Help cover the world in 3D buildings

Google’s goal has long been to “add a 3D model of every building on the planet to Google Earth” and, with the help of you and me, they continue to make strides toward that goal. In the five years since Google purchased SketchUp, users have contributed tens of thousands of buildings generated from SketchUp and by using tools such as Building Maker.
To help further expand the 3D coverage, Google has just unveiled the Your World in 3D site to give people a great place to access tools and information to help model their own buildings in 3D. They’ve compiled a ton of great resources including an events calendar, message forum, tips based on your level of use and a gallery of great 3D buildings around the world.


If you’re not convinced that it’s worthwhile to spend time modeling buildings in 3D, Google has a video titled “Why create 3D models for Google Earth?” that tries to answer that question for you. They give some great examples of why 3D models can be useful for a city or organization:

How about you? Have you added buildings to Google Earth? Did you use SketchUp or Building Maker? Tell us about the best model that you’ve created.
(via Google SketchUp Blog)

About Mickey Mellen

Mickey has been using Google Earth since it was released in 2005, and has created a variety of geo-related sites including Google Earth Hacks. He runs a web design firm in Marietta, GA, where he lives with his wife and two kids.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.


  1. You can transform the models you make on Google SketchUp into real life models using 2BOT’s ModelMaker. Plus, you can even use Google Earth to create 3D landscape models. The ModelMaker is compatible with both Google Earth and SketchUp. Or you can download models from Google 3D Warehouse and print them on the machine.

  2. Only because you ask, I have about 126 models in Google Earth right now. My best would probably be Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles:

  3. Ernst M. Kofler says:

    In my opinion, user-made 3D models can never be as accurate and area-covering as machine generated 3D models over a greater area as one can already see in many cities, by different providers. The advantages in automated 3D making technology show fantastic models over wide areas as lately seen e.g. on ovi maps. User generated models may in some cases be more accurate as long as tiny private houses are modeled. But as soon as bigger public buildings come into sight, private users have no chance against automatically generated buildings, with accurate textures all over the building and correct matching geometry also in places where you normally wouldn’t even be able to have a view at.
    I suspect that some day google will give up motivating people to build their area because they will accept that machines can do that job much better and with comprehensive area-covering like people never could.

  4. Joseph — That Dodger Stadium model is excellent; nice work!

  5. Christian Sauer says:

    Yep, I have to say that Ernst’s comment pretty much captures the situation. I enjoyed Building Maker, that was fun, until I realized that the machine made models ARE more accurate and give a better “look and feel”. Today I enjoy ovi maps and wonder where the technology will head. Besides: Googles own machinegenerated models often “outperform” the former efforts of geomodellers.

  6. I disagree with the Ovi Maps comments. Also, why are you on a Google Earth Blog if you prefer Ovi?
    Ovi Maps, once you look closer, look all melted together and disturbing. They are incredible from a distance, sure. But once you get close to the ground-level, the streets turn to half-pipes, trees are melted into walls, cars are melted into streets, there isn’t a plumb line in any building, windows look wobbley, it looks like a horror film up close. Or something involving radiation on a wax miniature-city set. The wire-frame generated looks like a giant spider went to town on civilization.
    Ovi uses photo-stereo technology. I’m pretty sure it’s from C3 Technologies. If they used LIDAR, it might end up actually better than GE. But even then it would create a cloud-point, which would have to be converted to vector. Probably by an entity who knows a pedestrian from a signpost.
    No matter which way you slice it, to get a great virtual world up-close AND bird’s-eye, you still need humans. Go 3D modelers.

  7. Paul van Dinther says:

    As a keen Google Earth developer I still like the 3D results from OVI maps better. The motivation video from Google used for this post is a classic example why user build models are a bad idea. The colors of the buildings are all wrong making the place look like a lolly store.
    I agree that OVI map models have poor detail probably the reason you can’t get close to them but I have no doubt that the software will improve to the extend that it outperforms user made models on all levels.
    I dislike user build models because most models get the textures wrong, the color balance wrong or even the geometry. Case in point is the Google campus itself. The model in Google Earth is wrong while the auto generated model in OVI 3D is correct.
    Not to mention the fact that in Google Earth the world is flat. It does not take into account slight elevation variations for over bridges, recessed rail road trenches etc. OVI maps does.
    Finally, because the 3D city is autogenerated in OVI maps and elevation detail is so good you really trust the data you are seeing. In Google Earth buildings invariable float above the ground and sometimes are not located correctly. Understandable but inherent to user supplied data.
    User modeling of 3D cities can not be sustained. It is not only the initial model but as buildings are demolished, modified and build the data needs to change too. Data maintenance is not a fun job. Auto generated cities can easily be generated once a year, especially with modern UAV’s taking super hi-res pictures automatically.
    As a hobby 3D modeling of buildings is great fun but as a serious source of 3D city data it had it’s day. Let auto generation take over. Image analysis, lidar etc.

  8. Sigh. OK, further defense of Google Earth over Ovi Maps:
    Integration. Separating models from terrain allows for embedded metadata into the buildings, which I believe will only get better as time goes on. Also, GE has Google Places and a lot of other data integrated with it.
    True, the GE world is flat-ish. The Ovi world is wobbly, though, with bridges melted into the ground and trees making the ground lumpy and impossible to drive simulations on. Really, which is worse? They both have limitations.
    As more cities donate their GIS data to Google, things will start to get more accurate.
    That said, I totally agree about this video. This old thing has been around for years. It’s totally outdated and needs to be replaced. Those boxy buildings are so four years ago; they are no longer impressive. Google, can you make a new video like this? Please? And actually show nice models in it? Maybe with some 3D trees?
    You know what would fix the Earth problems: Earthmaker. They already have Buildingmaker and Mapmaker. My new wishlist item is Earthmaker. So we can actually adjust the terrain so that bridges aren’t sitting on the ground in GE. Right now, though, getting local government and enterprise GIS data seems like the best solution. Then Ovi can focus on what it’s good at: Mountains. And other things that have no straight lines in them.

  9. Personally I think there’s still room for all types of modelling. At least until the auto-capturing get’s better.
    The OVI/C3 models have their place, and they look fantastic at the “500ft level”. They are really bad close up though!
    I don’t think anyone would deny the quality of models provided by companies such as Concept3D. Some of the 3DWarehouse models are astounding. And it’ll be a while before machine modelling will handle real time reflections…
    I suspect as more rendering options come into GE (eg. shadowing, weather/atmosphere, material & night-time lighting effects) having models which aren’t daylight photo textures or captures will be necessary.
    How cool would a Google Earth “Night mode” which turns on the city lights!

  10. Ricardo says:

    Don’t confuse looks over interface and user experience. Only GE has clickable models with external links and integration with data such as roads, addresses, etc,.
    Autogenerated buildings have no criteria. There’s no separation between continuous buildings and no further information.
    Both have their importance, but they are different things. From a business point of view (important if all this is to have some real world relevance) a model that you can control and keep accurate and up to date, with description and link, has a value. People are willing to pay for it.

  11. Ernst M. Kofler says:

    I want to add that I’m not a special fan of Ovi. I’m just a fan of earth browsing. I enjoy that competition takes place and that different companies like Keyhole->Google, Microsoft, Ovi, among different others, show great ways of displaying the earth in 3D.
    I really and especially enjoy the open interface of GE and work with the plugin, KML, and Sketchup myself.
    To say Ovi has better bridges is incorrect, as it’s just a question of elevation data. Fly to Bergen, Norway, or to Switzerland and find quite exact elevation data also on GE.
    The point is, that I’m quite convinced, that soon there will come a time when scanning the surface of the earth will be done on a regular basis, and from the data we will get perfect 3D landscapes including vegetation over vast areas without having people doing finetuning of the objects.
    What will not change is that jobs like Google Places or good applications for the 3D globes will be done by people.

  12. Well, OVI 3D models can look great, accurate and better than Google Earth user generated models from far away. But I really don’t see auto generated 3D models covering the whole world unlike Google Earth user-made models. In my opinion, it will never completely replace user models! OVI 3D models in my tiny country? That would be great but very unlikely.

  13. Ernst M. Kofler says:

    Gerry, 20 years ago it was very unlikely that all people on the internet would be able to see most parts of the world in high resolution and 3D. 😉

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.