walkable slab in SketchUp
Urban environment model and a walkable slab in SketchUp

To make it easier to manipulate the model, we grouped all the imported buildings as a single component.
Only objects that have IFC type are included in IFC export, so “background buildings“ component is marked as an IfcFurnishingElement type.

Having the “background buildings“ as a single component means it can easily be hidden, and ensures that whatever will be done next won’t interfere with background model. The City Model only includes buildings, however to be able to use the Tridify Viewer in first-person mode, a “landmass“ is needed so it can support first-person navigation. Note that buildings have some elevation and are are not level.

The “landmass“ is also a single component – an IfcSlab, so it can be edited separately. We have to ensure that it touches the buildings so they don’t look like they are flying. An imported topography model could have been used for landmass, but it was not important for the scale of this particular exercise.

The model, including “background buildings” and “landmass“, could be exported and used in a combination model with another building that was previously converted:

Combined model: building and urban environment model in Tridify Viewer
Combined model: building and urban environment model in Tridify Viewer

However it doesn’t match the land level very well, and it includes a lot of details that are not important at an urban scale, such as balcony furniture, curtains, etc. So instead of combining the models, the building IFC file was imported to SketchUp.

SketchUp currently has an inconsistent IFC import, so if possible, all unnecessary details should be omitted using original BIM software, before exporting the IFC. Also, for this example, the “exact geometry export“ option was used when exporting the file from ARCHICAD.

After importing the IFC – some colours didn’t match the original:

Balcony wall selected in SketchUp
Balcony wall selected in SketchUp

So our approach here was to find the wrong colours and edit them, thus fixing every instance where colour is present:

All instances change if colour is edited in SketchUp
All instances change if colour is edited in SketchUp

The “Miscoloured” element was selected to see the name of the colour, then we edited the same colour in the Materials tray; This practice could also be used to match colours with other ones already present in the model. As the IFC export only supports RGB colours, so there’s no point of assigning textures in SketchUp.

After editing colours in SketchUp
After editing colours in SketchUp

In order to see if something hasn’t exported correctly, we recommend using the Tridify Viewer to check how all the ‘in-between’ stages look. Use the plugin’s IFC export instead of SketchUp’s native IFC export for best results.

The Topography mesh imported with the IFC file was deleted and existing IfcSlab “landmass“ was edited so the approach to the building was easier. We also wanted to ensure it fitted more effectively within the surroundings.

Fitting the slab to the building in SketchUp
Fitting the slab to the building in SketchUp

To maximise speed of opening across mobile devices, we removed all internal walls, doors, stairs, etc. and only kept the surfaces and objects that would be visible from outside, i.e. balcony slabs, outdoor stairs and ramps. We made the windows solid to avoid looking into an empty building, which could look weird!

Building a model such as this makes it easy to now check a building’s visibility from different viewpoints, to assess its scale in comparison with surrounding structures and to have a base for further visualisation.

First-person view in Tridify Viewer
First-person view in Tridify Viewer
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