A 3D View of London

A 3D View of London

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London’s popularity and prominence as a global hub make it a perfect metropolis for creation of a 3D model. Even as the project, which kicked off last year, is still in progress, there has been an increasing demand for 3D content across a range of industries


Visualising terrain and the 3D London model together

London is a prominent global metropolis steeped in history, commerce, and finance. With its high-profile and undeniable attractions, it is no surprise the city authorities required a smart 3D city model.

CyberCity 3D, a geospatial modelling company based in California and specialising in 3D buildings was given the contract. Its first challenge was securing the aerial imagery necessary to build a precise city model. London-headquartered Vertex Modelling, which specialises in high-precision 3D models, provided the aerial images and camera files needed for the original London 3D launch. The project got into the production mode in May 2013, starting with a 4 sq km ‘beta test’ in the area south of Buckingham Palace. The workflow began with two overlapping aerial images (stereo pairs). The modellers then extracted information such as building features and created point clouds to provide the source data, following which a 3D model was generated. The buildings were aligned using the British National Grid projection.

The 3D model of London was optimised for integration into Esri’s CityEngine, a software that transforms 2D GIS data into smart 3D city models. Once integrated, it can then be modified as needed and exported as Web Scenes for viewing on a modern Web browser without requiring an additional plug-in.

“When we started creating London 3D, we specifically looked at CityEngine and its numerous 3D visualisation and planning applications. The software gives clients creative options and opportunities to customise the model to specific client needs,” says Kevin DeVito, CEO, CyberCity 3D. However, the project faced a major challenge. The integration of the highly detailed model of the London City Centre into one CityEngine visualisation scene was serving as a hindrance. Fortunately, the company’s model precision — with up to 6 inches accuracy for its buildings — came in handy.


Left: Using 3D London data to position security cameras and then visualising their locations; Right: Flood Mapping analysis and visualisation.

Once the London model was successfully incorporated into CityEngine, Esri UK immediately showed interest in the project, leading to a strategic partnership. This was followed by sales in the insurance and facilities management areas.

“We are seeing increased demand for 3D content across a range of industries. With the CityEngine technology and the use of the content across different areas we now have a great way to utilise, analyse and share the 3D content,” says Ivor Wheeldon, Content Services Programme Manager, Esri UK. “Therefore, accurate and detailed 3D content optimised for our software is important. The models generated fits all these areas, which means our customers can start working with the data as soon as they receive it.”

Garsdale Design — a UK-headquartered architectural, planning, and urban design service — also teamed up with CyberCity 3D to offer a turnkey solution for clients ‘across the Pond’. Geodesign guru Elliot Hartley, a Director with Garsdale Deign who specialises in the use of 3D urban modelling technologies, pitched in the planning process.

“CityEngine allows you to create and combine 2D and 3D data from a variety of sources. Its real power, of course, is allowing you to communicate stories and information in the form of 3D Web Scenes with ease,” says Hartley. These can be hosted on ArcGIS Online or on your own private server, he adds.

The London 3D city model lends itself to a variety of applications, especially in the area of Geodesign. The data and the model enhance projects in a wide variety of areas such as urban planning, visualisation, solar evaluations, urban analysis, line-of-sight, shadow analysis/right-to-light, floor modelling, and real estate analytics. The availability of extensive GIS information leads to streamlined workflows, better communication of complex proposals, and ease of data distribution via Web services.

“London’s City Centre and the city in general are undoubtedly one of the most popular areas in the world, making it a perfect place to create a 3D model. The visualisation, analytical, and planning information gleaned from this expanding model will undoubtedly influence projects defining the future of this legendary city,” underlines DeVito. Meanwhile, the 3D city model is still in progress. Till date, the model encompasses more than 13.7 sq km and 5,700 structures. As the model grows, so does the interest around it.