A pressure valve for busy architects

Running an architectural practice is hard, but many companies are unaware that help is available. In this spotlight, we check in with Mark Gregory from Smudgeable to explore how he is helping Architectural firms and why SketchUp and Layout are his tools of choice.

Mark Gregory is a Freelance Architect based from Australia and is passionate about helping small, design focused architectural practices to better manage their workload so that they can spend more time on the things that matter. Working remotely, he partners with a number of high-end practices, completing schematic design, design development and construction documentation drawings.

What is a Freelance Architect and how do you help?

I find that a lot of small practices struggle with the ebb and flow of architectural practice. There are times when they have more work than they can handle and others when they might find themselves with little to do. Many practitioners also ‘wear many hats’, in that they are often responsible for both bringing in the work as well as actually completing it, and at busy times this can quickly lead to burn-out.

However many of these small practices are also reluctant to take on new staff, largely because they cannot afford for them to be under-employed during the quiet times. They also might not have the cash-flow to afford an experienced architect on a full-time salary, yet they also don’t have the time to spend training and checking the work of an inexperienced graduate…which is why a freelance Architect such as myself is often a good solution.

It works because they only have to pay for what they need and, because I work remotely, they don’t need to provide expensive office space or software subscriptions.

Personally, I have a lot of experience in the industry and a wealth of knowledge regarding construction and detailing. Many of my freelance clients say it is like having ‘another version of themselves’, because, as I am also an Architect, I am able to solve design problems as I go without them having to constantly manage and oversee my work.

SketchUp and LayOut - go from 3D models into 2D drawings with ease
What software do you use?

SketchUp is always my preference when it comes to 3D modelling, and SketchUp Layout is my tool of choice for creating 2D drawings. However, I have several clients who use Vectorworks, Revit and ArchiCAD and it’s a simple process for me to collaborate with them. I typically get them to simply export their projects in dwg format and then finish the drawings in AutoCAD (if in the latter phases of a project) or in SketchUp and Layout if I think the design is subject to change.

Create 2D drawings with LayOut wiht ease.
Why do you choose SketchUp and Layout?

Like many architects I had used SketchUp for a number of years as a 3D modelling package only, something with which to quickly explore ideas before moving into AutoCAD and 2D drawings..often scrapping the SketchUp model and starting from scratch with linework in CAD.

For me Layout has been a revelation, in that it turns SketchUp into a different kind of software – something I like to call ‘BIM Light’. No longer do I have to throw away these early design models, but rather I can continue to develop them using the same software package and then, using layout, produce meaningful and accurate 2D drawings directly from the 3D model.

In terms of my freelance work the biggest benefit comes in terms of change management. I can spend a lot of time producing detailed 2D drawings in AutoCAD, only for there to be some unforeseen changes to the design. The process of tracking all of these changes across several 2D drawings and co-ordinating them can be very tedious. However, because Sketchup and Layout are intrinsically linked and because the modelling process in SketchUp is so fast, I am able to save a lot of time and money for my clients when this occurs.

Examples of documentation that can be achieved with LayOut
Do your clients have a problem with you using SketchUp & Layout and/or do they try to restrict the software that you use on their projects?

Initially perhaps they are reluctant, but once I show them what is possible they quickly come on-board. The power of Layout is that it is so flexible. My clients simply send me some examples of their work or a copy of their office standards and I can easily match them with some simple customisation. Also, because most architects have a copy of SketchUp Pro in their office, they can drop into the drawings themselves at a later date if they need to make changes.

It is also a simple process to export from Layout back to dwg and other file formats, if they want to work on them in a different software package or share the drawings with consultants for example. 

Layout is a professional and powerful 2D drawing board that helps you get the job done.

Do you think that there is a misconception about SketchUp & Layout within the industry?

I think a lot of architects in Australia don’t even know Layout exists, and those that do don’t really appreciate what can be done with it. They simply don’t think of SketchUp in that way.

Indeed, I was very skeptical at first myself, but a very smart Architect friend of mine showed me his layout drawings and how he used SketchUp to produce them and I could barely believe it. 

LayOut seamlessly exports to DWG.

After working with you, do you find that your clients look at SketchUp in a new light?

Many of my freelance clients have actually converted to SketchUp and Layout since I have been able to demonstrate to them the power of this software. I find that a lot of them are frustrated with the complexity and inflexibility of programs like Revit or they are still stuck in 2D AutoCAD, promising themselves that one day they will ‘get into BIM’ – but this is something they see as a huge financial and time commitment that they are simply not ready for. 

Because a lot of them are already using SketchUp in some capacity, adding Layout into the mix is a much less scary and far less expensive proposition!

LayOut allows to create fully documented drawings that are ready for construction.
Any advice for Architects (or Designers & Builders) who are struggling with their workload but may be skeptical or fearful of working with a Freelance Architect?

Firstly I would point out that there is a difference between a freelance Architect and a freelance CAD technician. Employing an Architect on a freelance basis is to have somebody join your team who has the capacity to do more than just produce drawings, but to solve problems and present elegant solutions as well. 

It is also a relatively risk-free endeavour, far less risky than taking on a full-time member of staff in my opinion.  If the relationship doesn’t work out it is quick and painless to move on. If you do get along, however, then it could be a great way to give you back some time to spend working on your business or bringing in new work and it is likely to improve your bottom line as well. What have you got to lose?!

Using SketchUp and LayOut significantly reduces rework and improves the workflow.

Mark has created a Facebook group: a place for Architects who use or would like to use SketchUp Pro and Layout for all of their drawing and documentation needs. Join his group and become part of the conversation!

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