Atlas of Ann Arbor:
The Google Earth®
Sandra Lach Arlinghaus
Note: Google Earth® and Google SketchUp® are both names trademarked
The virtual reality files in the first edition of the 3D Atlas of Ann Arbor were all
made using a strategy involving Geographic Information System (GIS)
software coupled with 3D graphic design software. The process was
effective but often time-consuming and the files created were quite
large. Indeed, in the latter vein, alternative strategies, such
as linking one file to another in a hierarchical pattern were employed
so that the reader never had too large a file on screen at a single
time. Another issue involving the creation of these files was
cost of the software. The process involved many thousands of
dollars worth of software (and of time of experts using the
software). Small cities had faint hope of being able to maintain
a state-of-the-art 3D system without substantial donations of time,
software, or both.
offers a different approach. The interactive Earth
viewer is, by now, probably familiar to most readers of Solstice.
The spectacular shiny Earth-ball causes most to exclaim at its beauty
on first sight. Further probing of the interactive capability
brings additional admiration for its capabilities. Figure 1,
below, shows an animated set of images from Google Earth®. It
with the Earth and then zooms in to scenes of Chicago,.
Notice that only the flat aerial has texture; the building surfaces
have no textures on them, although many of the buildings have been
modeled to look like reality--that is, they are not mere rectangles
extruded to boxes. The reader wishing to get
a good look at Chicago should download Google Earth® (a free
from google.com) and drive around interactively within the model.
Then, try looking at a city that is familiar and see what memories
- The first frame of Chicago shows only flat color aerials of the
city superimposed on the surface of the Earth. The second through
sixth frames show scenes of the city with buildings, in 3D, erected on
- The second frame shows an overhead scene along the Chicago River
and is the locale to which Google Earth® takes the
automatically, when "Chicago" is typed into the Google Earth® search
- The third frame shows a view of downtown Chicago, looking west
from the eastern end of Navy Pier. The tall curvilinear apartment
building at the foot of the pier is Lakepointe Tower.
- The fourth frame shows the curved outline of Lakepointe Tower up
close with a view of the downtown looking to the southwest.
- The fifth frame moves to the south of Lakepointe Tower, looking
west along the Chicago River through the locks. These images
recall with fondness the field trips led by Harold Mayer (then
Professor of Geography at the University of Chicago) that the author
participated in as a pre-collegiate student at the University of
Chicago Laboratory Schools.
- The sixth frame shows the Wrigley Building, Chicago's "Wedding
Cake" (a la Carl Sandburg).
Figure 1: Chicago scenes.
Beyond using Google Earth®,
one might also be motivated to wish to
create files to upload to Google Earth®.
Look, for example, at Ann
Arbor in Google Earth®.
There is only a low resolution
aerial (Figure 2) giving the viewer almost no information.
Figure 2. Default view of Ann Arbor in Google Earth®.
One nice feature of Google Earth®
is that one can upload aerials
directly to the viewer and reposition them in relation to the
coordinates already present. Figure 3 shows more detailed aerials
of Ann Arbor uploaded to Google Earth® (after
being aligned with the
coordinate system in relation to the location of the Huron River in
downtown Ann Arbor). Simply click on the "Add" pulldown and
navigate to the files to be uploaded and then reposition them or resize
them as needed. The uploaded aerials are available in the library
of The University of Michigan; the City of Ann Arbor supplied them to
the author. The first image in Figure 3 illustrates how the
alignment was made with respect to the river. The second image
shows the image from Figure 2 with aerials superimposed.
Figure 3. A better view of part of Ann Arbor (top) and a closeup
of central Ann Arbor.
As was the case with Chicago, the flat aerials give a good view of the
buildings; however, if one tips the image on its side, no buildings are
displayed (Figure 4). Unlike the case with Chicago, the Ann Arbor
aerials are shot only in black and white.
Figure 4. Ann Arbor, aerial only, lateral view shows no extruded
memory of the beautiful scenes of Chicago in mind, it is easy to ask if
one might upload 3D images of Ann Arbor (or elsewhere) into Google Earth®.
Another free download from Google®, called
does indeed permit such uploads. The premise is elegant:
the aerials uploaded into Google Earth® are
coordinatized by virtue of their proper placement in the Google Earth® coordinate
system. Google SketchUp®
permits the direct download of these aerials while retaining the
coordinate information. In SketchUp®, the user
can add 3D buildings (digitizing them from the aerial and subsequently
extruding them), model the buildings, apply photographic textures to
them, set shadows, and a host of other operations. When done,
simply press the upload button and the buildings will be uploaded back
to Google Earth®
in the correct position on the globe using the embedded coordinated
system. Information lost in the upload is building material
textures; only the flat surface textures of the aerial transfer through
the interface. Perhaps future versions of the Google
pair will permit such upload. The sequence of images below, in
Figure 5, shows some of the features of SketchUp®.
Figure 5. Downtown Ann Arbor (part) displayed in Google SketchUp®.
The files created from SketchUp® for upload
into Google Earth®
are quite small in size so that one can imagine creating a great many
buildings and still having the files run smoothly. Figure 6 shows
the upload of the material in Figure 5 to Google Earth® (important: turn off the
terrain switch in Google Earth®).
While the photographic textures do not upload, their influence is
present as the buildings are more than the uniform shade of light gray
(as in the Chicago file). Scale of buildings and other objects is
made easy from photographs coupled with the onboard "tape measure" in
One might model any level of detail for the buildings, for street
furniture, and so forth.
Figure 6. Google SketchUp®
materials uploaded to Google Earth®.
The modeling of buildings, as opposed to the
mere extrusion of buildings from digitized footprints, is quite
straightforward once one works through the interactive tutorials.
Another useful feature is the ability to set shadow patterns according
to month of the year and time of day. Figure 7 shows an animated
sequence of two views of the downtown, emphasizing shadow position at
noon in each of the 12 months. The darkest shadow is that
inherited from the aerial; watch the lighter gray shadow dance across
it. When the SketchUp®
files are uploaded to Google Earth® (Figure
6), the shadows do
not upload. The shadow present in the Google Earth® image is
photographed in the uploaded aerial.
Figure 7. Animations emphasizing shadow position.
|The images in Figures 1 to 8 are
all based on screen captures from
interactive products. As such, they present only a small part of
story. To see the Ann Arbor files, in Google Earth®, download
to your hard drive. Save the following files to your desktop
(scanned by Norton and virus-free at upload):
Then, in Google Earth®,
go to Open and navigate to the files on your
desktop and open each of the three. Then, type in "Ann Arbor" and
should be able to navigate the buildings for yourself! Notice the
|If you wish to view the scene
with the photographic textures and
shadows at varying positions, or to add new buildings of your own as an
experiment in planning, then download Google SketchUp® (link
below with the
library of textures used) and install it and also download the SketchUp®
file and Open it in SketchUp®.
executable file with suitable library: Link 4.
file of Ann Arbor: Link 5.
|During the past 6 months
presentations of the 3D Atlas of Ann
1st Volume (without Google Earth/SketchUp®), were
given by the author
to various groups of community leaders. Particular wishes, beyond
was presented in that material were:
The Google Earth/SketchUp®
package enabled the entire wish list. It is
an important tool to add to the glittering array of software already
employed by many urban and environmental
- a desire to model buildings
- a desire to introduce detail at the level of a single
(awnings, window displays, design elements of the building, and so
- a desire to measure the effect of shadows
- a desire to be able to add buildings oneself, in
considering possible sites for future buildings
- a desire to build an Ann Arbor game
- a desire to be able to own easy-to-use software and do all
modeling on a home computer, or a city council computer, with no
additional purchase of software.
|What remains, beyond the obvious
(but time-consuming) completion of all buildings and field-checking of
heights and facades, is:
- to integrate the effect of terrain
- to learn to transform the files into a format that will
play out in an immersion CAVE or other interesting 3D visualizations.
On June 9, 2006, the author
presented the material in this article to an invited group at the 3D
Laboratory of the Duderstadt Center at The University of
Michigan: John Nystuen, Gwen Nystuen, Fred Goodman, Ann Larimore,
and Bart Burkhalter. Click here for photos from the event: photo 1; photo 2.
The author thanks Michael Batty,
University College London for his encouragement in with respect to the
upload. She thanks Lars Schumann of the 3D Laboratory of The
University of Michigan for pointing her to Google SketchUp®. She
thanks Professor Klaus-Peter Beier (The University of Michigan College
of Engineering) and the staff of the 3D Laboratory, as well as Matthew
Naud (Environmental Coordinator, City of Ann Arbor), for their
continuing interest and encouragement in all aspects of this project
over the past 4 years. Merle Johnson of the City of Ann Arbor
kindly supplied images of various sorts for this and for related
projects. For a full list of all individuals associated with this
project, please see the online 3D
Atlas of Ann Arbor also on the IMaGe website.
Solstice: An Electronic Journal
of Geography and
Institute of Mathematical Geography, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Volume XVII, Number 1.