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San Francisco Digital Context Model

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

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Project Description

Move over Mercator. When Google Earth debuted in 2005, it was deemed the map of the 21st century. But the San Francisco office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill was not content with an aerial photographic map, and has independently spent two years developing its own 3D digital model of the city by the Bay, complete with embedded metadata. “This is not just a dumb model,” said Craig Hodgetts. “It really is a tool.”

The model records lot numbers, zoning restrictions, and other variables that SOM can use to create specific views to analyze issues like environmental conditions and their effect on existing and potential infrastructure. What would happen if sea levels were to rise? And do shadows on a site prevent it from being used as a public space as defined by San Francisco city code?

The metadata is periodically checked for accuracy by two individuals in SOM’s Digital Design Group and linked to outside resources such as the city assessor’s office. The model is being used by the city planning department to visualize potential zoning changes and development proposals. “It seems like this is the future of all cities,” said John Ronan. “It forces architects to think about their work on different levels, rather than just model form or energy.” Other SOM offices have created partial city models, but for now, this remains the most comprehensive.
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