In 2009, the Chicago Architecture Foundation unveiled its Chicago Model — the largest, most detailed physical replica of the city ever made, representing 400 blocks and more than 1,000 buildings across 320ft2. Like many residents, Tom Coleman gasped in wonder. Then he decided to go one better. “I wondered if we could replicate the stunning visual display, but make it a smart model, linking data, projects and infrastructure,” explains Coleman, manager of technology integration at WSP. The WSP project visualization group in Denver had already produced large visual models of cities including Seattle, New York and San Francisco, but they were just that: visual, with no intelligence behind them. Coleman wanted to link with engineering design software, to communicate with the city’s data portal, and display not just buildings but transport and other infrastructure projects. “Most visualization models are focused on a site or a project because it’s too time-intensive to go larger. I wanted to create a bigger picture that engages people to solve problems.”

He decided to use Autodesk’s InfraWorks, a tool originally intended for individual structures, like roads or bridges, not a data-filled cityscape covering 450 square miles. “InfraWorks allows you to bring in many different kinds of information — geospatial files, CAD files, other building files, Revit and other 3D model files. It also has a database behind that can link to sources such as the city’s data portal. And it can transfer information with engineering design software like AutoCAD Civil 3D.”