There has been considerable coming together between GIS and the Architectural Engineering and Construction (AEC) design tools of CAD and BIM over the past few years. Not only has it become much easier to share data and models between these tools, there’s also a blurring of some functions. More GIS practitioners are executing drafting functions and more CAD practitioners are conducting geospatial analysis.
This development is a great thing for enhanced understanding of urban environments. The AEC community gains from the insight that geospatial tools provide, particularly around population demographics and quantifying change. The geospatial community gains much more realistic models, the ability to quantify takeoffs to improve project cost projections and the ability to tell compelling stories regarding the built environment.
The coming together also means fewer barriers of communication between disciplines. The idea to break down silos of modeling and visualization across disciplines is an old one. Today’s tools with their much easier modeling may provide the impetus for meaningful advancements in sharing, interactions and communication.
Scaling 3D models to city scale has been a long ongoing area of research and software development, with such advancements as City GML that have introduced thoughtful approaches on how to depict and process different levels of detail. Additionally, some of the past barriers of computer processing for detailed 3D visualizations have been going away, thanks to improving graphics rendering and using the infinite computing power of the cloud.
The easier means of model capture and presentation are happening in parallel lines within both geospatial and AEC modeling tools. Vendors are making progress in simplifying workflows while improving the fidelity and realism of their models, delivering far more detailed photorealistic renderings in less time and with more automation. LiDAR and photogrammetric capture technologies are also more accessible and simplified.
By bringing down barriers on data capture and visualization, far more engineering firms, DOTs, municipalities and other infrastructure-oriented disciplines are adopting 3D approaches. There is a pent-up demand for this ability to model cities at their full geographic scale for project work and planning. While many municipalities have created some digital representation in the past, very few have maintained their models or have used the model on an ongoing basis.
Cities are undertaking large-scale mapping projects such as detailed mapping of underground infrastructure or realistic renderings of large-scale redevelopment or infrastructure projects. In the past, they may have resorted to satellite or aerial imagery that was annotated and presented on an easel. Today, that easel-based information is being supplanted by 3D geographies that stakeholders can navigate themselves, showing not only their home but how that new highrise or bridge will look like from their own windows.
Today, large-scale urban modeling isn’t an everyday tool, but it certainly is headed in that direction. The idea of the smart city, with an ongoing and real-time understanding of infrastructure performance to aid efficiency, is making the large-scale city model tomorrow’s base map. Elevating the 3D city model to the same level as the 2D basemap of a city will provide the next step for 3D visualization that will spur greater convergence between GIS and AEC modeling.
3D city models that integrate geoinformation at many scales within a single framework will greatly increase our ability to manage our complex urban infrastructure. The shared framework and/or model will provide the means not only to analyze and simulate what’s going on in our cities but also will provide the place where we can plug in our designs and plans to gain insight and approvals. With more easily shared information within the context of existing infrastructure, we’ll improve and hopefully speed our ability to address the many urban challenges of the day and make progress.
Users stand to benefit a great deal from the increased portability of modeling information across different scales and levels of detail. There are still barriers in terms of ongoing modeling and monitoring of urban change. While some data is commonly available, on so many projects we all start with data collection and thus duplicate effort and resources. Just consider what the realism and detail would be like if we all pooled such efforts and subscribed to a shared model.
The GIS and AEC market are coming together in many ways. This change is largely facilitated by our ability to take our models and geospatial data into the field. As the trend for simpler data collection and more portable computing devices continue, we’ll see an even greater convergence. The breakthrough will occur when our systems combine to give us a greater understanding of the intersection between the built environment and the environment.