How to place BIM in urban environment with SketchUp and Tridify

With this tutorial and tips, you learn how to place an ARCHICAD BIM model into an existing urban environment using SketchUp Pro and Tridify.

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As an environment we used Helsinki 3D city model which is available as open data (licensed under CC BY 4.0). The service has several export file formats, we exported the selected area as a SketchUp file.



If there isn’t a SketchUp model available for your location, you can download 2D curves and build some boxes in SketchUp by hand. To ensure that all the surrounding buildings are included, we advise that you select a larger area than you actually need; unnecessary buildings can always be removed later.

In this public model, the buildings are not very detailed; for example, a model of the railway station square lacks some defining qualities such as the clock tower, roof lines etc.

Part of the Helsinki city model model with textures:



The same model without textures imported into SketchUp:



To make it easier for people to recognize the place, consider working a little on the background model. Some well-known buildings might be even available in SketchUp's 3D Warehouse. Be careful not to over clutter the background, as too many models can be disturbing.

Posti building imported from SketchUp 3D Warehouse added to the SketchUp model:


Placing BIM into the environment

Our objective was to place a BIM into the new environment. We chose an area suitable for an apartment building, Konepaja area in Helsinki where some recent residential construction has been taking place, selected and downloaded it.

Urban environment model and a walkable slab in SketchUp:



To make it easier to manipulate the model, we grouped all the imported buildings as a single component. Having the “background buildings“ as a single component means it can be easily hidden, and ensures that whatever is done next won’t interfere with the background model.

Only objects that have IFC type are included in the IFC export, so “background buildings“ component is marked as an IfcFurnishingElement type. 

The City Model only includes buildings. In order to use the Tridify BIM Viewer in first-person mode to experience the 3D world, a “landmass“ is required. The “landmass“ is also a single component – an IfcSlab, so it can be edited separately. City Model buildings have some elevation and are are not level so we have to ensure that the “landmass“ touches the buildings so they don’t look like they are floating. An imported topography model could have been used for landmass, but it was not important for the scale of this particular exercise.

At this point the model, including “background buildings” and “landmass“, could be exported as IFC, processed in the Tridify BIM Publishing Service and combined into the Tridify BIM Viewer with another, previously processed BIM model. For the best IFC export result, we recommend using SketchUp IFC Manager instead of SketchUp’s native IFC export.

Building (BIM model) and environment model combined into the Tridify BIM Viewer:



In our case the building (BIM) doesn’t match the land level very well, and it includes a lot of details that are not important at an urban scale, such as balcony furniture, curtains, etc. So instead of combining the models into the Tridify BIM Viewer, the building IFC file was imported into SketchUp.

SketchUp currently has an inconsistent IFC import, so if possible, all unnecessary details should be omitted in the original BIM software before exporting the IFC. For this example, the “exact geometry export“ option was also used when exporting the file from ARCHICAD.

After importing the IFC into the SketchUp - some colours didn’t match the original:



So our approach here was to find the wrong colours and edit them, thus fixing every instance where the colour is present. The “miscoloured” element was selected to see the name of the colour, then we edited the same colour in the Materials tray. This practice could also be used to match colours with other ones already present in the model. As the IFC export only supports RGB colours, there’s no point of assigning textures in SketchUp.

After editing colours in SketchUp:



We recommend using the Tridify BIM Viewer to see what all the ‘in-between’ stages look like and to check if something has not been exported correctly.

In SketchUp, the Topography mesh imported with the IFC file was deleted and the existing IfcSlab “landmass“ was edited to make it easier to approach the building. We also wanted to ensure it fitted more effectively within the surroundings.




To maximize the speed of opening across mobile devices, we removed all internal walls, doors, stairs, etc. and kept only surfaces and objects visible from the outside, i.e. balcony slabs, outdoor stairs and ramps. The windows were made opaque; an empty building could look strange in our surroundings.

First-person view in the Tridify BIM Viewer:



By building a model like this, it is now easy to check the visibility of a building from different perspectives, evaluate its scale in relation to the surrounding structures, and it can be the basis for further visualization.


BIM in the urban environment - Tridify BIM Viewer