SOM – San Francisco Digital Model

Stakeholder  & Developer: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, San  Francisco

 Process of SOM ‘s Digital Model

With over 20 ongoing projects in the Bay Area, SOM San Francisco decided to create  a 3D Model of the city to better understand and analyze the complex environment of the City.

The creation of SOM’s digital model began with an analysis of historical and present-day maps. The underlying structure was City of San Francisco’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) database, for this reason, 3D model would correspond directly to the 2D GIS data to simplify overlays of new geospatial data and future changes.

Because the GIS data is 2D and not intended for 3D visualization, the team then redefined the geometry of the streets and blocks to facilitate 3D operations. SOM created a curvilinear contour model of San Francisco and draped the 2D street grid over it, resulting in a 3D representation of the streetscape. The intersections were subsequently leveled automatically.

With this 3D groundwork in place, SOM then focused on the buildings. Because no database existed with comprehensive information on the City’s buildings, the team referred to aerial photographs, leasing plans, and design drawings to draw 2D outlines of building masses on appropriate parcels. Those outlines were projected onto the sloping ground planes and extruded vertically to create 3D buildings. Some of the buildings are simple box-like forms, while others are modeled in great detail.

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.

Model Use / Model User

Wind analysis 

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. Moreover, the model is being used by the city planning department of SF to visualize potential zoning changes and development proposals.

City’s current height limits

Certainly, the digital model of SF is a good example how  create and how use a urban information modeling.

 More Information


Architect Magazine

By Soledad Hernandez


3 thoughts on “SOM – San Francisco Digital Model

  1. I am doing a case study on the San Francisco Digital Context Analysis Model. Is there anyway I could find out a few questions about the model such as:
    * primary software used to design this project
    * cost to complete this model
    * primary designers of this project
    * any additonal factual data
    I would love to learn more about this as I have found similar articles but nothing elaborate explaining the design in detail. Thanks!

  2. This is absolutely fascinating, it provides a guideline, a method for using GIS data to get accuracy. It is no surprise the city planning department of SF itself… is making use of this. My main goal when I was searching was for a extremely detailed model of San Francisco, and it led me to this site. The paid 3d model marketplace websites did not have anything this comprehensive. Great article, and thank you sharing.

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