GEOG 497
3D Modeling and Virtual Reality




SketchUp is one of the most versatile and easiest to learn 3D modeling tools on the market. It offers an excellent balance between functionality and quality on the one hand and ease of use on the other. It allows users with relatively little experience to create exceptional 3D models of almost anything. SketchUp is not tied to a single domain (e.g., architecture) but you will find that every discipline and industry in need of 3D models is using SketchUp: architects, landscape architect, architectural engineers, interior designers, construction professionals, urban planners, woodworkers, artists, sculptors, mapmakers, historians, 3D game designers, and more. SketchUp was part of the Google™ family but is now owned by Trimble™. We will only scratch the surface of this versatile modeling tool that through its warehouse for models (assets) from users and companies might become one of your favorite tools if you are planning to create building models of the past, present, or future, if you want to design room interiors, model your dream car, or, through its large expansion opportunities you might be interested in creating solutions for augmented reality. One of our colleagues said that he treats SketchUp like Minecraft™ but instead of largely using blocks you have every geometric form under the sun at your disposal.

While geographers are only slowly yet steadily entering the world of 3D, certainly one of the biggest trends at recent ESRI user conferences, the results of using SketchUp in our residential courses are quite remarkable. Here are some models that some students have created after a weeklong introduction. More models and more information can be found on our websites (Sketchfab; Sites).

The model below shows Old Main, the landmark building of Penn State, in its historic form (before 1930). The model has been created by Matt Diaz and curated by Niloufar Kiromasi, both interns at ChoroPhronesis (Summer 2016). Modeling has been possible thanks to an ongoing collaboration with the Penn State Library who is offering historic images and floor plans for buildings that do not exist anymore on campus. Our efforts make a contribution to what has come known as cultural heritage research, in our case, we are working toward a strategy to recreate environments long gone. If you would like to know more about Old Main’s history, visit Penn State's Historic Old Main.

Click the image below to move the building around using your mouse, stylus, or finger on the screen. If you want to view the building using your Cardboard Viewer, go to Sketchfab Penn State University 1922: Old Main.

SketchUp model of Old Main

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Set up your workspace in SketchUp
  • Draw basic 2D shapes such as rectangles, triangles, cylinders in SketchUp
  • Turn 2D shapes into 3D objects in SketchUp
  • Differentiate between inference, groups, and components
  • Use textures in SketchUp
  • Optimize your model
  • Create your own building models in SketchUp
  • Export your model from SketchUp and share it with the world via Sketchfab (optional)

Lesson Roadmap

Lesson Roadmap
To Read
  • Lesson 3 Content
To Do
  • Discussion: Reflection (Modeling)
  • Assignment: SketchUp Essential Concepts
  • Assignment: Optimization
  • Assignment: 3D Model


If you have any questions, please post them to our "General and Technical Questions" discussion (not e-mail). I will check that discussion forum daily to respond. While you are there, feel free to post your own responses if you, too, are able to help out a classmate.