Cityscape – “3d” Buildings


I have in mind a “cityscape” project – a view of a city showing buildings, streets, vehicles, etc.  I don’t need a detailed and accurate model  of a real city, just a representation that is reasonable to create in PowerPoint.  In this post, I will create a variety of simple “3d” buildings and demonstrate some useful techniques.

Faithful readers will know that I have used PowerPoint “3d” in the past; see the network demonstration, alphabet blocks and a “watchtower” icon. If you’ve seen some of these you will know that PowerPoint 3d is limited in capability and that you shouldn’t expect too much.

But why create your own images? You can find hundreds of 3d building stock images (clipart) on the web, some of which are free. Well, if you take a DIY approach you can control color and style elements to match your branding/theme. You can meet specific requirements: do you need a tall hospital or a tiny factory? You can edit the objects (in PowerPoint) to create variations and new versions. And, you will increase your PowerPoint skills.

The general idea is to use PowerPoint “3d” tools to create an isometric building image piece by piece. This diagram shows the process:


These are the steps:

  • Create 3 objects representing “views” of the building: front, side and top (labeled 1, 2 and 3 above).  In more complicated shapes (see next example), a view may have several parts.
  • Apply the indicated rotations to each “view.” These are selected from the Parallel/Isometric group of 3d rotations.
  • Notice that the Top Up rotation for the top view/roof (as it is drawn) doesn’t produce the desired result. You can fix this by using the Bottom Down rotation or by creating the top view in a different orientation. (Rotating the top view object before applying the 3d rotation doesn’t work; try it.)
  • Nudge the rotated views together to form the “building;” more about this later.
  • 3d Format/Lighting adds to the 3d effect. The  default angle is 0 degrees which produces a result that looks like it is lit from the upper right. You can change this by changing the lighting angle (using the same setting for all the pieces) or by changing the color(s) of  the appropriate view. The steps shown in the example above result in a more conventional top left light source.

Here’s the layout for the first example:


The upper stories of the building are “set back” and the windows are vertical ribbons with some variations. The detail at the bottom of one of the views represents the building entrance.

Here are some (familiar) tips for creating this kind of drawing in PowerPoint:

  • Set Snap objects to grid and select a Grid spacing that allows a palpable “snap” when creating or moving objects; I typically use 0.1 in or 0.05 in. This will help in aligning objects “by hand.”
  • Use Drawing guides to align and center objects.
  • Use Duplicate to create repeating patterns. Specifically, select an object (a window, for example) and Duplicate it. Without  un-selecting the duplicate, move it to the desired position (e.g., horizontally aligned with the original and spaced by a particular amount). Then, without un-selecting, Duplicate again. The third version will have the same spacing and alignment. Repeat to create a row. If needed, group the row and use the same process vertically to create an array of windows.
  • I find it easier to create the window layout first and then add the building outline.

Here’s the layout with fill color added:


The windows are blue, reflecting the sky. There are two tops, one for the lower part of the building and one for the upper part. I put a faint outline of the upper part of the building on the lower top to help with alignment.

Since I expect to use these objects at a relatively small size, I can avoid a lot of detail (contrast the watchtower example).

Here are the building “faces” with the rotations applied and roughly positioned:


Here’s the final assembly:


There is no shortcut for this last step. The Snap to grid setting and other alignment tools are of no use; hold down Ctrl to override the snap and use the nudge (arrow) keys to make small adjustments. It helps to use a large Zoom. You may want to temporarily add outlines to make the edges easier to see.

Here’s a similar example:


This building has individual windows and a simple street level treatment. The window color is the same as the previous example. Since all of the sides are the same, only one version of each part is needed.

The top of this building is a square with a Bevel applied to form the roof. The Bevel is the Angle type with Height and Width equal to half the side of the square. I find that I have to fiddle with the lighting angle to get the colors right when I use a Bevel.

You can experiment with other kinds of Bevels to create additional roof forms; here are some examples:


Here’s the layout for a more complicated building along with a preliminary isometric view:


I created the “barrel” roofs by adding Depth to the curved shape:


I suggest you adjust the depth of the roof(s) to match the other parts after the building is assembled. (Selecting a shape inside a rotated group is a little tricky – using the Selection Pane can help.)

Here’s the resulting building (after some lighting adjustments):


I’ll need other types of buildings; here’s a small factory:


Here are some notes:

  • The brick color and larger windows suggest an older factory.
  • I added a Frame shape with Depth to two of the roofs to suggest a low wall around the periphery. Here’s the process:


  • Similarly, the chimneys are Donut shapes with Depth added.

Here’s a building designed for housing (dormitory or apartments):


And here’s a hospital:


If  you want to try these techniques, you can request a free PowerPoint file containing these examples using the form below. Please double check your email address; if it has an error, you won’t get your file.


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