Cultivating Spatial Intelligence

Geospatial Tools for GSD Students

This page describes a few of the tools available to help GSD students organize and create geospatially referenced data. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of GIS tools, only those tools for which GSD students have privileged access owing to their affiliation with Harvard or the GSD. Some of the tools are available to GSD Students through the GSD Software Server. Other tools may be downloaded by Harvard affiliates from the Harvard Center for Geographic Analysis (CGA). Most of these tools can be run by Harvard Affiliates while inside the Harvard network or using the Harvard Virtual Private Network (VPN).


ArcGIS is a Geographic Information System package developed by Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI). It is useful for manipulating digital representations of geographic entities and their relationships with one another. ArcGIS version 10 is installed on all the public Windows computers in the GSD. There is no Macintosh version of ArcGIS, but it does run well in BootCamp and Parallels on Apple OSX.

Harvard's site license for ArcGIS permits any Harvard student or staff member to install ArcGIS on their own computer. The software will run provided you are connected to the Internet inside Harvard or through the Harvard VPN. GSD students will find the necessary installers for ArcGIS from the GSD Software Server. Note: non GSD Users should get their software from the Harvard Centrer for Geographic Analysis.

Google Earth Pro

Google eartyh is a browser and authoring tool for geo-enabled web content. It is also a very useful tool for visualizing data from GPS units. The Pro version of Google Earth adds the capability of downloading aerial photographs at much higher resolution than the free consumer version of Google Earth. Pro also lets you view a few "premium" data sets, like census data; and also allows you to record video of your flight-paths and tours. Google Earth Pro is not available for student computers but it is installed on the lab computers in room G516. Our tutorial on Georeferencing Scanned Maps discusses how the high-resolution aerial photography from Google Earth Pro may be used to form a highly precise base layer for a GIS data set.

SketchUp Pro

SketchUp has amazing capabilities for creating and sharing georeferenced models of sites and buildings. Even the free version of SketchUp does this. SketchUp Pro has many useful capabilities for importing and exporting a variety of data formats from other tools. SketchUp Pro also has the capability to create video files. GSD users can download SketchUp Pro from the GSD Software Server.


RhinoTerrain is a geospatial plugin for the p[opular and powerful 3d modeling tool Rhinoceros3D. RhinoTerrain makes it easy to build site context models from spatially referenced terrain models and aerial photography that may be downloaded through the web. RhinoTerrain also makes it easy to build finely articulated terrains that feature crisp interfaces between terrain and pavement and between site and context, using the hard and soft breakline vocabulary of Constrained Delaunay Triangulation. See our RhinoTerrain Tutorial for a demonstration.