You may ask what does GIS have to do with an architectural firm? Well it’s starting to catch on that GIS and AutoCAD MAP can benefit those folks and make some of the every day tasks a little easier. Not only does the cleanup tools in MAP do a better job of removing duplicated objects in a dwg but there are other features than may make having a seat of MAP in the office worthwhile.
Lets look at the “Vicinity Map” that a lot of the firms place on the cover sheet or with a site plan for the project. There was a discussion about the legality of using Yahoo Maps, Google Earth or any other internet mapping application for this. Why not use AutoCAD MAP and make your own. The same data that those mapping programs use is out there for free if you know where to look. Which brings up where can you find this data. First place I would suggest is with your local city or county GIS office. Most large cities have GIS departments now that keep up with all the streets, roads and tax parcels. Other places to look for data is on the internet and at some of the major colleges or universities in your state. Even most states now have a GIS site to share data with others. Some have even extended their data to include things that we as tax payers may never need but other departments in the communities may want to keep up with, for instance fire hydrants and the water pressure at each hydrant.
So what data should you look for? Unless your house in on fire or you need to fill your swimming pool in a hurry you may not care about fire hydrants data. How about locations of schools and shopping centers? Or the bus route that may run right by the site of the new office building you are designing. All that data may be of use to a firm in some way or means. If it is there and free find a way to use it. Any firm that is wanting to get in on the development side of the business can use the information to make better decisions.
Next thing is look at the format the data is in. Most shared data is in ESRI format called shape files, not to be confused with AutoCAD shape files. ESRI shape files consist of at least three files with the extension of shp, dbf, and shx. They will all have the same file name but different extensions. Other format are E00 files, these are another type from ESRI that is in a folder/ directory structure. A few others format you may find are MapInfo (MIF & TAB), Micro station (Dgn), and Spatial Data Transfer Standard(SDTS). Then there are the raster formats out there that may be of use. SID files are popular for images, ER Mapper files (ECW), Jpeg and TIF have geo-reference formats for GIS systems to name a few.
So now that you found some data that you want to use, the next step before you download it is check the “Metadata”. Metadata is the info gis users use to tell other users about the data. The create date, the format it is in, how accurate it is, how it was created or collected, how often it is updated and a few other things that may be of use to you. There is no use in down loading a 5 meg file of street data to find out it was created 20 years ago from a hand drawn paper map. So check the metadata before you down load. Most sites will list the metadata right along with the down load button.
So now that you have the data downloaded and figured out how to import it into AutoCAD MAP what is it? Well most of the data is either point, lines/polylines or polygons objects. Points may be a bus stop or a city location on a map, lines(plines) are usually streets or road center lines, and polygons may be the boundary for parks, city limits or footprints to buildings. The data behind all the lines and points like the street names, property owners and etc. are hidden and takes a little work to get into the map but with the right know-how and guidance you can get it. Full time users of MAP will point you in the right direction to get to it and use it as you need, so ask away if you need help.
So what are you waiting for? Get a demo copy of MAP from your dealer, play with it for a few weeks and find some data on the internet, see if it does’t help out in the office. A good site to point you in the direction of free data to use is www.gisuser.com click on the data tab and search away it will point you to most any data you will need if it’s out there on the web.