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GIS for Architecture

This guide is designed to assist Architecture students, faculty, and staff who are interested in using GIS in teaching or research.

Workshop - Fall 2020

Getting to Know GIS

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) refers to the combination of data, computing hardware and software resources, along with the personnel with the requisite skills to create effective maps and perform analysis using these tools.  Architecture students commonly ask about incorporating GIS data and/or maps into their projects and this session will introduce several resources, tools, and workflows that facilitate that process.  Upon completion of the workshop, students will be able to:

  • find and evaluate GIS data from online sources to identify appropriate datasets for their projects
  • demonstrate the workflow to download, extract, and display from common GIS data repositories
  • use ArcGIS Desktop to display, symbolize, and label GIS data and create effective map products
  • create subsets of GIS datasets for export to CAD or other programs
  • build scale specific maps and export to various image formats.

This series of tabs contain information to compliment an in-person (or Zoom based) workshop.  The material can also be used as a review or by anyone who wishes to learn how to work with ArcGIS Desktop.  

Session Outline

  1. Visit online GIS data sources and download point, line, and polygon data samples
  2. Open ArcMap and get to know the interface
  3. Add the downloaded data to an ArcMap session
  4. Symbolize, label, and begin to work with spatial data
  5. Create a map and prepare for export or printing
  6. Export data to CAD

Obtaining Data

Visit online GIS data sources and download point, line, and polygon data samples.

The Data Services team commonly receive requests for 'GIS Data' but this is not specific enough to allow a meaningful response.  A data request should include the location (e.g. city, county, state) and a list of specific features of interest (roads, building footprints, traffic lights).  We have compiled a listing of several good sources here, and you can find others using simple web searching.  It helps to include search terms such as "GIS" and "Shapefile", and to specifically identify what you are trying to find and where...for example; the search string "GIS, Shapefile, St. Louis Parcels" will return hits for property boundaries in the city of St. Louis stored in the shapefile format.  A 'shapefile' is a common GIS data format that stores location, shape, and usually some attribute information but there are many other data formats that can be displayed in ArcGIS.  All vector based GIS data comes in discrete files that store a single type of geometry (point, line, or polygon) and contain a single type of features.  For example a shapefile of roads would contain lines showing where the roads occur, perhaps broken into segments at intersections.  In addition, the shapefile includes a table containing attributes about each segment such as the street name, speed limit, etc. 

Many agencies, states, and municipalities share spatial data like the examples we are working with today.  Access is usually facilitated through a public web page.  Data Services maintains a list of sources and we also have our own collection that has been compiled over the years.  Exactly what information is included in a GIS dataset, how accurately the vectors capture details such as curves, and what scale is appropriate for display would be up to the producer of the original dataset.  Evaluating those factors takes time but has a direct impact on how those data can be used in your project

For this session, we will work with examples of point, line, and polygon features from three different online sources.  Follow the links below and download the indicated files to your local practice is to set up a local folder and store all of your GIS data inside.

  • Homeland Infrastructure - High Level Data (HIFLD) - provides access to important public domain geospatial datasets.  
    • Search for 'Hospitals' and click on the "Feature Layer" from Oak Ridge National Laboratory
    • Download the feature layer as a 'File Geodatabase'
  • Missouri Spatial Data Information Service (MSDIS) - A state-wide clearinghouse for GIS data in Missouri
    • Browse to Download Data - Data Portal - Transportation
    • Download the "MO 2020 MoDOT Road Arcs" shapefile
  • St. Louis City Open Data Portal
    • Scroll to Datasets by Topic - Choose "Urban Development and Planning"
    • Click on Parcel Data and examine the available results
    • Download the shapefile for "Current Parcels" and the DBF table for "Parcels (Land Records)"
      • We will combine this files using a Join operation in a later exercise


The downloaded files should be saved in your local system, find them and make sure they are all stored in a central folder.  Unzip any compressed files and examine the results.  Shapefiles consist of several files that share the same filename but have different extensions.  File geodatabases will appear as a folder in your system File Explorer (Windows) or Finder (Mac) but you should NEVER store items in a geodatabase using the system's file manager.


Data Folder


Our session will focus on building familiarity with ArcGIS Desktop and showing some of the common tasks that Architecture students are interested in learning.  We will work with the datasets previously downloaded to demonstrate the process for adding data and creating map products.  The hands-on workshop will include guided introductions to the following tasks, additional support materials are linked below each topic:

Exporting Images, Maps, or Features

Creating output from ArcGIS Desktop can be accomplished in several ways and the method you choose will be determined by how you wish to use the final product.  Simple images basically capture a do not contain any scale information and may not be appropriate for a formal project map but may be exactly what is required for a figure in draft document.  More carefully crafted maps with a legend and other common map elements can be produced at specific scales or with an included scale bar that would allow the final image to be stretched as needed without losing the scale indicator.  These steps will enable creation of:

  • A simple image of your map's Data View
    • From the ArcMap FILE menu - Select Export Map
    • Set the location, file name, type, and resolution of the output and SAVE
  • A map with standard elements like a title, legend, scale bar, etc.
    • Switch to Layout View (see this guide for more details on Map Layout creation)
    • Add elements using the INSERT menu
    • While in Layout View...follow steps for simple image export
    • The output image can be stretched while maintaining the aspect ratio...the scale bar will adjust as well and will remain accurate.
  • Export of feature geometry to CAD format
    • ​​​​​​​Select features of interest (high feature counts may cause errors)
    • Right click layer and "Export to CAD"

Additional CAD documentation:

Online Data Sources

There are many places where layers of interest to Architecture students can be found.  A general list of sources can be found here.   Another way to find GIS data is to use targeted online searches that include terms like "GIS", "Shapefile", or "Spatial Data".  Be sure to also include a specific reference to the types of features you are looking for; 'traffic lights', 'parcel boundaries', 'elevation', etc.  Most states and many governmental agencies will share public spatial data through an 'Open Data Portal' that allows you to view, evaluate, and download available datasets.



  • Data Services GIS Tutorials
  • Intro to GIS Workshop Video (recorded by Bill Winston, Fall 2020)
    • This session uses ArcGIS Desktop v10.6 and includes:
      • Intro to Data Services & GIS @ WU (0 - 6:57)
      • Data Sources and finding GIS data (6:57 - 10:31)
      • WU GIS LibGuide and Session Documentation (11:13 - 13:56)
      • Data Access Demo - (13:56 -33:20)
        • Managing downloaded data
        • Obtaining data from HIFLD, MSDIS, and St. Louis City Open Data sites
      • Intro to ArcMap (34:00 - 45:43)
        • Intro to the User Interface
        • Adding Data from the Catalog
        • Data Frame and Layer Coordinate Systems
        • Folder Connections
      • Coordinate Systems and feature appearance (45:52 - 51:10)
      • ArcMap Navigation and Bookmarks (51:31 - 56:40)
      • Attribute Data (56:44 - 1:05:22)
        • Search by Attributes
        • Selected Records
        • Export Data
      • Symbology (1:05:22 - 1:14:26) 
        • Single Symbol
        • Categories
        • Quantities
        • Copy Layers
      • Creating a Map Layout (1:15:46 - 1:33:49)
        • Layout View and Page Size
        • Map Elements (Title, Scale Bar, Legend)
      • Export to CAD (1:33:50 - 1:37:30)
      • Other Resources (1:37:46 - 1:39:39)
      • Geoprocessing Tools - Buffer (1:40:21 - End)
  • Intro to GIS Workshop Video (recorded by Mollie Webb, Fall 2019)
    • This video introduces GIS concepts and the ArcMap (v10.6) application and includes:
      • Introduction to Data Services (0 - 0:06:45)
      • Intro to ArcMap UI, MXD, and connecting to folders (0:08:00 - 0:13:00)
      • Adding Data to ArcMap (0:13:00 - 0:17:50)
      • Navigating in ArcMap (0:17:50 - 0:21:00)
      • Understanding Attributes (0:21:00 - 0:24:30)
      • Data Sources, management, and extraction - St. Louis County Open Data example (0:25:05 - 0:40:55)
      • Working in the Table of Contents, TOC views, Relative Addressing (0:41:00 - 0:46:20)
      • Selecting features (manually, by attributes, and by location) and setting symbology (0:46:30 - 1:27:00)
      • Item description and metadata (1:30:00 - 1:36:15)
      • Export to CAD (1:36:30 - 1:39:25)
      • Broken data links (1:39:30 - 1:40:35)
      • Buffering points (1:40:40 - 1:43:40)
      • Setting Symbology (1:43:45 - 1:51:30)
      • Creating and exporting Map Layouts (1:51:40 - 2:12:2)
      • ESRI Basemaps (2:14:09 - 2:17:10)