The Chapel Hath Been Modeled!

At long last, the Carleton College Skinner Memorial Chapel hath been modeled! Here are some pictures of the finished product.


This proved to be an time-intensive but rewarding undertaking. I put the .skp file in a public drive folder which you can download and use as you wish.

Here are a few of the key challenges I had and lessons I learned.

1) The basic form

working in sketchup

As I outline in my earlier post, I began the process by using the “Match New Photo” feature and the “Add More Imagery” feature to overlay archival photos and satellite imagery of the chapel. This helped me get the basic shape, though the imagery proved slightly deceptive. Using the old photos and satellite imagery, I never got the impression that the chapel was symmetrical until Austin (the professor for this course) pointed out that it is.

This was an exciting realization, because it meant I could focus on one side of the building and then duplicate that work. But it also meant I had to spend some time adjusting things (I had originally placed the tower off to one side.)

So my caution is to be a little skeptical of a flat satellite image and old photos– this images may be distorted. If at all possible, it is good to also see/use recent images or just go look at the building to make sure you understand the general premise of the building (ie, that it is symmetrical) before using photos to help with the details.

2) Windows!


Windows were tricky because they involved indentation. For a typical window, I would indent the window portion, and leave the trim/border portion at surface level. This was pretty easy, but I had two main issues:

  • Problem 1: If I ended up adjusting the dimensions of the chapel walls (as I often did) the windows got badly mangled /destroyed.
  • Problem 2: I had trouble selecting all the parts of a window after some of the window disappeared behind the surface wall. This made it hard to turn windows into groups and move/duplicate them later on.

Two solutions I can offer:

  • Solution 1: Windows should be a final touch– don’t add them before the basic structure is definitely correct.
  • Solution 2: Draw a flat window first, and make the window a component. Then create duplicates and position them everywhere you want that window. Then, finally, edit one of the components and add the indentation! This is a technique I started using very late in the game, but it was very helpful, because a flat component is easier to move and position than a three-dimensional one.

3) Trim


One aspect of the building I found surprising difficult to emulate is the “trim” that you can see running along the top of the pillars and protrusions, such as the region circled on the image above.


What I ended up doing was creating “caps” on top of the pillars, and a pointed ledge like you can see above.

  • Caps: I created the caps by using the offset tool to make a smaller square within the larger square of the pillar, using the opt+move tool to move this up a foot, using the line tool to draw a right-triangle connecting to the two squares at a corner. Finally, I could use the ‘follow me’ tool to drag that triangle all the way around.
  • Ledge: I created the pointed ledge by first drawing a flat ledge, then drawing a line down the midpoint of each flat edge, then using the move tool to pull that edge up a few inches.

I think this tactics captured the essence of the trim, but they were not entirely accurate. As you can see in the photo, the actual trim protrudes/overhangs a little from the wall surface. I could not figure out an elegant/effective way to mimic this.

4) Precision!

One final thing I will say about my model experience is that precision is key! Typing in exact values, using the midpoint reference marker, and ensuring the should-be identical components really were duplicates of each other always proved to be very helpful down the road, and failing to do these things always created problems down the road.

For example, look here:


You can see that the railing section, between the two pillars doesn’t fit quite right–the end is cut off. And you can see the “cap” sitting atop the right-hand pillar doesn’t quite fit right either. This is because the pillars aren’t all the same size– I drew them by hand rather than mathematically. As a result, when I tried to copy components like the railing or the cap– to duplicate my work and reduce redundant effort– they didn’t quite fit right.

The model was already far overdue and so I decided to let that minute detail slide. But the example serves to illustrate that drawing elements precisely (using numbers rather than your eyes) it tends to save time in the long run.



  1. This model looks fantastic! I was wondering how someone was going to do the chapel, since it’s beauty comes from its complexity. Well, problem solved! I also really enjoyed the detail and analytics of your blog post. It was easy and pleasurable to read.

  2. This is absolutely amazing!! I remember a couple of weeks ago talking with Selam about the Skinner Chapel recreation and wondering how it would turn out because of its immense intricacies; you definitely exceeded my expectations. I also really enjoyed the details and specifics of your process. Great job!!

  3. Dustin,

    this is beautifully done. You captured so many intricate aspects of the model and it turned out so so good. This is super impressed! Even your post is so detailed and well done. I can tell that you put in a lot of time and thought into this project and i appreciate that!

    Really well done. it looks really good.

  4. Your model turned out really well! I had a lot of trouble with indenting things as well and realizing halfway through the project that I should have done it in a different order. I found it helpful to plan out on paper as I was going along.

  5. Your project is very well done. It holds all necessary details and seem like a masterpiece! Your blog post is very easy to follow and easy to read because it is very orderly. Great job!

  6. I was looking forward to seeing a model of the chapel, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed! It looks wonderful!
    One thing I think is really interesting is that even though we had very different structures to model (as I modeled the Women’s League Cabin), some of the challenges we faced were quite similar. I definitely agree about being skeptical of the dimensions gained from flat, old images taken from odd angles: if I had trusted one of the photos I found, the cabin would have been 8 feet longer than it actually was! I also struggled a lot with windows. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to make them into components before adding in dimension. That's a really good tip! Also, I want to say that your windows are amazingly detailed. I cannot imagine how much focus it took to get them just right.
    The difference, of course, is that a major challenge you had was the sheer scale and complexity of the building, while I faced the issue of modeling a building that lacks documentation (there are around seven picture of the now-destroyed cabin in existence).

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