Three-dimensional maps of downtown Fayetteville attract the attention of Google

Sketching Cities in Geocyberspace

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – University of Arkansas students and researchers have found a way to map and model three-dimensional representations of a downtown area to address questions of growth and development. Their cutting-edge work attracted the attention of the search-engine giant Google and the company SketchUp, which currently are examining the way the students used the software to create such large data files.

The work resulted from what Snow Winters and Malcolm Williamson, two researchers at the UA Center for Advanced Spatial Technology, call a "3-D Mashup," a merging of the geospatial techniques used for accurate mapping and the three-dimensional visualization and animation techniques for detailed visualization. They combined the talents of students in two summer workshops, one called Creating Realistic Animation through EAST, or CRATE, and the Community Asset and Development Information System, or CADIS.

Students involved in this year’s project included university student leaders Caitlin Stevens and Steven Reyenga, and high school students Scott Ha, Celi Birke, Lorianne Gillespie and Kongmeng Xiong. Four students from Upward Bound, Chris Cooley, Seth Koonce, Brandon Banks and Matt Reed also worked on the project.

Tim Conklin, planning and development management director for Fayetteville, and John Goddard, the coordinator of Fayetteville’s geographic information system, wanted the students to focus on downtown Fayetteville, where development projects for several buildings are currently in the planning stages.

The students gathered architectural, geospatial and photogrammetric data for 1,500 buildings in downtown Fayetteville, and used the information to create accurate 3-D models in SketchUp software. They took 100 of the buildings and used a technique called phototexturing to give the buildings extra details – windows, sconces and more. They incorporated building footprints and elevation data using aerial laser imaging and ranging, which gives extremely detailed horizontal and vertical geospatial information, to precisely locate each building.

Using developer-supplied CAD drawings for the proposed buildings, they were able to show how some of the planned buildings would affect views and shadows and the "look" of the downtown area.

By doing this, they pushed the limits of the software.

"Nobody had ever used this much data in their software," Winters said. The software company, SketchUp, studied how the UA team used the software and wrote new software to handle the large data sets. They also discovered some software glitches in the process, which they then modified.

One of the challenges the group faced was making the large file sizes of the data sets accessible to the average computer user. To see the CADIS/CRATE 2006 project, please visit To see the CAST work on Google Picks, please visit

CAST is a center in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences.