3D Concept Development

In an October post I provided a workflow to visualize a cityscape in 3D using CityEngine.  One of the potential uses of a CityEngine is to leverage the software to turn 2D concept designs into 3D concepts, in order to see how the design intervention fits into the overall scale of the surrounding development.  Another benefit to this approach is that it allow for the quantification of development metrics on demand.

Lots, building footprints and massings can be created using rules and adjusting parameters, based on 2D concepts, or imported from CAD.  In the example described in the images below, the first step in the design process did not change.  Stakeholders, planners and landscape architects collaborated to create initial site layout alternatives that specified key parameters (i.e. land uses, # of floors, building orientation, etc.).  The layouts were georeferenced and then digitized in ArcGIS or directly in CityEngine. Then CGA rules were applied to visualize the layouts in 3D.

3D Design Alternatives in CityEngine
3D Design Alternatives in CityEngine

The same CGA rules can be customized to produce reports.Reporting capabilities allow for real-time metrics such as floor to area ratio (FAR), leasable square footage, unit counts, building cost, impervious surface coverage, water use, wastewater demand, electric use and other measures.  Adjustments to building heights, usage, setbacks and stepbacks can be made within CityEngine to understand the quantitative results of design modifications.  This technique can also be used to understand the build-out under existing or modified zoning regulations. Changes in building extent and height can also be viewed in context with the overall cityscape.

The main benefit of this is that typically 2D renderings require a significant amount of time to create. Varying setbacks, stepbacks, and building height can be a time consuming process, especially if yields are recalculated each time.

The tables below show how metrics can be generated based on 3D concepts.

Quantify Concepts
Development metrics in CityEngine





Export ArcGIS Annotation to CAD Annotation

After annotation is exported from ArcGIS (geodatabase annotation) to AutoCAD (.dwg)
After annotation is exported from ArcGIS (geodatabase annotation) to AutoCAD (.dwg)

See Esri’s knowledge base article #30328 for worklow.  Basically:

  1. Set up labels
  2. Convert to geodatabase annotation
  3. Add COLOR field to annotation (short integer)
    • 1 = Red
      2 = Yellow
      3 = Green
      4 = Cyan
      5 = Blue
      6 = Magenta
      7 = White/Black (the display color for the text in AutoCAD is controlled by the screen color)
  4. Add Layer field (text, 25 length) to annotation and other layer you want to include in exported dwg
  5. Use the Export to CAD tool to export the annotation and other data to a .dwg.

Visualizing a Cityscape using CityEngine

CityEngine cityscape created using real world data (Source: Jake Petrosky).

Here are the steps to visualize a city using existing data in CityEngine. These steps will get you to the image above.

This if for those folks that really need to start experimenting with CityEngine with real world data related to a project they are working on.  Esri has some good tutorials and improving help content, but new users will be hard pressed to wade through all of that, weed out the chaff, overcome unforeseen and unaddressed obstacles and get to the good stuff in a few hours.

  1.  Create a basemap in ArcGIS where you will stage all content before bringing it into CityEngine
    • Project all data and the map document to state plane meters (why you ask, because all the preset rules in CE are based in meters and CE does not reproject on the fly so I have had issues trying to work in ft)
    • CE_Base.mxd is a good name for the map document and don’t rotate it.
  2. Prep GIS data
    • Clip street to study area boundary (I suggest using an area limited to 500 or 1000 acres)
    • Prep existing buildings data
      • Clip to study area boundary
      • Create and calculate height field (in meters)
        • There are many ways to calculate height including deriving from raw LIDAR data (if classes are available), estimating based on Google Earth 3D buildings (1 story is between 12 and 15 ft roughly), looking up individual buildings (3D warehouse, counting floors, or using other methods like looking buildings up at http://skyscraperpage.com/)
      • Clip aerial to study area boundary (using Spatial Analyst Extract by Mask command).
        • You may have to downsample the aerial (i.e. go from 0.5 ft to 2ft resolution) to meet the 1000×1000 cell size guidelines that CE squawks about when you import textures.
  3. Create Scene in CityEngine
    • Begin a new project in CE
    • Begin a new scene, set coordinate system to state plane feet.
    • Import streets and import buildings
    • Download the Complete Streets 2015 template from ArcGIS.com
    • Assign Complete Streets Rule to streets (/Example_Complete_Streets__2015_0/rules/Complete_Street.cga)
    • Assign Building and Shell rule to buildings (/Example_Complete_Streets__2015_0/rules/Building_and_Shell/Building.cga)
    • Generate models

CityEngine Intro

Source:  ESRI
CityEngine Scene (Source: ESRI)

CityEngine, a software program from Esri, allows for users well versed in GIS and urban design to turn 2D GIS data and conceptual design interventions into Smart 3D City Model.  By applying parametric rules realistic city scenes can be created.  Streetscapes can be envision.  And perhaps the best part of this is that quantitative metrics can be derived from 3D concept designs. Zoning standards governing uses, building height and changes in setback or stepbacks can be visualized.  In addition, to the visual, reports can be created that provide insight on impervious surface coverage, gross floor area, and other key metrics.  Over the course of the next few weeks I am going to be elaborating on use cases for utilizing this powerful tool to aid urban planning and landscape architecture projects.

Import Label Styles With This Nifty Add-In

This nifty ArcGIS 10 Add-In allows you to import label styles from one layer file to another layer in the TOC.  This saves a ton of time and is better than the old workaround of resourcing data.  Thanks Jakub Sisak!

P.S. Install by Customize > Customize Mode > Commands > Add-In Controls > Drag the “Import Labels from Layer” button to a toolbar.

US Surgeon General Calls the Creation of Walkable Communities a National Priority


 planners, landscape architects and urban designers.  The  calls to “design communities and streets that support walking” in new report at: Good (bad) stats on exercise, chronic disease and obesity along with recommendations for land use, transportation, and the built environment.








I just signed up to be a geomentor. We all need to help young folks to be more geo-literate. Go to www.geomentors.net/participate for more information.

What is Geo-Literacy? See National Geographic’s definition here.

Harnett County Natural Resources: An ArcGIS Online Story Map

Harnett County Natural Resources Map Story
Map story describing the unique natural resources in Harnett County, North Carolina

LandDesign created the Harnett County Natural Resources Story Map using the “Story Map Tour” template from ArcGIS Online. This was done as part of the Comprehensive Plan and a Partners for Green Growth grant from the NC Wildlife Resources Commission. It is meant to raise awareness for natural resources issues in the county and provide a point of departure for a vision plan that facilitates growth without compromising the assets that make Harnett County so unique.

SSURGO Downloader from Esri


Holy cow.  Esri just saved me a lot of time.  With the SSURGO Downloader from Esri you can now download pre-packaged SSURGO soil data by watershed with all the attributes you need (like Farmland Class, Absorption Rating, etc.).  You used to have to download from NRCS or USDA, then import attributes to an access template, then export, then join, then export. This saves a lot of time and allows for mapping prime farmlands a lot quicker.  Thanks Richard Nauman, Michael Dangermond, and Charlie Frye!

Charlotte Metro Map

Map of Charlotte Metro
Map of Charlotte Metro

Here is a map I created using an ArcGIS to Illustrator workflow.  It is included in the article:

Preferred Office Locations: Comparing Location Preferences and Performance of Office Space in CBDs, Suburban Vibrant Centers and Suburban Areas by Emil Malizia.  The full study/article can be downloaded at the NAIOP website here.