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Geodatabase for Urban Design and Planning

Simon Yanuar PUTRA


Simon Yanuar PUTRA
Department of Architecture,
School of Design and Environment,
National University of Singapore

Geodatabase was not originally created for urban planning and design activities, but for data storage and management purpose. So far, geodatabase models have been developed for various industries, such as those available in ESRI’s website, but none has been developed for urban planning or design.

A universal model that accommodates every aspect of urban planning and design practice is almost impossible to build, concerning the vastness and complexity of the city as social, economic, political, and infrastructural systems. One particular challenge is to build a universal geodatabase model for formal and informal urban development, which means incorporating two different forms of urban fabric, between structured and chaotic, geometrically traditional and fractal. In legal sense, the difference lies on the ownership relationship between land or dwelling structure with the occupants. Thus far, such complex urban geodatabase model for planning and design purpose has not been realized. What planners and designers currently have, at most, are project-specific and in-situ models only applicable for a certain planning or design projects. Thus, they have to resort to remodel the geodatabase for every new project, which is a tedious and complex process. This explains why geodatabase is seldom utilized in planning or design practice in the first place.

Modelling urban objects, such as buildings, parcels, roads, utility lines, has always been the traditional domain of spatial databases or geodatabases. However, this is only the first step towards knowledge-based urban design process. The next step is how can we model urban systems and design controls into the GIS-based design environment. In this paper, we discuss the geodatabase modelling methodology as the key to next step.

Other geodatabase capabilities, such as object-oriented and relational modelling were never tapped for supporting design process. We’ve used these capabilities in previous experiments to model design guidelines and controls, as the foundations for building knowledge-based urban design support system. One of them was geodatabase modelling of urban design guidelines for Singapore Management University (SMU) New Campus Competition 2000-2001 (Putra et al., 2003). The experiment validated geodatabase application for modelling, storing, and implementing urban design guidelines directly into ‘live’ design process. This application is a way to maximize geodatabase usability in urban design process, which is currently only used to store and display spatial data.

Geodatabase modelling can transform urban objects into database elements (objects, attributes, classes, rows, fields, and tables), and design guidelines into spatial database rules (topological rules, validity rules, relationship rules, connectivity rules). Three types of urban objects can be modelled or sketched into geodatabase, the existing objects, the guidelines’ objects and the proposed or designed objects (Figure 1).

Figure. 1
Modelling design guidelines into spatial & non-spatial systems in geodatabase: existing, guidelines (or ruling), and proposed or designed objects

Figure .2
Urban typology support using geodatabase’s subtypes, and guidelines modelling indicating existing objects, topological relationships, and constrained objects