This week, we looked a lot at digital reproductions, including the option of playing around with SketchUp. SketchUp is an interesting tool, in that it allows someone to create anything from personal belongings to artifacts to buildings to anything one can imagine, really. This past summer, one of my assignments at the Niagara Falls History Museum involved using a lot of SketchUp. First, the curator and I went to the old Willoughby Township Hall where we measured as much of the building as we could and took lots of photographs. My job was to recreate this historic building in SketchUp, essentially creating the best digital reproduction that I could, and then work on populating the inside with various visible/open storage displays.
SketchUp really tries to make everything as easy as possible for the user. I was able to select either the line tool or the rectangle tool and type out all of the measurements for the floor, walls, doors, windows, etc. and have them easily placed, to scale. However, the program is also very particular; it wants things a certain way, and if you don’t abide by its rules (such as by creating “groups” out of your lines and faces) you could easily mess up the entire project by moving one little line. The image above was a good start, but it was rather bare compared to the actual building. My goal wasn’t just to make a space for museum exhibitions, but to recreate the historic township hall, showing the history inside the building along with the building itself. I ended up watching a lot of Youtube videos on how to make certain things, like the roof, stairs, and windows, and I was able to learn a lot and came up with something quite similar to the actual building.
It isn’t a perfect recreation by any means. While we documented a lot of measurements and features with photographs, certain things, like the height and angle of the roofs, took some guessing. I should also note that this project, either actually working on it or watching videos to learn how to do something with it, took up the majority of my time while working. The two above screenshots were taken in the span of a number of weeks. I feel like a project like this would be an interesting-but-doable final project for our digital history course.
Once I had the building recreated in SketchUp, I started designing example display cases around the perimeter. Thankfully, SketchUp allows users to upload their own creations, which can then be downloaded and used by others. This meant that I was able to download all of the “artifacts” shown in the display cases, rather than having to create them all myself. SketchUp also makes copying and pasting groups easy – there’s a special function that allows any changes you make on one group to affect all of the groups you’ve pasted – and so you can see I cheated a bit by copying some of the display cases, like the one with the guns.
Overall, I had a lot of fun working with SketchUp this past summer, with both recreating a historic building and turning the interior into an open storage museum exhibition. I’m really interested in what else is possible using SketchUp as a public historian. After I finished everything, I was able to use another tool within SketchUp that allowed me to set my height and walk around the inside of the building; perhaps there is the possibility of recreating and exploring lost buildings and historic sites within SketchUp.