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Case Studies Index

Visual Communication in Urban Planning and Urban Design

Andy Smith, Martin Dodge and Simon Doyle
Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis
University College London


This Case Study documents the current status of visual communication in urban design and planning. Visual communication is examined through discussion of standalone and network media, specifically concentrating on visualisation on the World Wide Web (WWW).

First, we examine the use of Solid and Geometric Modelling for visualising urban planning and urban design. This report documents and compares examples of the use of Virtual Reality Modelling Language (VRML) and proprietary WWW based Virtual Reality modelling software. Examples include the modelling of Bath and Glasgow using both VRML 1.0 and 2.0. The use of Virtual Worlds and their role in visualising urban form within multi-user environments is reviewed. The use of Virtual Worlds is developed into a study of the possibilities and limitations of Virtual Internet Design Arena's (ViDA's), an initiative undertaken at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, University College London. The use of Virtual Worlds and their development towards ViDA's is seen as one of the most important developments in visual communication for urban planning and urban design since the development plan.

Secondly, the role of photorealistic media in the process of communicating plans is examined. The process of creating photorealistic media is documented, and examples of the Virtual Streetscape and Wired Whitehall Virtual Urban Interface System are provided. The conclusion is that, although the use of photo-realistic media on the WWW provides a way to visually communicate planning information, its use is limited. The merging of photorealistic media and solid geometric modelling in the creation of Augmented Reality is reviewed. Augmented Reality is seen to provide an important step forward in the ability quickly and easily to visualise urban planning and urban design information.

Third, the role of visual communication of planning data through GIS is examined in terms of desktop, three dimensional, and Internet based GIS. The evolution to Internet GIS is seen as a critical component in the development of virtual cities that will allow urban planners and urban designers to visualise and model the complexity of the built environment in networked virtual reality.

Finally, a viewpoint is put forward of the Virtual City, linking Internet GIS with photorealistic multi-user Virtual Worlds. At present there are constraints on how far virtual cities can be developed, but a view is provided on how these networked virtual worlds are developing to aid visual communication in urban planning and urban design.

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