Architecture Mapping

Architecture Mapping




Architecture mapping is one of the most commonly used techniques to represent and communicate architectural designs and ideas. Almost all architectural projects require you to analyse, explore or produce maps at some stage.

Maps are excellent communication tools as they can be used to display a wide range of visual information. They are often easy to interpret as they come with a key/legend that lists all the information that is being visualised.

In this post, we will go through some websites that we think can serve as great resources for mapping and data visualisation for both architecture students and design professionals too. So, if you are looking to produce some exceptional data and maps, keep on reading!

You may already use some of these websites, but we hope there will be some new finds as well.

Uses of Architectural Mapping

Uses of Architectural Mapping

Design Process

Maps and mapping techniques are used in a variety of ways to support design decisions made during the architectural design process in the architecture industry. Let’s explore some of these uses:

Site Analysis
You will first come across maps when you look for the geographical location of your site.

The site analysis stage is where you dig a little deeper into qualitative data, uncovering important details about your site and its characteristics. Some of this qualitative data which may be presented in the form of maps. These maps could include contextual information relating to demographics, climate, topography etc which are all super important in helping you make informed design decisions.

Concept Design and Development
At this stage you may decide to make use of mapping techniques to develop your concepts, show your experiments and iterations.

Maps can be the perfect data visualisation tools to help you display your initial ideas, space planning and more. They can even be used in diagrammatic form.

Communication and Visualisation
Finally, you could use maps in the final design and presentation stages where projects are shown in their fully resolved states.

Maps play a critical role in helping to communicate architectural ideas to clients and other project collaborators involved in the design and construction stages of your project. They make your ideas more engaging and easier to understand.

Other ways of mapping architecture

Maps are often found in cities and architectural buildings. They help people navigate spaces and orient themselves better. You will often see a marker saying ‘You are here’ that shows you your location.
Urban planning
Urban maps are great tools to locate key landmarks, buildings, roads, connections and more, elements within a city. They can provide really helpful information for planners who can analyse existing conditions in order to develop better respond to urban spatial processes for instance.
Preservation and Conservation
Maps can be useful in marking and documenting listed buildings that preserve cultural heritage and architectural history, and even to show environmental areas or zones containing biodiversity that needs to be conserved.

Different Types of Maps ​

Different Types of Maps
Maps are used for a wide variety of reasons and can represent an impressive range of information and data. Here is a list of some common types of maps that you may come across when working on your architectural design project:

Physical maps
Topographic maps
Zoning maps
Political maps
Historical maps
Cadastral maps
Circulation maps (Floor plans can be maps)
Figure ground maps/Nolli maps
Material source maps
Environmental/Biodiversity maps
Geological maps
Climatic maps
Economic maps
Transportation maps
Navigational charts
Utility maps
GIS (Geographic Information Systems) maps
Choropleth maps
Heat maps
Proportional symbol maps
Dot density maps
Animated time-series maps


Mapping Techniques

There are a variety of ways and creative mapping techniques in which you can curate your maps. Check out numerous examples in our post on Creative Mapping and Data Visualisation Techniques for Architects (  to get some inspiration to level up your architectural map making game!

14 Best Architecture Mapping Resources for Architects

Here are our recommendations of 14 mapping resources that will not only help you accelerate your creative mapping workflow but also create some eye-catching architectural maps.

Please note: Some of these resources may undergo updates and changes to features over time. This article was written based on the information available at the time of its creation. It is important that you check the main resource website for the most up-to-date information for any potential changes or updates.

Mapbox is a mapping platform that provides professional looking, customised mapping and data visualisation services for free. You do need to sign up for an account in order to access and use the free features available in the Mapbox Studio. It has a pay as you go pricing system for its paid features.

Once you have logged into your account you can begin designing your custom map style. You will have a variety of options to do this. You can choose from one of the many premade styles, to save time. They can be viewed in the Mapbox Gallery. Or you can decide to build your own style from scratch to have ultimate creative control.

There is also a new feature called ‘Style with image’ where you can upload an image into the style builder in order to extract its colour palette. This can be super helpful if you have an image you like and want to make use of its colour scheme to make your map.

In the style builder you can use the Global and Layers panels on the left to make custom edits to your map. From toggling the visibility of certain layers to editing fonts and colours, there is a lot you can do with this resource. They even have the option to present buildings as 3D extrusions.

Once you are happy with your custom map, you can save it and then use the Print option to export to your preferred dimensions. The exports are available in .png or .jpg formats and you get 100 for free monthly, which we think is amazing!

There is also an option of publishing your custom map, for others to use.

You can check out this helpful video by Steeven Mou Sang who shows you how to create a figure ground drawing with Mapbox:

OpenStreetMap is an open data resource that is free for anyone to use. You are only required to register if you wish to edit map information as a contributor and is not needed for viewing purposes.

It is updated and maintained by a community of volunteers who collect data from a variety of geodata sources. This collaborative effort helps bring you a more current view of the local fabric of the area.

While this can be greatly beneficial, you have to keep in mind that the map’s appearance, accuracy and reliability depends on the quantity and quality of contributors in a specific region.

OpenStreetMap has a user-friendly interface and lets you input your location of choice into the search bar on the left. You can also view information about your chosen location by enabling different map layers from the layers button located on the right sidebar. The layer options include Standard, CyclOSM, Cycle Map, Transport Map, ÖPNVKarte and Humanitarian.

Only the Standard view can be exported in the following 4 formats: PNG, JPEG, SVG and PDF. To download a map in this view, you have to go to the share button on the sidebar. From here you can select custom dimensions for your map, add a marker showing the exact location of your site and set the scale of your map. The downloaded files will be crisp and of high quality, ready for you to edit in your software of choice.

Here is a video by Surviving Architecture that shows you how to take a map export from OpenStreetMap to Illustrator to make a super quick and easy site plan drawing:

Cadmapper is a really useful resource for architects and students. It uses OpenStreetMap for its maps and gives you free access to over 200 cities in 2 dimensional DXF file formats. This can be really useful for you if your next project is located in one of these cities.

The free city files are organised in colour coded layers containing metropolitan area road networks, railways, bodies of water and the coastline in the form of polylines.

The files come in metric units and you may have to zoom out a bit to view the entire city map, so do keep that in mind. Your download will be a .ZIP file from which you will have to extract the free CAD city files. Programs like ArchiCAD, AutoCAD, Autodesk Inventor, Rhinoceros, SketchUp, Vectorworks and Revit can be used to open these files.

Signing up to Cadmapper is free and lets you create your own map. You can choose your design program of choice, select whether you would like to include any available 3D information, topography and more. As the file will have already mapped the city, all you would have to do is work on your site. This will save you so much time spent mapping the context around your site.

With an account you can access additional free cad files of up to 1km2. Anything above 1km2 has a small charge but a discount is available if you register with an academic email address.

You can checkout this tutorial by Jon Henning to see how you use Cadmapper to speed up your architectural mapping process:

Human Terrain
This project by Matt Daniels is a cool example of mapping that visualises the world’s population density data in 3D. It is published on The Pudding website and uses data from the Global Human Settlement Layer that is processed using Google Earth Engine. The mapping interface used is Mapbox.

You can use this resource to view the current day population, see split screen comparisons to 1990 as well as see the change in population from 1990-2015.

Although it is a great interactive resource it does not have any export options. However it could be used for research purposes if you are an architecture student exploring world population for your dissertation or thesis.

Human Terrain is a really good example of the diverse map visualisation possibilities you can create with the various features and functionalities of some of these mapping resources.

Building Heights
Building Heights is an incredible resource for mapping. It offers a variety of cool visuals showing building density in the UK with data powered by Emu Analytics.

You can select any building and get to know its height and area. The panel on the left lets you make changes to the appearance of the map with regards to base maps and other related information. You can enable or disable layers depending on what you wish to display.

To get analytics of a particular site, you can click on the ‘My Areas’ section and draw over your area of choice. To download the raw data you will have to explore the free and paid options from Emu Analytics.

You are able to export 2D and 3D images as .png file formats by clicking on the small map icon on the bottom right. This will open up two further icons, one camera and one cube. The camera is for png exports and the cube lets you view the map in 3D which has an even greater visual impact.

Google Earth
Google Maps is one of the widely known and extensively used free mapping resources. However, have you come across the various features that Google Earth has to offer? It is a very detailed mapping software that lets you explore the Earth. It is completely free and comes in multiple versions in order to cater to your needs.

First up is the web version, Google Earth that has a range of map styles for you to choose from. Among the layer options there are 3D buildings, animated clouds, gridlines and some data overlays. Google Earth, just like Google maps, has 3D and Street views.

This web version also lets you create your own project. You can add placemarks, draw lines and shapes as well as include slides alongside your map. Presenting your site information in this manner can be quite captivating and engaging. You can use the ‘Capture this view’ button to zoom close to your placemarks or polygons to make your presentation even more interesting. Then when you are done you can click on the ‘Present’ button to see your presentation or export your creation as a KML file, if you like.

There aren’t many image export options with the web version, this is where Google Earth Pro for desktop comes in.

Google Earth Pro is the more advanced desktop version. It is available to download for free on PC, Mac, and Linux.

You get access to so many more additional features to customise your maps. You can choose from a larger selection of layers, insert your own images and see historic views of a location, to name a few. With this version you can save really high resolution images in both .png and .jpg formats.

There is also a Google Earth app that is available for use on mobile. You can download it on the Apple Store or on Google Play.

Check out this helpful video by Dissect Architecture that guides you through the creative process of making a site map using Google Earth Pro and Photoshop:

Google Earth Web
Google Earth Pro Desktop
Bing Maps
This mapping service is similar to Google Maps. It is developed by Microsoft and offers a variety of views including aerial, ordnance survey, birds eye, streetside, and more. Bing maps is commonly used for navigation but does have some unique features.

One of which is the 3D flyover, which is a drone-like video that takes you through all the special locations or popular buildings in major cities. It is limited to certain areas but is still great, if you wish to experiment with video to present your design project.

You will also find little cubes dotted on the map that can be viewed in 3D. These are basically included in the 3D flyover video but can be great if you want to view these places individually.

Like most mapping platforms Bing Maps has local guides containing key information about the location that may come in handy for when you conduct desktop research about your site.

You can print a map for free with the option to add notes but it does not have any image export options.

ArcGIS Online
ArcGIS Online is a web based mapping and analysis software that is very popular in the world of GIS for various purposes. It is developed by Esri (Environmental Systems Research Institute) and is a very comprehensive geographic information system (GIS).

The suite of tools it offers can help you make your own maps, share, analyse, collaborate and work with data. A free 21 day trial is available, if you wish to test it out.

If not, you can make and analyse maps with its Map Viewer that already has a plethora of free features. The panel on the left contains things like layers, basemaps and export options while the panel on the right lets you sketch over your custom map and choose from a selection of different markers.

It has 16 different base maps you can pick from that all depict different information and aesthetic qualities. You can even add tables and charts from its database.

The ArcGIS Map Viewer has 10 different export formats available, including PDF, PNG32 and JPG. You have the option to preserve and set your own scale parameters. It even lets you set the resolution of your export to maintain quality.

If you wish to explore all the features and data mapping tools of ArcGIS Online, you may consider upgrading to one of their subscription plans. But if you only want to use it to make simple architecture maps and illustrations, you will be more than happy with the free version.

Watch this video by John Nelson maps showing you how to create a cool watercolour effect map using ArcGIS Online:

Digimap is an online mapping and geospatial data service provided by EDINA, a centre for digital expertise and online services based at the University of Edinburgh.

This platform is used by most universities in the UK. It has a wealth of resources and data sets that can be greatly beneficial for architectural site analysis. To access you do need to have an organisation login which will most likely be your university login, if you are a student.

The categories available include Ordnance Survey, Historic, Geology, Marine, Environment, Aerial, Lidar, Global, Society and more. Each category has a’ OS Digimap’ and ‘Web Services’ section. The OS Digimap section allows you to annotate, print and download data for GIS or CAD. The Web Services section contains links that can be used to display mapping images from the OS Collection in most GIS systems.

The OS Digimap section will be of most use to you as an architecture student or design professional. It has a lot of helpful tools on the left side panel from map content details to drawing tools and more for you to explore. The number of basemaps options will increase as you zoom further into the map.

The ‘Print’ button is located across the top and offers export formats of PDF, PNG and JPG. You can even set precise scale requirements for paper sizes of your choice. Having this option can be of utmost importance when printing to scale.

To download data for CAD you will have to first select your area on the map and then click on ‘Download Data’ on the left side panel and browse through the options available. Then once you have all your items in your basket, you can select your export formats and request a download. Remember to stay logged in to Digimap as you go to download your files from your email.

To see how to work with an example export from Digimap, take a look at this helpful tutorial by Andrew Sides:

OS Maps
OS Maps provide detailed maps for you to use and can work across all devices. It is a paid service that has a 7 day free trial. You do need to login to access this.

Without a login you are given access to standard and aerial view map types. It also lets you view Greenspace and National Cycle Network overlays. You are also able to access route information and view map legends. Printing is only available on the premium version.

The premium plan allows more map type and overlay options. It also lets you access features that help you download, save, 3D map and even view landscapes in AR.

You can find out more here:


MapServe is a paid service that has a range of geospatial data and OS mapping services. It does require you to register for an account to access these detailed maps.

Once you have an account you are met with a plethora of tools at the top to edit and custom make your map. There are a range of base maps you can choose from.

You have the option to save your edits for later and exports are available in the DWG, DXF and PDF file formats for a variety of paper sizes.

It can support your workflows quite well as it is compatible with a good range of architectural software.

Have a look at this video showing you how to scale and export a Mapserve map in AutoCAD:

Scribble Maps
Scribble maps is an online platform that lets you easily create your own maps. It is very user-friendly and can be used both by individuals and businesses for various mapping related purposes.

You can choose from the numerous style options they provide in the free version. However to create your own style you do need to login. You can still annotate your custom map, by placing markers, text and even drawing on it, without logging in. There is also an option to import in a variety of file types to add to your maps.

The platform also has some data sets that you can use and they even let you import your own data from a spreadsheet which can be quite handy for large data sets.

Once you are done, the free version lets you save your map publicly. But it will mark you as anonymous if you have not logged in.

The free version only lets you export images and PDFs in a square output. For more export dimensions you are required to upgrade. Additional features like ‘Street View’ are only available on the pro version of Scribble Maps.

Check out this video by Richard Byrne on creating multimedia maps with Scribble Maps:

MAGIC is a web-based platform developed by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in the United Kingdom.

Like many of the mapping resources in this post, it has a table of contents panel on the left containing a list of information that you can choose to display on your map.

Across the top as well, you have a range of tools from sketching to measuring and more. There are 3 map projections, one for land data and two for marine data sets. Scale options range from 1:2500 to full extent covering the whole of the UK.

You have a variety of good quality export options like PDF, JPG, PNG32 and they come with legends that help you clearly identify what the map is trying to convey.

You can learn more about MAGIC from this video:

Snazzy Maps
Snazzy Maps is a web platform that allows users to explore, create, and share custom map styles for Google Maps. You do need an account to save your designs and access export options.

You still get a variety of options with this site, from the readymade time-saving style options in their Explore Styles Tab to creating your own custom Snazzy map style. Once you register you can save and even publish your custom map style.

The ‘Build A Map’ tab gives you more control to edit your map and lets you add customisable markers to your map which can come in handy when highlighting buildings of importance or of the same typology when you analyse your site.

They have also got a new feature that allows you to download images of your custom styles on their recently released beta version. You can download images of dimensions up to 1000 x 1000 px. During their beta release, they have given registered users the ability to download 10 images per day. Do note that this is subject to change with future updates and releases.

Watch this video by Kyle Sinko who shows you how to use Snazzy Maps to quickly create a custom vector map:

Helpful Links:


Here’s a cool resource to get some inspiration from:

Be sure to visit out Mapping Techniques Pinterest Board:


You might also be interested in:


We have loads of other incredible architecture mapping content. Be sure to check it out:

Creative Mapping and Data Visualisation Techniques
Contextual Surveys - Where to Get Relevant Information FI



We hope this post helps you explore these cool mapping resources to create some awesome architectural visualisations.

Thank you for reading! 🙂



Your Comments


Do you use any other mapping resources or websites that we might have missed out? Do let us know in the comments below.

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