John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
A projection system can map traffic patterns and demographics over the ersatz city, too.
What can one do with allegedly the world's largest 3D-printed San Francisco?
Lots of things, really, like imagining the city's future skyline and simulating the flow of traffic. But first you're going to want to make-believe Godzilla is on a rubble-spewing tear through town:
That was one of the more humorous applications for the mini-city demonstrated Wednesday at its Bay Area public debut. Everyone's favorite atomic fire-breathing lizard had a lot of ground to cover: The resin model, which reproduces the SOMA and downtown areas, was six years in the making and includes more than 115 blocks. It might "actually be the largest 3D-printed model of any city ... to our knowledge," says Bill Danon, a spokesman for software firm Autodesk (which built it with creative agency Steelblue).
The model is meant to give local a real-estate developer help in "telling the story of urban development in the rapidly changing SOMA neighborhood." For that reason, the skyline is projected to circa 2017, and includes several projects that aren't finished. There are developments in spaces that became available after removal of the Embarcadero Freeway (which was damaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake), for example, as well as the Transbay Transit Center, aka the "Grand Central Station of the West." Look below and you can see the blocks-long city park slated for the roof of that project, alongside the obelisk-shaped Transbay Tower, soon to be the tallest building in San Francisco:
The people who fabricated this thing – and who are working on similar models for Midtown Manhattan and Boston – hope it will be useful in providing a physical presence that digital models lack. It is incredibly detailed, in a sculptural sense: At a scale of 1:1,250, it includes architectural flourishes that on the real buildings measure just 1.5 feet. And the makers wanted to go tinier than that, initially. "Details less than a foot started to be smaller than the minimum microns printable," says Danon.
The model is capable of updates – each city block can be detached to swap for another, more current one. And it pairs with a projection system that can map various data sets over the city. Transportation routes are one option, as is real-time traffic, political info, various demographic measurements, and prices of real estate. "Some of the really interesting things about this are for city planning," says Justin Lokitz, senior product manager at Autodesk. "When you talk about being able to communicate to lots of different stakeholders, this is a really incredible way to bridge that gap."
The model now rests on the downtown premises of real-estate company Tishman Speyer, but here are a few more images showing its expanse:
Media courtesy of Autodesk and Steelblue