Digitally modelling cities: improving efficiency and planning

Model cities

30 November 2015

Stephen Chadwick looks at the effects of 3D digitally modelling cities to improve efficiency, security, utility planning and public services


By 2020, 70% of the world’s population will be city dwellers. In the UK, they will account for more than 92% of the population, up from 79% in 1950. In Africa, Botswana holds the record for that continent’s growth, from 2.7% in 1950 to 61% today, while China has seen a rise in city living from 13% to more than 40%. Worldwide, around 125,000 people move to cities every day.

Cities need to plan for the future and Dassault Systèmes is working with many to create 3D digital city models to act as a central reference point for local government, urban planners, architects and citizens. This technology helps them to define the future based on ‘what if’ scenarios involving such elements as heath provision, mobility, security and utility planning.

This new perspective integrates formerly disparate departments, making them better informed, more efficient and able to visualise potential futures with greater accuracy.

Single source

With political, financial and security consequences at stake, there is a growing information disjunction between city administrators. A 3D city model efficiently solves this problem by keeping people in synch with one another through a single source of information about their city.

In the past, separate information stores or silos inevitably arose, where more than one computer system was deployed by an organisation. With no access to each other’s data, planning is often based on out of date or incomplete information that effectively misinforms stakeholders and the public. This can lead to wrong choices being made and security being compromised.

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Figure 1: Virtual Singapore Jurong

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Figure 2: Model of Rennes

If aeroplanes were built and operated like cities, no one would fly in one. Now cities are deploying technology from aerospace and other highly efficient industries including F1 motor racing, in a drive to improve services, promote universal access to information and accurately envision future performance.

Starting with a blank page, new cities can plan and operate using the same software that fosters industrial and commercial innovation. Existing cities can incorporate this technology on new projects.

For example, Dassault Systèmes is currently working with the Italian government to streamline the Ministry of Commerce and Finance’s internal and external information services.

Using 3DEXPERIENCE technology as a platform, other projects and any type of information can be added over time to build a 3D picture that is comprehensible and usable by all.

Pioneering Virtual Singapore Project

Dassault Systèmes is cooperating with the National Research Foundation, Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore, to develop Virtual Singapore, an integrated 3D model infused with static and dynamic city data and information.

The collaborative platform will be used by citizens, businesses, government and research community to develop tools and services that address the complex challenges the city faces. This project will build on Dassault Systèmes, 3DEXPERIENCity to connect all stakeholders in a secured and controlled environment. Employing data analytics and model simulations, it will be used for testing concepts and services, planning, decision-making, researching technologies and generating community collaboration.

With images and data collected from geometric, geospatial and topology agencies, as well as legacy and real-time data such as demographics, movement or climate, Virtual Singapore users will be able to create rich visual models and large-scale simulations. These can explore the impact of urbanisation on the city-state and develop solutions that optimise logistics, governance and operations related to environmental and disaster management, infrastructure, homeland security or community services.

Powered by the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, it provides a scalable, single unified hub to represent, extend and improve the real world addressing architecture, infrastructure, planning, resources and inhabitants through virtualisation, simulation and collaboration capabilities.

Virtual Singapore was launched in December 2014 as part of Singapore’s Smart Nation drive and is expected to be completed by 2018.

Secure in knowledge

It is possible to make the mass of data that cities generate more useful and effective for planning purposes by building layers of information around a digital 3D city model.

In France, a project with an airport authority makes use of a 3D digital model of the facility’s transport, utility and logistics services. This allows them to operate what-if scenarios and isolate gaps in services or provisions. By incorporating building services, aircraft movements, foot traffic and much more, planners see the whole system and work towards improving its security and overall efficiency.


As more users contribute information a ‘time machine’ historic model will emerge

The same system applied to a city deploys the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform to unify silos of information and bring departments into harmony. Efficiencies can be made because people are aware of each other's work and can organise departments, security and utilities based on current information and needs. With workflow monitoring, unifying and coordinating systems around a 3D digital model encourages fresh ideas sparked by collaboration and the new vision that the model provides. People more fully understand the impact of their decisions and, by having access to appropriate layers of information, reach and communicate them universally.

Lessons for the future

Progressive cities are able to commit their work, including 3D digital models of buildings and services to a unified platform and build up an increasingly detailed utility, security and services model when new projects are added. As more users contribute information a 'time machine' historic model will emerge. Historic situations become viewable while the progress of current work can be very accurately recorded and traced.

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Figure 3: Singapore wind simulation

This visibility means the mistakes of the past can be avoided and routes to good decisions recorded because the unified platform helps people better understand the current situation and that of their predecessors. It also allows a view of what is to come. Adding details of future projects to the model allows decisions about utilities and other matters to be more fully examined and effectively dealt with.

This type of system is used by major aircraft manufacturers, power plant operators, pharmaceutical, food and consumer product companies to ensure compliance to rules. It also leads to accurate record keeping throughout all operations and processes. And it retains intellectual property, meaning that when people leave, the knowledge they built up is not lost but remains within the layers of information that comprise the 3D model.

Planners, rather than reacting to situations as they develop, can examine scenarios to find the most beneficially optimised solution. This makes best use of resources and funds for both the public’s and the authority’s mutual benefit – a political no brainer.

New cities

Traditional planning is built on the idea that efficiency is achieved by standardising every element. Make every road, streetlight, junction and building the same and you drive down costs and make cities easier and quicker to build, expand and repair.

But, much like medicine has come round to the idea that no two humans are alike and therefore need personalised care, Ingeborg Rocker, head of the GEOVIA 3DEXPERIENCity project at Dassault Systèmes believes that no two cities can be considered the same. Instead, she says cities need to be viewed and planned as living entities, where every element and every citizen is part of a whole. Changes – no matter how small – cannot be made without examining their impact on the entire organism and its environment.

“Studies of the interaction between people and systems have revealed patterns that are anything but standard,” says Rocker, who is also an associate professor of architecture at Harvard University. “If we analyse the patterns and interactions between people and systems – such as transport and waste management – we can develop cities that are still robust while also being highly efficient and sustainable – but in new terms.

“Even the most remote regions of the Earth are affected by urban lifestyles. In the name of sustainability, we must seek new ways to limit the impact urban growth has on our entire geosphere.”

Problem solved

Using shared 3D experiences reveals potential problems that may not be seen by other means. Overlaying data reveals new views making it possible to predict events.

Transport systems and hubs, public services, utility provision and security, along with the location and operation can be modelled. Seamlessly linking the system to financial software allows cost planning and budgetary predictability. Potential problems and their outcomes can be observed and fixed before they occur.

Building up knowledge into a single 3D digital model that can grow over time to encompass any aspect of the city saves time and allows projects to proceed more easily with all stakeholders being aware of the consequences of their decisions. Being able to see the big and the small picture also helps to reduce corruption by making it easier to spot.

To become vibrant, exciting places to live and work, cities need to accommodate the human urge for spontaneous creativity. Introducing order where it is needed can lead to the natural expressions that give a city its soul.

Stephen Chadwick is Managing Director EuroNorth at Dassault Systèmes

Further information