On the whole, extension and alteration work can be designed, presented and understood with traditional drawn formats. Tom Spriggs Architects use a combination of computer CAD drawings and hand drawings for this purpose. Where working with an existing building, there is a real-life building to relate to and physical comparisons and tape measures can get a really good feel for how the new project will be. However people are able to gauge sizes differently and their spatial awareness can vary wildly. It is often said that drawings and plans are ‘read’ – it is a bit of a new language, and if you struggle to relate a small scale version to the real thing, sometimes a 3-dimensional model is the only way.

Traditionally this would have been an actual physical model you can pick up and look around. Nothing beats this, it is a tangible and emotive thing. However they take ages to make, cost a fair amount in materials and are not easily altered. This is where computer modelling comes into its own. I would characterise computer 3D models into two distinct styles; the hyper accurate and detailed, and the more loose ‘sketch’ version. The detailed, rendered versions are amazing, and can really show how a building will be in its finished format. However they can be distracting at the design stages as viewers are persuaded or distracted by furnishings, blue skies or snazzy cars in the driveway. I find the sketch versions much more of a useful design tool to get the fundamentals of spaces and their relationships dialled in. After all, this is the point of models. Picking out decorative features, tiling or such is more easily considered in abstract.

Sketchup models

TSA uses a piece of software called Sketchup to create 3D models. It is not complicated to use (except for careful organisation), and delivers results quickly. The visual output is not polished or slick, but it is not intended to be, think cardboard models with tape and glue, rather than professional-grade models you’d find in Norman Foster’s office lobby. A day’s modelling time will usually get some tangible results and this can be shared in person around a laptop, or sometimes remotely via a walkthrough where the viewpoint can be steered through the spaces.

Above are some examples of how TSA has used Sketchup to portray projects to customers where needed. Some of the complex, larger or coloured options are more than a day’s allowance, but you can see how useful the tool is, without spending ages honing in on unnecessary details. Not all projects or clients need it, and it can be a time burden, so is usually offered as an optional extra fee to be added in if and when needed.