John Brock used to watch his two sons play video games where they ran in and out of buildings “shooting it up.”
“I kept thinking, ‘I just want to walk through a house before it’s built,’ ” said Brock, who is well-known in the Roanoke Valley for designing and building high-end, custom homes.
When Brock discovered SketchUp, a 3D modeling software, about a decade ago, he found he could do just that. He learned everything he could about the program. “I became a real SketchUp junky,” Brock said.
Soon, he was creating 3D models for his clients before breaking ground on their homes. If clients didn’t like some finishing or aspect of the home after seeing the model, Brock could come up with a new plan. That was a lot easier than what he did before modeling: tearing down and rebuilding something the client didn’t like after it had already been built.
“It can prolong the process up front, but it saves on change orders later,” said Brock.
As a teen growing up in Roanoke, Brock had expected to follow in his father’s footsteps and study engineering at Virginia Tech. When the time came to apply to schools, though, he didn’t have the grades.
“I was a musician then and cared more about my guitar than I did school,” he said.
His father wasn’t thrilled when Brock told him he’d enrolled at Virginia Western Community College. Brock remembers him saying, “The only difference between Cave Spring High School and Virginia Western is you take a left when you go out of the neighborhood instead of a right.”
Brock proved his father wrong. Many of his friends from high school who’d gone straight to Virginia Tech were weeded out of engineering. “The first two years at Virginia Tech are definitely a weed-out period,” he said. “I was able to get all the necessary classes at Western and then everything transferred.”
After earning an associate of science degree at Virginia Western in 1985, Brock majored in civil engineering at Virginia Tech with a minor in construction management.
He had planned to go into commercial construction and had a job offer in Northern Virginia. But when his mother became ill, he decided to stay in Roanoke working for a residential builder. That was the start to his three-decade-long career as a home builder.
Not long into Brock’s obsession with SketchUp, his detailed models of client homes caught the industry’s attention. SketchUp executives invited Brock to speak at conferences all over the country. His book “SketchUp for Builders” is being published by Wiley Publishing in early 2019.
As much as he loved the software, Brock felt SketchUp had untapped potential. He wanted it to be able to compute for builders what amount of materials and labor they would need to build a given home. When the SketchUp executives didn’t jump at his idea, Brock hired programmers and built the extension himself.
His software extension, called Estimator for SketchUp, is now available for purchase, along with several other SketchUp extensions he’s created. In 2017, Brock founded a new company, called Constructability 3D, where he takes 2D drawings from builders all over the country and turns them into 3D models that allow clients to tour the homes on their computers and mobile devices or by using virtual reality headsets. More importantly, he provides Constructability Reviews which identify any issues detected, preventing or eliminating costly mistakes and delays.
“I know there’s an interest in it,” Brock said. “It’s just a matter of getting it out there.”
Giving 100 percent to Constructability 3D meant taking a break from his successful home construction business, BrockWorks. “I had to put a hold on building so I could focus on building the new business,” Brock said.
He applied to be a member of the 2018 cohort at Roanoke’s Regional Acceleration and Mentoring Program (RAMP) without knowing much about the program. Thinking all of the spots would go to younger, hipper tech companies, Brock was surprised to hear Constructability 3D had won a spot in the yearlong program. Participation included entrepreneurship training provided through Virginia Western, mentorship and networking opportunities, as well as free office space in RAMP’s building downtown.
Brock is now looking to hire a technician or two and has met with Daniel Horine, automated manufacturing instructor at Virginia Western, to find the right candidates with computer-aided drafting and design experience from his alma mater. “I want employees here where I can look over their shoulder,” he said. “I’m putting my name on this stuff, I don’t want to just get somebody out of the Philippines for $10 bucks an hour.”
While he hadn’t lost his passion for real-life building, Brock is excited to wade into new territory.
“After 30 years of dealing with the weather,” he said, “it’s nice to try this out.”
-Written by Beth JoJack