Google Earth Blog

The Google Earth 3D Buildings Layer

3D New York CityThis is an overview of the 3D Buildings layer in Google Earth as it currently exists with Google Earth 5. The 3D Buildings layer has evolved a great deal since Google Earth was first released. In the early days, Google only provided simple 3D gray buildings with no color or photo textures (see example). Over time, as Google Earth graphics capabilities advanced, the 3D Buildings layer models have become much more realistic and interesting. You can now find many complete 3D cities rendered in photorealistic detail in the layer for Google Earth. One of the biggest detailed examples is New York City.
The 3D Buildings layer folder actually has two sub-layers: Photorealistic (models with photos applied to add complex details and colors), and Gray Buildings which are 3D geometric models without photo textures or colors. The latter usually came from GIS databases provided to Google by cities or 3D city database companies. Eventually Google acquires photo data for these gray cities and adds the photorealistic details to the models.
GE has really begun to outgrow the “3D Buildings” label because the layer also includes many other kinds of objects such as: sculptures, bridges, ships, and even whales! Maybe “3D Objects” would be more appropriate?
The 3D models in the layer actually were built by many different people and organizations. Google actually encourages people and organizations to make or upload their favorite 3D buildings and upload them to the Google 3DWarehouse. You will find many 3D buildings all over the world in Google Earth – most of them have been built by people using SketchUp and uploading them to the 3D Warehouse. The ones which get included in the layer are picked by Google and have to adhere to basic guidelines (see some examples of the criteria for selection).
You can also view the many thousands of 3D models people have placed for viewing in Google Earth in the 3D Warehouse by viewing the new 3D Warehouse network link. Some of the models you will find, are already in the 3D Buildings layer, but there are many which either don’t meet the criteria, are duplicates of the same model, are fantasy models, or just not appropriate for Google Earth. But, some of them are entertaining anyway. For fun, just check out the many 3D objects for Google Earth written about in GEB over the years (many of which can still be downloaded and viewed in GE).

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.

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