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  • Writer's pictureVirve Juhola

Use of SketchUp in construction planning and urban development projects

Builder of Trimble’s new Finland offices NCC uses Trimble’s SketchUp software actively in this project as well as in others. At NCC, SketchUp is used to plan construction projects and sites as well as to communicate between the various stakeholders of urban development projects, authorities, neighbours and clients.

Early in his career, after graduating to become a construction engineer, Tatu Penttinen used SketchUp for construction site planning. He is now using the software in his role as a project developer at NCC Urban Development.

“About five years ago I worked on a project where they used PDF images to plan the construction site. The work sequences for cast-in-place concrete and building frame were so complicated, however, that it was best to phase them visually. In that process I learned to use the features of the software and to produce animations. The use of the software has changed a bit from those days, but SketchUp seems to be tagging along although I’ve changed from construction to urban development. I have transferred some SketchUp knowhow from construction and site planning to project development. So far I’m the only user, or let’s say the administrative user, of SketchUp in my team of eight people,” Penttinen says.

Thanks to 3D visualization the stakeholders quickly perceive the impact of a future building on the lot and the area

“In urban development, the planning starts from an empty lot,” Penttinen explains. “Urban development is dense, and the 3D model helps quickly perceive what fits on a lot and whether new construction will obscure any view. At a very early stage we drop building masses on the lot to gain a mutual understanding of the scope of the project. The client may be a housing company willing to do some infill development, for example. By using SketchUp, we can view from different angles how the new construction will fit into the existing building mass and what size and shape of a building we are talking about, and later the architect can use the visualization as a source information for their design.”

“The existing building masses and heights are available as 3D source data through a municipal map service, and the metes and bounds are available through the national land survey. In order to make use of SketchUp even faster, it would be great to be able to import this information directly into the software without needing to download files first in SKP format from the public service. If you upload your modeled project in Google Earth, you can view it in advance in a completely realistic environment. 3D visualization is much easier to understand than drawing on paper or in 2D.”

“It is important to use building mass allocation to check that the future building fits on the lot based on its external dimensions. This is a way to evaluate the land-to-building and plot ratio at an early stage. Regarding the mass of a building based on its exterior, it does not make a difference whether the project is an office or a residential building. SketchUp is always useful despite the type of the project. It may be skipped as a tool in a project if an architect comes along in a very early stage and explores the lot with their own tools,” Penttinen says.

Modeling the construction site improves occupational efficiency and safety

Digital engineer at NCC Eero-Pekka Piipponen uses SketchUp on the OOPS campus site where Trimble’s new Finland offices will be located.

“SketchUp is used in office projects, too, to facilitate collaboration between stakeholder groups, including architects and other designers and obviously the construction site,” he says.

“We strive to create a 3D site plan of all NCC sites and model related traffic arrangements, too, to improve logistics and occupational safety. We have created our own object library with NCC logos on all objects, such as cranes and fences. There is enough intelligence coded into the objects to cut a fence into desired length, for example. SketchUp is also used to model and visualize passageways and storage areas within the site.”

VDC specialist at NCC Tero Lilja created the site plans in the foundation and frame phases of the office campus project.

“The site plans have been updated a few times within the year since cranes have left and containers have entered the area,” Piipponen says.

“We also use Trimble Connect in the project, which helps share both the site plans and the frame design among the teams. Through Trimble Connect, the site plan is always available to the site personnel as well as any other project party. We use the site plan’s crane and building unit locations in work sequencing.”

“The structural model, too, can be imported into the same image using the same coordinates. This is a great benefit when installing facade panels, for example, because we can immediately see how high a lift or a crane can reach. Compared with a 2D site plan, the 3D model deftly illustrates where a transformer substation will be located, for example, or what size vehicle can enter to unload a delivery. In addition, we use Trimble SiteVision, an augmented reality system. After uploading a SketchUp model to SiteVision, it can be used, for example, to check on site how much space is needed for a hoist and where to place the hoist’s support to ensure that the engineering underneath can bear the load.”

“The OOPS site is bordered by a railroad so that there are only about 10 metres between the building and the track, so crane and transport logistics require careful planning. However, once the project has been completed, the street will be used by service traffic and as an entrance to the parking facility. In December 2020, all basic installations and some of the building services engineering are in place. The frame of the parking facility is up to height, and facades are being installed. As of early 2021, we’ll be installing the parking garage units,” Piipponen says.

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