A map that reveals patterns of arrangement of buildings

A dataset containing 125,192,184 computer generated building footprints in all 50 US states is the source for a New York Times’s map of every building in America.

Published on 12th October, this map represents every building in the US by a black speck, reflecting the built legacy of the United States.

The dataset was publicly released by Microsoft early this year. The company’s computer engineers trained a neural network to analyze satellite imagery and then to trace the shapes of buildings across the country.

DNN architecture: The network foundation is ResNet34. The model is fully-convolutional, meaning that the model can be applied to an image of any size (constrained by GPU memory, 4096×4096 in the case).

The map reveals patterns in the arrangements of buildings. Traditional road maps highlight streets and highways; here they show up as a linear absence. As a result, “… you can read history in the transition from curving, paved-over cow paths in old downtowns to suburban sprawl; you can detect signals of wealth and poverty, sometimes almost next door to each other.”.

In the south of New Orleans, it’s possible to notice the layout of buildings along a narrow spit of land on either side of a Louisiana bayou, which may reflect the imprint of the region’s history under France: “… “long lot” development, which stretched skinny holdings laterally away from important waterways. Geography shapes settlement, but culture does, as well.”
Buildings along Louisiana bayou

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