WEB WATCH — With virtual planning and architectural critics judging from on high, Google Earth may transform the way we view buildings – and force us to make roofs more attractive.

The regeneration of Liverpool and Manchester has made enormous progress recently, but not for visitors arriving on the Google Earth magic carpet.

According to regeneration body Liverpool Vision, the aerial maps of Liverpool are years out of date. London maps, on the other hand, include up-to-date landmarks such as the Wembley and Arsenal stadiums.

Apparently Birmingham and Manchester also have old images, which has lead to accusations of a north/south bias. Google claims it relies on third parties, but coverage does seem patchy – Urbis is nowhere to be seen in Manchester, yet my friend can see his new shed on the outskirts.

A building.co.uk focus group revealed that developers are turning to Google Earth to scout sites. Google purchased a piece of software called SketchUp this year, on which you build 3D models online. Google will place the best models on its maps.

Microsoft launched Virtual Earth 3D last month, which includes replicas of 15 cities. The next step is to stitch together millions of images to create one global walkthrough, where you will be able to buy real goods in virtual stores. Perhaps you’ll attend a virtual Building Awards ceremony with a cloned sponsor handing an award to your avatar.

The possibilities of virtual worlds in construction are endless. Planners could place models on virtual maps to see how designs affect the environment. And if they don’t focus designers’ minds on roofs, the clients certainly will – it’s only a matter of time before a building design is rejected because it “won’t look good on Google Earth”.

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