Harvey Nelson has put Kelowna

Kelowna man is virtually reducing a city to size

Harvey Nelson uses his computer to achieve feats no one else in town dare tackle—at least not yet.

  • May. 18, 2012 6:00 a.m.

If you are cruising around Google Earth and notice the Invue building on Springfield is three-dimensional, while virtually its entire surroundings remain flat, here’s why: Harvey Nelson.

Sitting behind his desk-top computer on the 11th floor of the building, Nelson is only the second person in Kelowna to start graphically building the virtual landscape for Google (someone had done the bridge before he arrived).

His son, Christian Nelson, is considered a pioneer in the field, invited by Google to a conference in Denver, Col. to discuss how the applications they use—Pasteup and some basic photo manipulation software—can be improved to make the amateur model builder’s efforts easier.

Christian got him into it when he started mapping the University of Alberta, one of his later projects, and since then Harvey has tackled a myriad of complex structures in the Okanagan including most of the cultural core—the Rotary Centre for the Arts, City Hall, the Kelowna Law Courts, and so forth.

“Not being an architect or an engineer, this has certainly increased my appreciation of buildings,” said Harvey, who admits he didn’t realize the level of detail involved until he started trying to draw in the lines himself.

His daughter is an architect and Christian is a mechanical engineer who works in the infrastructure department of the Alberta government managing the needs of the provincial roads and buildings, the built environment of the province.

While it might seem a quirky way to spend an afternoon, there’s quite an art to the Nelsons’ pastime. First, the building must be roughed in, setting a basic shape; then the modeller must photograph the building from as many angles as possible in order to import the details and create an accurate three-dimensional image.

For a building like Invue, it’s no easy task. Often explained as having a pointed ship’s hull-like shape, the layers upon layers of balconies jutting out the west side of the building were painstaking, he said, although mapping the 12-foot infinity sign at the Okanagan Regional Library downtown was no easy task either.

Altogether, Nelson has done Kelowna International Hostel (a friend owns it), the Kelowna Art Gallery, City Hall, the Water Street Fire Hall, the Kelowna Law Courts, the Yatch Club, the Rotary Centre for the Arts, Invue, Kelowna Community Theatre and he is currently working on the north and south sides of Bernard Avenue. He has completed the Kelowna Museums building—though it has yet to be accepted.

Google officially vets each building before approving it to go on the site.

When the three-dimensional forms are built for Google all of the surrounding vegetation must be removed, so it’s as perfect an architectural rendering as possible. This means removing each tree with photo manipulations that add hours to the job.

But the shadows on the page—accurate to the hour—from the original Google Earth images remain. So eventually, the model has a shadow that falls around the clock over it’s neighbourhood.

The entire concept is designed to give people that on-the-ground feeling, making it easier for those who struggle to read maps to get an exact feel for life in the city in question.

Without the actual architectural drawings, the representations are largely estimations each virtual artist must work through. For now, Nelson’s artistry stands alone on the surface of Kelowna


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