Page T1.2 . 21 September 2005                     
ArchitectureWeek - Tools Department
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    Village Vision


    Visualizing Growth

    They have applied CommunityViz, a suite of applications for community planning that support visualizations at a regional scale. These are third-party extensions to ESRI's ArcGIS. CommunityViz helps nontechnical people to understand proposed plans in 3D well before design reaches an architectural scale, where CAD software is more typically used.

    Alguire explains that Fort Carson is using CommunityViz to show approximately what the exterior of the facilities will look like: building height, massing, and spacing. Although they are still in the data collection phase of this vast project, a vision for the future is crystallizing as they plot out a way to cluster activities on the base.

    One of their concepts is to create a "community support campus" or pedestrian mall about eight to ten blocks long, where activities could be grouped around the existing headquarters building. "Although it's a small piece of acreage," notes Alguire, "it's a critical piece for the future."

    The planners are also interested in maximizing the use of renewable energy in new housing developments and in improving walkability. CommunityViz has been used to produce pictures of possible scenarios for the pedestrian mall and housing, demonstrating an increased density and greater accommodation to pedestrians. In the future, Alguire predicts, the tool will also be valuable in evaluating proposals against other sustainability criteria.

    According to Steve Mullen of ForeSee Consulting who was brought in to assist with CommunityViz implementation, the need for greater density was easy to demonstrate. Workplaces on the existing base are so dispersed that large distances separate people who need to meet with each other often.

    It's been estimated that personnel now drive, collectively, 60,000 miles (97,000 kilometers) per year just within the base. Reducing the need for driving would also reduce the need for parking lots. When the planners studied a proposed higher density of administrative functions, they realized this move would support ideas for improving proximity of community functions as well.

    Beyond Computer-Aided Design

    Although CAD users have created 3D visualizations for architectural design for many years, Mullen believes that GIS now offers a functional alternative to the other technology. Indeed, GIS can do things that can't be done in CAD. "I have a visualization of Mt. Evans, 60 miles (97 kilometers) away, used in the background of very detailed development plans. All that complexity would drag CAD systems to their knees."

    Architects and engineers often work with graphic-centric models and drawings, while planners tend to work more with data-centric maps and databases. GIS data often includes information about constrained relationships between variables and enables users to interact with the data, supporting investigations of what-if scenarios in a socio-environmental context. The usefulness of GIS databases can be improved by the addition of detailed visual content.

    CommunityViz, as its name implies, is a tool that potentially everyone in a community can use to share 3D imagery. For SiteBuilder 3D , an application that works on the ArcGIS platform, users do not need to know GIS or CAD. Two-dimensional maps from the CommunityViz application Scenario 360 can be turned into realistic 3D scenes very easily so users can see visual impacts of multiple choices. Sitebuilder 3D includes a library of over 350 models of houses, buildings, trees, and streetscapes. A user can save paths and viewpoints as sharable "3D worlds," complete with textures, terrains, and building models.

    By navigating walkthroughs, flythroughs, and drivethroughs, Mullen says, "you can go anywhere you want to in a model." By mixing photos of existing structures with images of proposed buildings draped with architectural skins, he demonstrates Fort Carson's mixed-use villages.

    The Scenario 360 GIS-based decision support software adds interactive analysis tools and a decision making framework to the ArcGIS platform. For a project like Fort Carson, this tool allows users to experiment with hypothetical scenarios, measure social, environmental, and economic considerations, and view the effects of proposed changes.

    Turning Base into Community

    Seen in the CommunityViz model, the clustered buildings contrast sharply with the long roads, the large, flat concrete expanses that represent motor pools, and the boxy existing operations buildings. To further enliven the visualization of "Main Street," Mullen adds sidewalks, trees, and bus stops. Like a real town, the area will have workplaces and living places within close proximity to entertainment, shopping, daycare, and other conveniences.

    Without such visualization, Mullen says, there really isn't a good way to demonstrate the spatial implications of sustainability goals. "Sharable 3Ds make animations obsolete. Users can navigate the 3D world and really develop a sense of all the spatial relationships being proposed. These models are fast and easy to create, compared to alternative visualization solutions, and the software is virtually free. My role at Ft. Carson is to teach them how to use these tools to create better planning and design, and make their process participatory."

    Remaining challenges revolve around the way military planners are accustomed to seeing a base and what their expectations are. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers generally builds and designs new facilities for the military without visualization tools like CommunityViz.

    The tool helps these planners to envision their space as more than just utilitarian. For them, this is a novel experience. CommunityViz can inform design and help drive a substantial change to the look and feel of a community. To help achieve some of the lofty goals Fort Carson planners have set for themselves, they can now deepen their presentation of new-urbanism concepts of design.

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

    Susan Smith is the editor of AECCafe, an online news portal for the architecture, engineering, and construction industry, as well as GISCafe and GISWeekly, an online portal and weekly magazine for the geographic information systems industry. She has been writing about architecture and technology for over ten years and resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico.



    ArchWeek Image

    Fort Carson base planning options as shown by the CommunityViz GIS software, view to the northwest.
    Image: ForeSee Consulting (4C)

    ArchWeek Image

    Proposed changes for the military base, with motor pool areas in the foreground.
    Image: ForeSee Consulting

    ArchWeek Image

    Community commercial center integrating small convenience commercial areas, day care, and dining halls.
    Image: ForeSee Consulting

    ArchWeek Image

    New headquarters building, front elevation.
    Image: ForeSee Consulting

    ArchWeek Image

    View extracted from a headquarters walkthrough.
    Image: ForeSee Consulting

    ArchWeek Image

    View from the pedestrian walkway to the new headquarters.
    Image: ForeSee Consulting

    ArchWeek Image

    View extracted from a walkthrough showing a bus stop, with an operations center in the distance.
    Image: ForeSee Consulting

    ArchWeek Image

    Simulation center in the foreground, headquarters beyond.
    Image: ForeSee Consulting


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