Pro Case Study

In the second installment of our three-part series profiling Turner Construction Company, we turn our attention to the plugins Turner is developing to increase efficiencies across the global organization. Jim Barrett, Director of Integrated Building Solutions, explains:

The National Turner Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) team has developed several SketchUp plugins in Ruby to bring existing and evolving VDC processes into the simple, efficient and visual environment of SketchUp Pro.

A proprietary plugin for steel modeling and tracking was created to accelerate the use of Building Information Modeling (BIM) at the World Trade Center Transportation Hub. The tool was written to batch convert single line framing plans into 3D steel sizes, using a standard library of parts. This tool was expanded to report steel takeoffs and is now used throughout Turner to support estimating and pre-construction services.

The Place Steel for Modeling module in Turner’s proprietary SketchUp plugin

By developing our own tools on top of the intuitive interface of SketchUp Pro, we continue to increase operational efficiencies. The place steel plugin is a great example of how streamlining the modeling process by reviewing the process of modeling steel, standardizing the modeling of stock pieces, and integrating that database information into SketchUp Pro reduces redundancy as well as dimensional errors in steel sizing.

Working with several Turner offices including, New York City and Seattle, a takeoff plugin was developed to support Turner’s current approach to “Control Quantity Models” and “Gross Square Foot” takeoffs. This tool allows SketchUp models to be built for different purposes. For example, using client or business unit standards, we still achieve consistent and accurate takeoffs of square footage, count, length and volumes (using SketchUp Pro’s Solid Tools).

The Count Steel for Estimating module of the Turner plugin

Design information is still in its infancy and rapidly changing. Supporting Turner’s evolving estimating expertise, a plugin was developed to accelerate the takeoff process for conceptual estimates. This plugin allows for rapid creation of space and room plans, as well as the detailed takeoff information that is required for estimates.

The Mass Generator for Estimating module

These two takeoff plugins work together to seamlessly streamline the quantity takeoff process developed by estimators in SketchUp Pro. At Turner, we look at opportunities to develop existing processes & workflows using new tools.

A detail view of the Mass Generator for Estimating module

In this way, we aren’t teaching new workflows based on new tools as they come along (a very disruptive process for any business). Rather, we’re able to leverage the skill sets and broad knowledge bases of our VDC team to build streamlined versions of existing workflows into new tools.

Google Earth on 48 screens

Back in 2009, Google developed the first Liquid Galaxy, an entirely new way to display Google Earth on eight screens – which creates an immersive experience of virtually flying around the globe. Since then, we’ve built dozens of Liquid Galaxies all over the world and open sourced the code so anyone can build their own.

Late last year, the Paris Center for Architecture and Urbanism: Le Pavillon de l’Arsenal, approached us asking if they could use Google Earth to power a new interactive display highlighting the Paris metropolitan area in 2020 with upcoming buildings in 3D. Naturally, we were excited about the project, especially when they shared that the display would be 40 square meters – posing a fun and unique challenge.

A year later, we are excited to share that the first 48 screen Liquid Galaxy is now on display in Paris. We believe this to be the largest screen showing Google Earth to date!

Photo: Vincent Fillon
What started as a 20% project to support the new Google Cultural Institute resulted in a stunning display of the Earth in almost 100M pixels – powered by 48 instances of Google Earth synchronized and operated through 4 multi-touch screens with pinch and zoom functionality. The view is even sharper due to a refresh of the entire Paris area with higher resolution imagery.

As a Parisian, it’s amazing to be able to see what the city will look like in the future. If you can’t make it to France in the near future, you can preview it at home by downloading this KML file and opening it in Google Earth.

The Canopy and Transport Hub: Patrick Berger and Jacques Anziutti architects
This project was a close collaboration between Google and Le Pavillon de l’Arsenal, as well as technology JCDecaux, End Point and design partners ultranoir.

Over the next few months we’ll be fully open sourcing this work on Liquid Galaxy, as well as the graphical interface. Keep an eye out on our source code page for updates.

Dev Tip of the Week: Using Bing Maps with SQL Server spatial

SQL Server 2008 and SQL Azure databases support spatial data types, including spatial data indexes and queries. My company, OnTerra, has developed a tool we call AJAX Map DataConnector that helps make developing spatial maps with SQL Server 2008 and SQL Azure on Bing platforms quite simple. DataConnector’s open-source framework allows you to get started quickly, reuse existing code/best practices, and focus on your application requirements and data.

For example, many mapping applications involve storing latitude and longitude data as extra fields in relevant database tables. An individual location could be an address (which could be geocoded using the Bing Maps geocoder). It could also be more complex data like country or state polygons. Spatial data gets stored in the spatial data types using functions like STTextAsGeom(), which converts textual location data to binary spatial data types.

Aside: For complex data loading scenarios I would recommend that you consider using FME (Feature Manipulation Engine) from Safe Software (

So you have spatial data in SQL Server spatial, what now? Well, there is no direct integration between SQL Server/SQL Azure and Bing Maps. This is mostly because SQL Server is server-side and Bing Maps is a client-side technology. To build web mapping applications, developers need to bring these technologies together. Architecture has much in common with the standard tiered web application, with database, Data Access Layer (DAL), web server, and client UI. However, there are some key differences for web mapping applications.

Client UI is fundamentally the map, and can be implemented using Bing Maps AJAX or Silverlight map controls. The UI displays spatial data and handles user interaction and queries. A DAL would then typically reside on the web server to connect the DB and client UI. The DAL is important because it processes queries from the client, queries the DB, and then performs data conversions. Spatial data from SQL Server is returned as Well Known Text (or other formats like WKB or GML). The WKT data includes strings of data representing points, lines, and polygons. Latitude and longitude fields are part of the strings. The client UI, however, cannot easily take WKT. So either the client or the DAL must convert it.

If the client is AJAX, this could be done using GeoJSON, a JavaScript-based format for storing geospatial data. (See figure 1 for an example client UI.) JSON has the advantage of being more easily processed by JavaScript code and less verbose than XML and others. You should consider limiting the amount of data returned via this method to a few thousand (varies based on browser performance). To load larger amounts of data consider raster tile layers.

Figure 1 – Query/display of spatial data in Bing Maps AJAX using GeoJSON.


The DataConnector projects on Codeplex provide a lot of the pieces of this architecture including sample databases, DAL, and client UI. Recently we released an AJAX version using the Bing Maps AJAX 7.0 API ( See figure 2 for details on the elements.

Figure 2 – AJAX Map DataConnector architecture.

We hope that you find the AJAX Map DataConnector to be a useful tool that makes your development process faster and easier. As always, we’ll be watching comments to catch any feedback or questions that you have.


Steve Milroy is CEO and cofounder of OnTerra Systems ( and an expert with Location Based Services and geospatial solutions. Steve has presented at developer conferences, user groups, and business associations on many emerging technology solution and development topics.