Human 2.0 Project

Permanence * Adventure * Culture

Design mini-challenge 02 - mapping

2014-03-30 00:00:00 Erik Lee

Okay, we're off to a good start. If you followed the challenge from last week, you should now have a good set of software tools to work with. Now it's time to give a couple of them a workout. Here's what we're going to do: 1. Find aerial photos of your site 2. Download them at a good resolution and crop out the stuff you don't want 3. Import the image as a background in inkscape

Good luck! (just kidding, instructions below..)

Finding aerial photography of your site

There are a number of really good sources for aerial photography online. My personal favorites are:

  1. Google Earth is the easiest way to get your imagery. You can find your property and zoom it in full screen to get a nice, high resolution image. As an added bonus, you can also use it to get contour lines (which we'll be doing next).
  2. Bing maps birdseye view is awesome for being able to see buildings and trees from the side, which helps when designing for solar exposure. To see it, first find your site on the map, then go to the top bar (highlighted in the picture) and pick bird's eye from the options. The map will "turn" so it looks like you're seeing it from an angle. Bing also has pretty good aerial photography (straight-down) which is much better for defining boundaries and floor plans. The way I do this is to use both - I make my map from the aerial photography, and I use the bird's eye photography to sketch in shadow maps.
  3. Google maps seems to have a more complete collection of aerial photography, and they have street view for many locations. Street view is awesome again for getting a better concept of solar exposure, at least for the parts of the property that can be seen from the street. I actually prefer Bing's bird's eye view, but they don't always have photography available for less populated areas.
  4. Terraserver Has pretty good imagery too, and you can order prints from them as well (and downloads).

Okay, so pick your favorite imagery source (or try a couple) and find your site. The next thing we're going to do is use the screenshot tool to get an aerial photo of the whole site all at one time. If you have a large site, you may want to get higher resolution shots of parts of it, and we'll go over how to do that in a later tutorial. Basically, the idea is that you zoom in where you want to have the details and take a bunch of overlapping screenshots, then stitch them all together. Inkscape makes it easy to scale and overlay the imagery so it's seamless in the overall design.

Getting the site map background

This one is a breeze - all you have to do is get your whole site on screen so you can see it, take a screenshot, and then use the gimp to get rid of the stuff you don't want on your map. This method doesn't give you the maximum possible resolution, but I recommend you start with this approach (it's also possible to make a mosaic of stitched together screenshots, but it's quite a bit more work). If you're interested, I'll go over how to do the mosaic. For now, let's start here:

  1. Get your whole site on screen with your favorite image source
    1. Pro tip: if you're using google earth for your imagery, you can rotate your view so that north isn't up. In my case, my property is long and skinny and oriented north-south, so this meant I could get a much larger screenshot by turning it sideways. After you take the shot, you can rotate the image back to the standard orientation for your design.
  2. Use your screenshot software to take a snap of the screen
    1. On Windows (vista and up) you can do this with the snipping tool (thanks Russell for this tip). Click the start button, type "snipping tool" in the search programs box, and tell it to install. After that it's in the start button menu and you can use it to drag a box around the shot you want.
    2. On Linux, I just press the Print Screen button on my keyboard. Erin Landon says you can also get a screenshot app in Linux Mint by right-clicking the taskbar, then going to panel->add new items and clicking screenshot
    3. On Mac, you can get a screenshot with Cmd + Shift + 4 (thanks Ma & Pa Kilter for that one)
    4. For iPad users, screenshots are made by clicking the on-off button and the Home button simultaneously (thanks to bettjoy for that one).
  3. Save your image, then open it with Gimp
  4. If you have extra stuff around the actual site image (some screenshot utilities take a picture of the whole desktop), first use the rectangle select tool (dotted rectangle in the toolbox window) to select just the imagery part. Then right click on the image, and go to Image->Crop to Selection

Don't worry if the image still has stuff in it that's not part of your site - we'll fix that in inkscape in the next step.

Okay, now export your file (ctrl+shift+e) as a jpg format (when it asks for a file name, you can just put the name with .jpg at the end). At this point, you have a rectangular image that may or may not match your site's boundaries closely. We'll get the boundary to fit better in the next step:

Import your image to inkscape

Okay, for this tutorial we'll be doing most of our actual work in inkscape. The way I like to draw up site plans is to get the aerial photo as a background, then add layers of other stuff on top of it that I can switch on and off to show various design aspects either individually or all at one time. I think this makes it much easier to explain the design, because you can limit what's visible to what's being explained at the moment (but you can of course show the big picture as well to see how it all fits together).

Here's how to get your new image into inkscape, and highlight just your section of the image (if there's other stuff in the rectangular shot from the last step).

  1. Open inkscape and set the document size. This tells inkscape how big you want your virtual paper to be (if you were going to print it out). This step really doesn't matter much in my workflow because I usually just export images anyway, but I'll put it in here in case you work a little differently from me.
    1. Press ctrl+shift+D to open the document properties dialog (or File -> Document Properties). This allows you to customize the borders and print size of the drawing you make. I don't generally worry about this, because the vector drawing in inkscape can scale to any size and be just fine. However, if you want to specify it, you can either pick a preset size that you like, or you can define a custom size. I usually also turn off the page border (checkbox near the bottom of the dialog).
  2. Create a new layer called "background"
    1. Press ctrl+shift+L to open the layers dialog (or pick it from the menu bar)
    2. Click once on the row in the dialog that says "Layer 1" and replace the text with "background"
  3. Import your image (Ctrl+I, or File->Import). Inkscape will ask whether you want to "embed" or "link" the image -- make sure you tell it to embed. Embedding it means that you can move your file around and the image will move with it. If you just link it, you might run into problems doing things like emailing the design or copying it to another place. This step will put the image into inkscape as an object that you can manipulate by dragging its corners and edges.
    1. You can now resize the picture so that it fits onto your page. To do this, hold down Ctrl while dragging one of the corner arrows around, and you'll see how it works. Holding down Ctrl keeps it from distorting the shape of the image.
    2. You can also rotate the image now if you want - just click once somewhere on the image and the corner "grips" will turn into curved arrows (clicking again returns to the resize grips). Click and drag them around to rotate the image until it's where you want it.
  4. Use the "Bezier curve" tool to draw over the boundary to your site.
    1. Activate the tool by clicking the button between the pencil and the ink pen on the left toolbar, or by pressing shift+f6
    2. Click each corner in order around the site until you get back to the start, then click on the point where you started. You can outline any shape you want this way, it doesn't need to be rectangular. This will make a closed shape.
  5. Now, click on the background image to select it, then hold Shift and click on the border you just drew.
  6. Go to the top menu, and click Object -> Clip -> Set. That will cut off all of the stuff outside of your border. You can tinker around with this to get it like you want. After you have it like you want...
  7. DON'T FORGET TO SAVE (ctrl+s, or File->Save)!

You're done! Congratulations!

Bonus prep for next time

Now that you have something to work with, play with it a bit. Inkscape's drawing interface is pretty easy to get started with, so make a new layer (ctrl+shift+L, then click the "+" and give it a name) and play with the different tools to see what they do.

If you want to go further (strictly optional - we'll cover most of this in later tutorials), here's a good page to follow for learning the basics of drawing with inkscape: Inkscape tutorial

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