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3D Architectural Models: Sketchfab Adds a New Dimension

sketchfab new logo

From sketches to Sketchfab, architecture has come a long way, and Austin Design is on that ride. In addition to the requisite two-dimensional drawings and blueprints, architects have been long been using models to demonstrate concepts to clients (and themselves) in a visually comprehensible manner. Even the ancient Egyptian pyramid designers used models to show others the details and relationships of their proposals in a manner they could understand. Times and technology change: we’ve gone from sticks and cardboard to foam core and mylar to digital and virtual, all in an effort to make our designs more accessible and understood.

dashur valley temple pyramid model

A 3D model in stone of the Hawara pyramid’s substructure, found in the floor of the Valley temple of the Dashur complex.

While some people are able to abstractly picture an imagined object or structure better than others, we all benefit by having something a bit more concrete in front of us. First there were, and still are, physical models, scaled-down versions of their full-sized propositions, but with built-in limitations of size, durability, and transport. Relationships and massing are somewhat clearer, but material representation and sheer detail, not to mention actual spatial experience, are greatly restricted. Then, using computing technology, came three-dimensional rendering programs: a drawing could be made to come to life. You, as the viewer, could “walk through” it on a monitor’s screen and get a much better feel for the surfaces and spaces, both interior and exterior, and how they related to each other. These 3D renderings have become more and more believable and life-like, with the addition of texture libraries, shading and surface attributes, background environments, and other nuances, but until now a major hurdle remained to demonstrating these to an audience. They required dedicated software to be installed on the viewing computer and this typically reposed at the architecture firm’s offices or had to be downloaded and kept updated on a private device. All of this experiential wonderfulness could not be easily shared with those who most wanted, or needed, to see it. Enter Sketchfab.

Sketchfab is a relatively brand-new web service that allows the user to publish, archive, and display¬† interactive models. Their primary product is an embeddable 3D model viewer, built using recently-developed WebGL JavaScript; the viewer uses a computer’s own graphics hardware running in a compatible browser. Firefox, Chrome, and Safari are all enabled: WebGL is a web standard so no plugin is required. Three-dimensional models are generated by designers and architects, with their own working tools (27 different native formats are supported) and are then uploaded to an account at Sketchfab with one click. These archived projects may then may be embedded into any web page for a user to view, similar to Youtube. As a matter of fact, the founders of Sketchfab describe themselves as the “Youtube of 3D.” It’s that simple and we love it!

rockwell cabin sketchfab model

On Sketchfab: Austin Design’s 3D interactive model of the Rockwell cabin.

Architects can now share files directly with their clients, their partners, and the public, who can view them at their leisure, with no special provisions needed. Austin Design, from the firm’s office in rural Colrain, Massachusetts, can share their 3D renderings with anyone, anywhere – whether residential or commercial. We have dedicated a page on our brand-new website to this exciting new tool and we will be populating it with new projects as we go along. Click over to the Austin Design Inc. site and check out an interactive Sketchfab model of a recent design/build cabin on the coast of Maine: it’s fantastic fun. Please contact us with any questions or leave a comment: we’d love to share our enthusiasm for this great new web tool as we aim to be at the forefront of architecture on the web.

    2 thoughts on “3D Architectural Models: Sketchfab Adds a New Dimension

    1. Maurice Svay says:


      thanks for this great article on Sketchfab. I noticed that the logo you are using is the old one. It seems that people searching for our logo end up on this article. Could replace it with the current one from https://brandfolder.com/sketchfab ?


      • Rich Holschuh says:

        Maurice – done! We had a note from Natalia of your office to the same effect this weekend and I took care of it this morning. Nice to hear that we’re sending you some traffic as well. Keep up the great work! Cheers, Rich from Austin design

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