Using Google’s Building Maker to Change the Face of Boston

11/20/09Follow @wroush

When I was in fifth grade, I wanted to be an architect. (I also wanted to be a geneticist, a meteorologist, and an astronaut. I guess I wound up doing the next best thing to all of those sci/tech careers—writing about them.) I loved my junior builder kit, a collection of little plastic columns and I-beams and snap-on windows that was perfect for constructing models of International-style skyscrapers like the Sears Tower in Chicago. The only problem with the kit was that once you’d finished your perfect modernist creation, you had to tear it all down before you could build something else.

Now there’s an easy way to build as many model buildings as you want—and put them on display for millions of people to see. It’s Google’s Building Maker tool, released last month. The Web-based software lets you easily create beautifully textured 3-D models of real buildings by matching up simple digital shapes with information from Google’s aerial photographs of major cities. You can store your finished models in Google’s 3-D Warehouse and submit them to Google for “publication.” If a model is well-constructed and no one else has built a better version, Google will insert it into Google Earth itself.

Google made Building Maker available for about 50 world cities when it introduced the tool on October 13. This Tuesday, it added eight new cities to the list: Boston; Brussels, Belgium; Cologne and Dortmund in Germany; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Rotterdam in the Netherlands; and San Jose, CA. Once I heard Boston had been added to the list, I couldn’t resist diving in and playing around with the tool, starting with a model of my own apartment building in Boston’s South End.

After a couple of days of experimenting, I can tell that Building Maker is going to provide some addictive fun for a lot of mapping and modeling freaks like me. But just as important, I think it will provide a rewarding way for people who aren’t professional architects or cartographers to contribute to the “geoweb.” Today, we can explore this expanding digital replica of the real world through 2-D interfaces like Google Maps, Google Earth, and Microsoft Virtual Earth. But as it gains fidelity, the geoweb could eventually blossom into the immersive, geographically accurate 3-D online world that futurists have called the Metaverse.

Assigning shapes in Google Building Maker

If the Metaverse does come into being someday, it will be in large part thanks to Google, which is on a mission to “create a three-dimensional model of every built structure on Earth,” according to an October blog past by Google product manager Mark Limber. But even a company as wealthy as Google doesn’t have the resources to model all the world’s buildings on its own. So in classic Tom Sawyer fashion, it came up with Building Maker, which makes the work so enjoyable that thousands of Google users will be glad to pitch in.

From talking with Limber himself yesterday, I’m convinced that this strategy is only one part shrewdness and about three parts sheer enthusiasm. “The world is really big, and there are an awful lot of buildings, so I do think everybody will have to get involved” to fill out the 3-D world, Limber says. “But on a personal level, it’s really fun to be able to drop a couple of blocks, move them around a bit, add a texture, and voila! There is a little bit of magic there that we hope will draw people into this whole word of 3-D, and be a little more informed about it because they participated in it.”

Like all good pastimes, Building Maker starts out simple, but goes very deep. What makes the tool possible in the first place is the fact that … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

Single Page Currently on Page: 1 2 3

By posting a comment, you agree to our terms and conditions.