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SketchUp Pro 2014 and IFC: welcome to the new world of BIM

SketchUp Pro 2013 was announced back in late May of 2013 and now SketchUp Pro 2014 is out.

This is old news, I know. Oh well. It’s been a busy few weeks and we have SketchUp Pro 2014 for a year (plus or minus) before we need to start talking about SketchUp Pro 2015. So there’s time.

We all knew big changes were coming to SketchUp when it was bought by Trimble and started adding a year to the product’s name. And sure enough, big news keeps coming. Everyone who supports OpenBIM should be very excited about this release. I am personally thrilled with SketchUp Pro 2014, even though I’ll almost certainly never use it (I will most likely download SketchUp Make 2014 for one reason or another). Instead of adding their own parameters and creating a new proprietary system, SketchUp has gone the route of OpenBIM and made it very easy to attach IFC (or other) data to elements. And that is fucking awesome.

Primary-Benefits-of-BIM-smallI’m saying it here and now, and you can all quote me if you’d like. SketchUp Pro 2014 is now a BIM software.

SketchUp Pro 2014 crossed the threshold. IFC does it for me. We can still argue if it’s a good BIM program or the best or able to do X, Y, or Z, but it qualifies in my eyes now. Henceforth when I talk about BIM programs I will include SketchUp. It deserves that qualification. For those of us paying 5-10x for our software, we should be a little nervous. I’ve no doubt that ArchiCAD 18 will be a better program to use than SketchUp 2014 (I’m biased as hell, remember?). But the gap is narrowing. And narrowing fast. Think about the development of Revit and ArchiCAD over the past two years. Look at Revit 2015 when it arrived. Was there some equally big shift? No. Sketchy lines sure as shit isn’t as big news. Will ArchiCAD 18 have some major jump shift towards the future when it comes out? I hope so. But it’s hard to imagine what could be added to make an equally huge splash (Building Materials in ArchiCAD 17 might qualify, but that’s for a different discussion). Look again at what has been happening to SketchUp since it was bought by Trimble. The gap is narrowing.

Yes there is still a long path ahead. IFC gurus like Rob Jackson need to tear SketchUp Pro 2014 apart and do tests. SketchUp still needs to go 64-bit to handle the massive projects that ArchiCAD and Revit can handle. And there’s no work sharing function, yet. And yes I know there are issues and concerns that some people have that while SketchUp can now attach IFC data (or any other schema to its elements) it is nowhere near ready to handle COBie to the extent required by the UK in 2016. But you know what? That’s still a little over 18 months away. There is still Sketch 2015 before then, plus a rich and healthy API scene.

Luke Johnson had the best quote about this “Un-coordinated BIM is like having all the ingredients of a delicious cake and eating each of them separately.”  Fine. I’m sure that’ll change. Either through plug-ins or future development or whatever. Or maybe it won’t. I don’t know. To me being able to attach data to elements (especially in an OpenBIM format like IFC) means SketchUp models now are speaking the right language. Elements imported into other programs will be that much more useful. That’s great. But here’s what’s more exciting. SketchUp is saying that they are doing BIM now. And I believe them. The question remains what kind of BIM are they going to do? If you’re on board with anything I have to say about BIM then you realize what we are doing with ArchiCAD and Revit is just one corner of BIM. The spectrum from pencil on paper to augmented reality is huge, diverse, and the path to the future has many routes.

I think SketchUp instead of playing by Autodesk’s or Graphisoft’s rules are reminding us there are other ways to do BIM. And that is very exciting.

BIM is Dead

Here are some other thoughts for you to mull over as you digest what it means to live in a world where SketchUp Pro qualifies as BIM.

Refer back to my primary benefits of BIM diagram above. Where are SketchUp’s strengths? Not in production (as compared to Revit or ArchiCAD). Collaboration? A bit more, but still not the best. Design? Much more so. So much in fact that many users of other software still think they need SketchUp for design. Integration? You bet. This is where SketchUp will probably blow past everyone else. Fortunately Trimble believes in IFC and OpenBIM so the rest of us will benefit too.

SketchUp is part of Trimble. Trimble is really interested in the construction site and what happens at either end of the building process. The BIM that SketchUp advances will be one that is seamless from conceptual design to construction and hand off because that is the BIM that Trimble is interested in. Look at the form of SketchUp and see how that is where it is going—the first big step was the formal alignment with the maker movement last year when the free version of SketchUp became SketchUp Make.

SketchUp was a disruptive force when it appeared so many years ago. It democratized and simplified 3D modeling. Anyone could model anything in SketchUp. And now there are 3.5 MILLION models in the 3D warehouse. SketchUp can now attach IFC data to elements. Connect those dots.

SketchUp has always been about openness. The developers views have always been about working and playing well with others. This was only furthered when it was part of Google. The SketchUp teams’ old boss at Google, Eric Schmidt, summed it up well: “Open always wins”

I had the opportunity to have a conversation with John Bacus a few weeks ago. John’s title has changed over the years as SketchUp has gone from @Last Software to Google and now to Trimble but it’s always essentially been head of product design for SketchUp. Anyways, in our discussion he said something like this: “access to data has to be open, extensible, and open to changes to design, field, economy, etc.”

In 2014 SketchUp became BIM. And I think we’re all in for a whole new thing.

Subscribe to my blog to read more about the tricky world of being an Architect in the 21st century: Shoegnome on FacebookTwitter, and the RSS feed. If  you’re like me, you’re going to keep a close eye on SketchUp but keep using the tools you know and love. That’s okay. Just don’t get complacent. If that tool you still love and use is ArchiCAD, you should get my template: download the Shoegnome Open Template.


  • April 13, 2014


    There is really no hard link between 2D and 3D in SU 2014. Although I have not yet played with the BIM aspects of SU, I will be interested to see what people do with that. I think that SU is heading in the BIM direction, but until it can do the baby steps, I wouldn’t really classify it as BIM yet.

      • April 14, 2014

        Basim Shamsuddin

        Great post Jared. Lack of ‘production information’ and 2d will undoubtedly be SU’s glass ceiling regarding BIM in the short to medium term, however is it at all conceivable that we could evolve beyond the need for the 3d model to 2d drawings to real world construction workflow?

      • April 15, 2014


        Hi Jared, The minimum threshold for me is to have a 2D / 3D integrated model with objects that are smart enough to know what they are (e.g. wall, door, window, furniture). Which is another thing that SU does not do well.

        For a stand alone application, that would enable me to have a better workflow rather than one that I build the 3D in one app, the 2D in another app. If that were the case, I was using DesignWorkshop and PowerCADD about 20 years ago. Although that was an improvement over the workflow at the time, somehow it just wash’t as productive as I am now in a single BIM application. Having said that, my wife usually does al the creative work in SU while I do the technical stuff in ArchiCAD. That might just be that I lack creativity though 🙂

      • April 15, 2014


        One more thing, I think the ability to quantify and express the objects in the model as well (e.g. scheduling windows and doors)

      • April 15, 2014

        Hey Jared (and others in this thread).
        Not sure if you have seen this yet, but I think you may have given your reference to plugins and a possible previous interaction with RubySketch. Anyway, these couple of demos may demonstrate how some of these scheduling questions may potentially be achieved with SketchUp via a plugin that is now available…. if you look carefully, you’ll also see an ‘information rich’ SketchUp model for a Britex product (some may even call it ‘BIM content’) used in the demo 😉
        YouTube Demo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KD-AD-PY2a8
        Website: https://www.plusspec.com/

  • April 14, 2014

    inclusive BIM

    So Sketchup has made a nod towards IFC. You allude to the objects being interoperable with other platforms, how is this possible when a sketchup wall does not know it’s a wall and doesn’t understand it’s relationships with interfacing objects. Any IFC geometry from Sketchup is only surely going to be even dumber than the IFC geometry from BIM platforms.

    It’s great to see a move towards openBIM standards, but Trimble have to pay more than lip service for it to be of any practical use.

      • April 14, 2014

        inclusive BIM

        BIM is not just about some 3D geometry with a bit of data attached. BIM is about working smarter with geometry and forming relationships between objects, attaching data properties where required and deriving data from other data where possible.

        Intelligent data from Sketchup properties? Seriously? Can you link data to derive one data value from others in Sketchup? I suspect not. Sketchup data is likely as intelligent as it’s geometry. Slapping IFC properties on some geometry does not make it intelligent.

        You mention parametric objects, and appear to dismiss them. Generic objects with intelligent parametric geometry and data properties are the holy grail. Something which the IFC schema is capable of but of which none of the vendors take advantage. If Sketchup is capable of this, then I’ll be interested.

        Parametric objects that are flexible enough to represent any proprietary version of the same object is the ideal. Give me a low-detail, high-data flexible intelligent generic object over a high-detail, low-data static dumb proprietary object any day.

    • April 14, 2014

      Agreed. An AEC world where designers can ‘pick from a catalogue’ of real-world, available products in their native BIM format (or an open BIM format) seems a logical way to design a project with view to a construction phase that will in turn be far easier for the contractor to execute and coordinate. It will also greatly assist the project to be ‘constructed as designed’ for FM purposes through model clarity, far greater efficiency on site and through the procurement supply chain(s). Essentially the project becomes far more ‘modular’ in all facets. That said, I believe there will always be a place for highly parametric models, noting that this term can be used interchangeably to mean different things. I.e. parametric within the bounds of a specific manufacturer’s customised offerings (as a lot of our GDL and RFA models are) vs generic parametric which surely lends itself more to ‘elements’ rather than ‘objects’ to use your terminology, Jared.

    • April 19, 2014

      Daniel Lindahl

      Jared, on this point I have to disagree. I want my model to mirror the evolution of the design process, and selecting the window manufacturer comes in at a much later stage, frequently changed again by the builder or client when construction is already underway.

      What is more time consuming, tweaking a greater number of parameters, then fine tuning them in already placed objects as the model evolves, or sifting through the plethora of dumber proprietary objects and being forced to make very detailed product selections early in the design process with the likelihood that that selection/search process might have to be repeated and objects swapped out several times before completion?

      I was unhappy with the Archicad windows and made my own generic window some years ago. It doesn’t contain as much detail at small scale maybe, but the advantage is that I just use the one object for all my window types, and they look the way they are supposed to for me.
      (Caveat: very occasionally I have to use something else to fit an unusual special case.)

      The high detail and low flexibility of objects from manufacters’ catalogs affects the design itself negatively and reduces it to an assembly of standard components, impoverishing the fabric of our built environment. I also feel uneasy about how it subtly redefines our role to one as agent for the product suppliers.

  • April 14, 2014

    Robert Klaschka

    I completely agree with you Jared, parametrics are a red herring to some bim authors requirements.

    What I really like about this release of sketch up is that with the ability to output with ifc attributes, and object classifications, it opens the way for specialist subcontractors to avoid the BIM tax that the big vendors want them to pay for entry. If you are providing a window package to the BIM as a subcontractor if the geometry is in the right place (in the openings in the walls, and the attributes and classifications are correct, what more do you need.

    I’d be interested to see how well it handles coordinate systems.

  • April 14, 2014

    I also find it interesting that think BIM software needs to be parametric. People in the MCAD world found out that large history based parametric models are can cause a lot of issues. Which is why direct editing has gained so much traction. Programs like Spaceclaim have the ability to derive all sorts of data from it, with the freedom to push and pull geometry without have to deal with constraint driven sketches. I think this is this the first steps toward the AEC industry being able to directly edit their geometry.

  • April 15, 2014

    As a Revit user I’ve never been drawn into the world of SketchUp but what I might feel is still very early doors for this software it is still a small step in a big direction. Unfortunately the Sketch up workflow remains intact in the architects design modelling processes. If we can integrate the transition from SU through IFC and into a Revit then I don’t see how this could be a bad thing. Like ive always said.. Right tool ..right time…

  • April 28, 2014

    Jeff Dagen

    What is most encouraging is what is recognized in the article. Sketchup is taking a different approach to BIM, filling a unique niche in the BIM World – and as the comments here indicate simplify, and redefine what BIM is. As a user of Both Revit and Sketchup I would never want Sketchup to become another Revit. That kind of move would ruin Sketchup. Sketchup is more intuitive and user friendly as a modeling program, especially in the early stages of the design process. Revit in my opinion is much less intuitive, especially in the early part of the design process. Revit is excellent in coordination, and producing documents with bi-directional associativity. Revit has a much steeper learning curve and higher price tag. They are 2 unique tools in the tool belt that have different strengths in different contexts. The interface of Sketchup is more intuitive and less menu driven than Revit. Could this be because Architects were involved in Sketchup’s development? I believe Autodesk understands Sketchup’s strengths. They have tried, unsuccessfully to roll out Sketchup equivalents. In the latest version of Revit, they have finally rolled out sketchy line graphics, making Revit more Sketchup like.

    Others have noted, that as IFC becomes the DXF of the BIM world, Sketchup could become the common hub or platform between BIM packages – BIM for everyone. Perhaps the bigger game changer is the integration of Trimble’s cloud point technology into Sketchup. 3D scanning, 3D printing and automated construction will be the next big thing in the industry. Imagine downloading a model from the 3D warehouse and printing it out on your 3D printer? 3D scans could save considerable man hours of building and sight survey, as well as modeling time. There is a lot to be excited about. When the first versions of Sketchup were rolled out I laughed it off for its simplicity. Today Sketchup has millions of users and is one of my go to software packages. It may seem a simplistic in its approach to BIM today, but we may be seeing it much differently when we look back on this.

  • May 13, 2014

    This is a fascinating article, and lots of interesting responses. I’m guessing that most of the respondents don’t have much SketchUp experience. The thing that will make this facility truly useful in SketchUp is the massive community of plugin developers.

    There are already a number of plugins which add BIM type functionality, including takeoff of quantities for pricing.

    SketchUp 2014 has only been out a few months, and I think it’s fair to say that we’ll see a lot more of this type of application. It’s the easiest and most fluid way of designing in 3D. I’ve seen what happens when BIM jockeys try to turn a beautifully detailed SU model into a Revit model. it’s like tracing a paper drawing with a wax crayon – truly dreadful. I actually think that in many cases, the limitations on the software creates limitations for the designer.

    I don’t think AutoDesk truly understand their customers’ requirements. They seem to push solutions from the top down, rather than trying to create applications and features that we really want to use. SketchUp changed the perceptions and approach of many designers. It’s *so* much easier and intuitive than any other modeller.

    I hope this new functionality shakes the 3d BIM market to the core, because I’m fed up of process-driven solutions that are expensive, and lock you into an upgrade cycle that times out after a while if you don’t keep up with functionality that you might not need. I’m also fed up with proprietary standards pushed by vendors that do nothing for me but get in the way of information interchange.

    When we get some more plugins that enable all the complex stuff like adding and organising IFC data to models really easily, I suspect a lot more Revit users are going to sit up and take note, and maybe take SketchUp more seriously.

    IFC is a key enabling mechanism for BIM. Without it, BIM becomes a big monopoly that isn’t good for consumers.

    Applications like Revit are powerful pieces of software, but they are technical pieces of software for product documentation, not true design tools. The ideal workflow is to design in SketchUp, and take the model into a BIM package for refinement and to create the relevant documentation.

    I am hopeful that genuine usability, flexibility and workflow efficiency will all be coming soon thanks to this step. It won’t be too long – the SketchUp customisation community is more active than for any other 3d environment.

    I think BIM is about to get a lot more interesting!

  • August 7, 2014


    SketchUp is not trying to be BIM in my opinion, it’s simply trying to fill a glaring hole present in most BIM software… the lack of simple, quick and intuitive design tools for schematic design that can transition into a more detailed BIM model in other software.

    It turns out one piece of software can’t really do it all despite what the technocrats might insist. Revit and Archicad are powerful tools for production teams. They are not however such great modelling tools for designers who need to think quickly and who want to use intuitive software that gets out of the way. This is the strength of Sketchup. Whats missing is the link between SU and other BIM packages.

    • August 22, 2014


      Pretty spot on in my opinion.

  • November 18, 2014

    IFC in Sketchup has a BIG problem.
    We test version is 2015 and you can do export only those properties:
    – name
    – description
    – Object type

    We are not able to export:
    – material
    – Basic quantities such as the volume, area, length

    There is someone who is able to export these things?

  • April 28, 2015

    GO TRimble!

    • April 28, 2015

      Also, IFC import in Sketchup can be glacially slow, and in some cases – unusable.
      However, it’s early days, and this is going to be a bigger and bigger part of SketchUp.

  • October 11, 2015

    Hi guys I thought it would be a good to to chime in, I should have done it way back when yet I have been flat out, sorry. You would be amazed at what can be done with Skethcup when you know how.
    The introduction of IFC into Sketchup Pro was a great thing for collaboration. After having a brief read through the posts there are sceptics and yes there is work to do and I am happy to collaborate on a file or 3 if anyone is interested.
    Sketchup does offer a fluid way of designing in a friendly environment although I did see some cool Archicad17 videos last week that made my toes wriggle :-). it appeared as though the push pull functionality was added? I have not used it and would be interested in hearing more.

    Parametrics in Sketchup.
    The lack of parametrics in Sketchup is considered by many to be a draw back. I am not sure who here knows me yet I am the developer of PlusSpec for Sketchup. I needed all of the bells and whistles that are regularly associated with BIM software and more. I needed base engineering of products, parametric editing & a bill of quantities from a model and I wanted it in Sketchup, So I developed it. The 2d side for me was essential for lodging drawings to councils this is where Sketchup Pro & Layout is required, although 3d Sketchup models are being used onsite by my contractors and I assume exporting IFC into ArchiCad and then exporting to BIMX would be an option?

    A comment above reads that Sketchup does not know what associated geometry is and that is true if you only use Sketchup by itself, yet PlusSpec inside of Sketchup knows what a wall is & associates that wall with its correct IFC def. and also adds in IFC windows, beams, structure and more and it is automated. My aim was to make a tool that was easy to use by industry and I think I have done this..

    I understand that software can sometimes be like religion: most will not consider change & I understand this, after all this is what is so great about IFC. I was asked to present PlusSpec and Sketchup at the last Revit Technology Conference (RTC) in Australia. When I walked in I felt as though I was the leader of ISIS preparing peace talks with the head General from Guantanamo prison. This turned out to be my nerves as Revit users were very receptive as Sketchup plays a big part in their existing workflow at design stage. To their amazement, my presentation went 4 steps further than this and now a large % of users use both in conjunction. A great result for me. 🙂

    Sketchup by itself is designed for flexibility and ease of use, I doubt Trimble want to change this yet they have created an MEP tool that I am guilty of not using yet…. External developers like myself have been creating tools that make Sketchup work for the professional who needs to get more done in less time at less expense.

    This response is not an seo exercise so I will not add a link here to PlusSpec. I personally think that everyone should use what they feel comfortable with and software that increases communication across all facets of our industry. Carpenters did not throw their hammers in the bin when nails guns were invented nor should we. We should look at all possibilities that make our job easier and our output concise and relevant to the client brief and technical needs in the field. Happy BIMing.

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