Connecting 3D GIS

Connecting the Built and Natural Environments with 3D GIS

While GIS is commonly used in the urban planning and design process, it is normally used for site selection and analysis. Planners and designers use GIS to understand the topography, hydrology, demographics, and government regulations of an area, which informs the design of the project.

During the complex processes of urban planning and design, data collection, analysis, and visualization efforts are used to support decision-making, according to Le An, a senior urban planner and urban designer at Gensler’s Washington, DC, office. He notes that the rapid development of 3D and interactive GIS technology benefit urban planners, who can now adopt a more integrative and dynamic approach to managing and moderating planning and design tasks. This better serves the communities in which these projects are being built.

Creating a basemap in ArcGIS Pro that includes existing building footprints, elevation, zoning, land use, and transportation networks provides context for proposed projects.


“We use both speculative site study and real-world urban design projects to develop and test our development framework. This enables us to integrate real-world GIS data, quickly create plans and models for multiple scenarios, evaluate the metrics, and perform spatial analytics of potential impacts,” said An. The team uses visualizations created in Esri CityEngine, web scenes, and ArcGIS StoryMaps to communicate ideas and designs to clients and stakeholders more effectively through the interactive 3D web applications.

The standard approach for most design firms is to show visualizations to clients as Microsoft PowerPoint presentations or as printed drawings. Sometimes 3D rendering companies are hired to create 3D models of proposed concepts. Unfortunately, all these methods provide only static representations.


The City and Urban Design team at Gensler has recently explored the capabilities of GIS to create plans, visualize scenarios, and support collaboration and decision-making. A renowned international design firm, Gensler is the largest architecture, design, and planning firm in the world. The company designs large-scale, mixed-use urban communities as inviting places for people to live, work, and play.

This article is reposted with permission from Esri

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