Virtual 3D models of cities are nothing new, but bringing one into the physical world is a bit more challenging. AutoCAD maker Autodesk and creative marketing agency Steelblue did just that, however, with this massive, incredibly detailed 3D print of San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood. All told, it encompases more than 115 city blocks, mainly in the northeast part of San Francisco’s 7-by-7 mile footprint.
The map covers a number of the city’s landmarks, including AT&T Park (home of the Giants), the Bay Bridge, and the San Francisco Ferry Building — but perhaps more importantly, it covers what is probably the city’s most rapidly changing area in terms of real estate. The 3D print was designed for real estate developer Tishman Speyer to help the company with urban planning and construction decisions — each block of the map can be picked up and replaced to help developers see exactly what new construction will look like in the context of the neighborhood. In fact, a section of the map shows SOMA not as it is now, but as it’ll look in 2017 when a number of major construction projects are finalized.
The model becomes really useful with the addition of a projector mounted over the map: developers can overlay data like street maps, future subway lines, traffic patterns, or simply color outlines to highlight different parts of the city. Right now, that involves a pretty elaborate setup, with the projector mounted high above on the ceiling, but Autodesk and Steelblue also built a translucent prototype, which would allow images to be projected from below the map.
Beyond its utility for developers and urban planners, the map is an impressive piece of art in its own right — there’s an incredible amount of detail in each of the dozens of blocks that make up this part of San Francisco. I happen to live in an area captured by the map, and the amount of detail poured into the buildings that I see every day when walking around the city truly brings the model to life. The print was done at a resolution of 16 microns, which made reproducing minute details possible — you can pick out individual seating sections in AT&T Park, for example.
Right now, there’s only one copy of the map, and it’ll be in possession of the real estate developer whom it was built for — but Autodesk plans to print another and have it available for viewing at its gallery. Steelblue and Autodesk also have plans to print other cities — and possibly expand on the San Francisco map, as well. We’ll have to see how they’ll tackle the city’s famous up-and-down topography, however — most neighborhoods in San Francisco are a lot hillier than SOMA.
- The view from AT&T Park, looking north towards San Francisco's financial district.
- AT&T Park, in detail. The model is detailed enough that you can see individual seating sections (though sadly there's no bases on the field).
- SOMA and San Francisco's financial district.
- Each city block is its own model, allowing them to be removed and replaced easily as the area develops.
- Using a projector mounted over the model, designers can easily highlight specific areas of the city.
- More in-depth shading options let designers call attention to specific areas of the neighborhood.
- Street names can be easily projected onto the map, helping viewers get their bearings.
- This overlay shows the old highway that was demolished after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. That demolition opened up a huge amount of real estate for development, leading to the SOMA we know now.
- The level of detail on each block is remarkable — the model was printed at a resolution of 16 microns.
- A smaller, alternate prototype built with a clear material. This would allow projections to be lit up from below rather than above.
- An overhead view of one of San Francisco's fastest-growing areas. Market Street cuts through the map on the right of this photo.