Tuesday, 25 November 2014


Cities worldwide are charged with the same challenge: that of creating or retrofitting sustainable, intelligent infrastructure. Cities need the best in design, geospatial, visualization and analytical tools to realize a viable and intelligent city design. 3D City design is architectural design times thousands, plus it must have the ability to be interwoven with other surrounding infrastructure and foster an urban conversation.

Urban data must be managed, visualized and analyzed, taking into account all legal, code regulations, utility and site planning as well as legacy data and geography. City GML provides an open data model and XML-based format for the storage and exchange of virtual 3D city models from the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) and ISO TC211. A plethora of companies are providing products for 3D cityscape technology, and providing GIS to be able to manage, visualize and analyze all the information that makes up an entire metropolis.

Not Just GIS Anymore

3D cities take advantage of a lot of available data in the form of 2D, 3D and 4D (temporal) data, satellite imagery, sensor systems and processing devices both wired and wireless. The primary function of CityGML is “to easily share semantically rich, georegistered 3D content to be used for many applications such as visualization, integration with gaming simulators, energy modeling, emergency response, etc.”

Other forms of data important to 3D cities include civil engineering data as well as architectural CAD data and Building Information Modeling (BIM) data. Data encoded using the Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) an ISO standard for BIM issued by the International Alliance for Interoperability (IAI) can also be incorporated into CityGML.

Challenges & Solutions

3D buildings and cities have been part of Google Earth for nearly two years. Google starts with 3D maps, generated via stereo photogrammetry from aerial imagery then converts city data to full 3D that was automatically generated. Google’s way of being able to provide visualizations of new cities quickly in 3D, gives users the immediate, rich experience of a city. Even though resolution isn’t always as sharp as you would find in an application whose business it is to model buildings and terrain, this is accessible to a great many people who are non-traditional GIS or CAD users. The combination of Google Earth and Google SketchUp however, allows users to use the SketchUp tool for preliminary drawings of buildings and the cities they populate. Google’s influence on the world of 3D has fueled a movement among technology providers to provide tools that are easier to use and can be used by many non-technical people. Google also updates their satellite imagery twice a month.

Another challenge is underground utilities mapping. For that Bentley offers Subsurface Utility Engineer (SUE) software that allows people to take the 2D GIS presentation and represent it in 3D for engineering purposes. “When they make a new design they need to bring that data back to the 2D GIS.

A key technology in making 3D modeling of urban environments affordable is the power of cloud computing. That, combined with more affordable software access options, make the management of 3D city models possible on more devices, making the technology far more mobile and facile. 

Hopefully the new collaborative climate will foster a shift in people’s thinking and create not only more livable cities but also create more collaborative working environments for those responsible for building the projects.

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