SketchUp is often used to create a massing model for urban or town planning, and is in this regard takes advantage of a seamless integration with Google Earth and Google Maps. It's a good idea to first open Google Earth and locate our planning site. By going to the same location in Google Maps we are presented with 45 degree imagery and a lot more detail than we via Google Earth. One great feature of Google Earth, however, is the Pegman which we can drag into the image whereupon we're given snapshots of the location's buildings from the street view. These can then be used for modeling and texturing our buildings later.
Go into SketchUp and go the top Window menu to choose Model Info. We then go to the Geo-Location section on the left-hand panel. Here we can either add the Latitude and Longitude manually, or simply click on the Add Location tool, and type in the site address, adding the state and country to be on the safe side. This takes just a few seconds if you have a strong internet connection. And the aerial view of our site appears in the dialog box. Next we can adjust the blue corner pins to get the exact piece of the terrain we wish to import into our model and hit the top right Grab button.
The terrain and image are then imported into SketchUp in a second or two, and to the correct scale, as we can see from the height of the default human figure at the axis origin point. When first imported the image is just a flat photograph of the site, however go to the File menu and select Geo-location and Show Terrain to reveal the site's terrain gradient. This saves us a lot of time importing a CAD file of contours (and only if you have the Pro version of SketchUp) and then building the terrain using SketchUp's Sandbox tools. If the site gradient is quite flat then we won't see much happening, of course. A word of caution is in order. Google Earth's contours are gathered via lasers shot from aeroplanes and are only accurate to 5m or so, therefore they are not accurate enough for a legal model. In this case we do have to import CAD terrain from a Civil CAD program, such contours being accurate to 0.5m. But for a visualization model to show a client a concept building, Google Earth's terrain is probably accurate enough.
In addition the site is oriented so that SketchUp's Green Axis is still pointing to Solar North.
It's also possible to import the 3D buildings that other users have created around your site, thus saving you a lot of modeling time. In the Components panel go to the In Model drop-down button and select Nearby Models. SketchUp looks in the 3D Warehouse for models in the vicinity of your site. Double-click on a thumbnail to view and download and it'll be placed in the correct position. The accuracy of these models is dependent on who built it, of course.
We can then model our new buildings as usual. In this way utilizing Google Earth can save us a lot of time when creating our massing models in the urban planning context.
Tom Gillan has been training SketchUp Courses to corporate clients in Sydney for seven years. If you like to know more about SketchUp, visit Design Workshop Sydney SketchUp courses webpage for more information.