How to Create Iterative Massing Diagrams in Sketchup

Massing diagrams don’t need to be complicated or take a long time to put together. In this week’s post, guest author Ellie takes us through her workflow from thinking about the programme all the way down to finishing touches and exporting your diagrams. This is especially helpful if you want to showcase an iterative process in yoru design work and make it clear, simple and effective.

Establishing your Programme

Before you get started make sure you have established the programmes you wish to feature within your building, and begin to make connections between different programmes and understand which require more space and which need much less.

There are several ways to visually document your programme that will also help you understand the spatial qualities these programmes will require. Three different examples of these programme diagrams are:

  • Bubble Diagrams
  • Hierarchy diagrams
  • Spider Diagrams.

The Bubble diagram consists of drawing different sized bubbles for each programme depending on the amount of space required or importance, they are grouped and laid out like an abstract plan of the building and help you to understand which programmes may sit next to each other and which can be apart. The hierarchy diagram used in this tutorial is useful for grouping programmes into larger zones and then breaking down the smaller spaces required for each. The size of the β€˜stack’ again depends on the amount of space it needs. The Spider diagram is very similar to a mindmap except for the linking lines between the programmes show which spaces need to be connected and can be physically linked in the building.

Using CAD Modelling Software as a Tool for Thinking

Once you have established your programme you can begin to think about massing and the form of your building and begin modelling your ideas in CAD software. The software we will use for this tutorial is Sketchup as it is geometry-based and lends well for modelling simple forms easily and quickly. The key to using CAD software for massing models is not being too precious about your models and using a few tools to extrude and distort forms and not being caught up in walls or floors. Working from home for the past year has proven that CAD modelling CAN be used as a thinking tool in the way that wood and foam models were used before and is equally useful and easy.

Learning the Basic Tools 

To get started creating massing models in Sketch up you need to learn a few main basic tools: The line tools, Shape tools, Push Pull tool and Scale tool. If you are not yet familiar with using SketchUp it may be useful to watch a tutorial such as this one from The Sketchup Essentials to get to grips with the software before you begin.

The way you model will depend on which is most important to you: specific form, or programme. In this tutorial, we will be following a specific form concept and then building the programme into it, but if you wish to build your form around the programmatic elements and the spaces they need then you may wish to start with the next step and work backwards. Massing models don’t have to fit a certain mould after all!

In our case, we will begin by drawing a basic shape using the shape and line tools, and then the push-pull tool to begin pulling the shape into three dimensions. You can then continue to divide and extrude the shape to form different masses.

Dividing the Form into Programme Zones

Once you have established some forms you like you can begin to play around and divide them into floors and programmatic zones. The way I did this is by selecting the top plane of the form [by double clicking] and using Ctrl + the move tool to drag a copy to the side.

Then using the line tools I divided the form into different areas and extruded them to fill single or double-storey heights. Before extruding each area I grouped them to prevent them from merging with other geometry so that they can be isolated and copied into other iterations. To do this simply double click the plane and right-click β†’ Group.

Once in a group, you can edit these shapes by double-clicking into the group and pressing Esc to exit it after editing. I also pulled up the cores of my building along the blue axis to emphasise their location.

Exporting your Final Massing Models

Once you are happy with your massing models and their zoned copy you can begin to export the forms to turn into a comprehensive set of iterative diagrams. To do so, set up a scene on the Scenes tab. Check out this tutorial on setting up Scenes in Sketchup.

To set up the right isometric view make sure to select the Parallel Projection Camera from the Camera tab, and then highlight the model and click Iso on the camera angles tab.

You may want to draw a small line as a marker so that you can move each new iteration to the same point to ensure each screengrab is consistent. To get three different views for form, zones and circulations you need to export three different images. Firstly capture an isometric view of the entire form before dividing up, do so on the Hidden Line Style with Model Axes and Guides unchecked.

Then go to File > Export > 2D Graphic. When exporting your images choose PDF and be careful to name the images as it can be easy to mix up very similar iterations, it can be useful to also create a separate folder for the images to make them easier to locate.

Repeat these Exports with the zoned model in the Hidden Line style and also in the Wireframe style, all as PDFs, not JPEG.

Doing Post Production in Adobe IIllustrator 

Now it is time to produce a diagram from the models you have made. It is worth mentioning first if you are unfamiliar with Adobe Illustrator it may be worth watching a tutorial series to getting started. Check out our 10 Essential Tools in Adobe Illustrator for some helpful tips.

First open your PDF Straight into Adobe using File > Open and selecting the chosen image. You can open all three styles of the mass and work on them in parallel. Firstly with the zoned form, select all the lines and go to Object > Live Paint > Make to begin adding colour. Live Paint is one of the best tools in Illustrator!

Now you can use the Live Paint tool to begin adding colour to each zone of the building. Once you have added colour you can select all the lines and change them to white should you want them to blend into the page colour. 

Now lock this layer and start a new one and use the Pen tool to draw a shadow extending from the cores to their origins and lower the opacity.

For the entire form models, repeat these steps adding one single chosen colour or create shadows using shades to show the entire form and again change the lines to white. 

For the Wireframe images:

  1. Thicken and change the colour of the lines that go around the perimeter of each zone to indicate where they are but allow view through the entire form.
  2. Then using the Pen tool draw a path into and around these zones depicting circulation in and through the space. In the diagram below I used four different lines to correspond with the four main zones.
  3. Then using the Polygon tool placing small triangles to indicate the direction of the route.

 Bringing the Image Together

Once you have edited each iteration and each of its layers you can begin to assemble a final set of diagrams.

  1. First open a New Illustrator Document in the page size you wish, I recommend A2 or A3, then Select and Group each iteration layer and Copy onto the new document.
  2. Using the rulers drag out some Grid lines for the rows and columns and align each layer on a specific point.
  3. Now using the Pen tool you can add lines to connect a path from each iteration and each type of diagram, using the Scissors tool to trim around the models. Repat for the other iterations and add text.
  4. Finally export your image as a JPEG making sure to Select Artboards and you are finished! Here is the final result below.

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