My Own Private Google Earth
Project Process/Documentation: http://isthisadrelevanttoyou.tumblr.com/

Scaling is a non-trivial process… [1]

This is all done in SketchUp, which I use a lot. It’s a very powerful system. [2]


My Own Private Google Earth, installation view (detail).

To first preface the project, I want to put the term “own” on the table as it pertains to both the idea of possession or ownership of objects (as a verb) and in this project actually suggests a level of knowability about certain things, meaning to own something is to know it. And at the same time is also commonly used as a self-reflexive modifier (as an adjective) as in My Own Private Google Earth, which is the title of this thesis.

The body of work can be described as a collection of models, videos, and digital artifacts surrounding the concept of scale modeling and Earth browsing. Typically, we might say, the scale model can be understood as an object created for an architectural proposal — as a stand-in for something not present or as an approximation of a building yet to come. But this project suggests a broader set of implications in how scale models are made and understood as design objects, as part of a larger intellectual project.

So, perhaps we could say that the practice of scale modeling is no longer about creating an abstracted version of something real, but might be a critical means to engage accuracy, abstraction, and spatial and personal relationships. The work unpacks the implications of handmaking and hobbyist modeling and centers on Google Earth as both an important and curious site of production — a site which was once populated with a wealth of individually created digital models.

"A Tour Around the Frontier of Resolution," imagery from Google Earth 7.1.2.2041.

The strange thing about all of this is that now Google Earth uses a method that involves the translation of aerial images into a three dimensional model, which is technically known as photogrammetry. Even stranger still, is that this reconstituted and irresolute digital model has an edge, which is something that I became interested in. So, the video piece, which is called “A Tour Around the Frontier of Resolution” explicitly uses the filmic tracking shot to trace the edge and to activate it as a threshold — this is the frontier at which algorithmic geomodeling ends and the handmade model is allowed a tentative stay of execution, until, inevitably, Google’s scanning efforts envelope the entire surface of the Earth.

"U.S. Patent No. 6,628,279 B1," imagery from the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

The status of the digital model as something that was once a product of individual production is thrown into question as something that can be owned or possessed. To that end, a collection of digital artifacts called “Some Things That I Took from Your Google Earth Estates” have been torn from the rendering and framed for posterity. Each of the pieces has been carefully and surreptitiously incised from the fabric of the photogrammetry mesh, further removed from the models of the rich and famous. A clipping from Gwyneth Paltrow’s organic herb garden; a chunk of Michael Bay’s Zen garden; and a piece of coping from Jennifer Anistons swimming pool: This is the memorabilia that occupy the domestic spaces of a world where we spend the majority of our time in an image of the actual.

"My Desk" Digital Model Totem, digital models by pajics, Samuel, Marian87, MichalCh, …

The two totems — “My First Model” and “My Desk” desk — can be read as core samples from the online 3D Warehouse. These stacks reflect, each at their own level, the Historical Periods of Modeling in Recent History. The accumulation and stratification of models reflects not only what’s literally being depicted (different styles of desks and choices for a first model), but how the impulses and motivations to bring these models into existence emerge within a larger set of relationships and implications.

"Orbiting the Compound Stack Model," digital models by: drobbins, Finnian, stahlmandesign, Seth Dickson, warlock, Finnian, Aerilius, J.A.Alvarez, Mogens Bregnbaek, burgviking, bert, Tomm, amolak singh, Asim, and ravage9218, from Trimble's 3D Warehouse.

No more “actual” than the images of models, is the three dimensional equivalent of this idea. The colorful "Compound Stack Model" focuses this idea of extracting a core sample from 3D Warehouse to one specific event, with particular interest in how historical impact, media coverage, and political notoriety can give rise to a sudden and marked rush to create a model — the public announcement of the mission directed at the compound of Osama bin Laden.

Three models were uploaded within 24 hours of that announcement in April, 2011. Six more models had been created two days later. Fifteen versions of the Abbottabad compound are currently available on 3D Warehouse, here, they are stacked as scale models.



The "Compound Stack Model" points to the accumulation of digital things — often in digital space, the newest version of an object totally replaces the one that came before it. But, here each model and its outlying structure points to a built environment where the version history is made physical. In essence, this becomes a scale model about the practice of digital modeling.

Underlying all of this work is the idea that modeling is its own unique form of understanding — that to model is to know — as it engages the modeler and the modeled with respect to accuracy, abstraction, and scale.

[1] "Image scaling (Redirected from Resampling (bitmap))." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 27 Mar. 2014. Web. 13 Apr. 2014.

[2] Fisher, Morgan. “Graduate Art Seminar.” Art Center College of Design. Los Angeles Times Media Center, Pasadena, CA. 26 Mar. 2014. Lecture.

Brief: Lab Thesis
Class: MDP–636 Lab Thesis 2
Advisors: Tim Durfee, Ben Hooker
Adjunct Advisors: Garnet Hertz, David Leonard
Writing Advisors: Jane McFadden, Mimi Zeiger
Thesis Jury: Casey Anderson, Anne Burdick, Kenneth Cameron, Elizabeth Chin, Elise Co, Sean Donahue, Tim Durfee, Ben Hooker, Norman Klein, Alan Koch, Jane McFadden, Tim Schwartz, Philip van Allen, Mimi Zeiger
Model Assembly: Erin Besler, Margo Dunlap, David Eskenazi, Marcus Guttenplan, Leah Elaine Horgan, Ryan Roark
Installation Advisors: Anne Burdick, Kevin Wingate
Installation: Gerardo Guerrero, Marcus Guttenplan, Tim Kim
Term: Spring, 2014

Media Design Practices | Lab 2014
Art Center College of Design | Pasadena, CA