Architectural Renaissance, Brought to Life in 3D

11 Apr, 2006 By: Kenneth Wong

Holbeck Urban Village rises from the ashes of the past

It was once the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in Leeds, Yorkshire. But major progress in subsequent ages seem to have skipped this corner of the city in the northern United Kingdom -- much like the River Aire rushes past the site beneath a nearby train station. Here and there, tucked between newer buildings, one can spot remains of the flax-spinning workshops, iron-casting foundries and steam-powered mills that must have brought the area alive in the 19th Century.

What would Holbeck, a historic region that has devolved into a poverty-stricken area, look like if it were to have a Renaissance? Brendan P. Hafferty, founder of AMT3D, has a pretty good idea.

Welcome (Back) to Holbeck
Leeds City Council selected 62-acre Holbeck, along with a number of other sites, as a key regenerative spot. Holbeck's upcoming makeover is expected to reinforce the distinctive character of the area, lure a significant residential population, encourage green architecture, discourage private cars and much more. The anticipated outcome is Holbeck Urban Village, a sustainable development combining a mix of uses -- residential, leisure and business.

Hafferty's firm, which has developed a high-accuracy, laser-based technology, consulted with Leeds City Council prior to choosing Holbeck as the subject of the model. AMT3D reports that the model is the United Kingdom's first 3D reconstruction of a large urban environment produced using this type of technology. The model took center stage at last weekend's launch of the massive public consultation process on the development plans for Holbeck Urban Village.

Putting an Urban Village on Earth
The AMT3D staff wheeled a long-range 3D laser scanner around town to digitally capture spatial and photographic data, braving not just persistent showers but also what Hafferty politely describes as "other, more organic, problems of such derelict inner-city areas."

The long-range scanner parked before the Italian towers of Holbeck, Leeds, Yorkshire.

"We use a [Leica Geosystems] Total Station to survey all our target sites and to reference the scan positions so that a global model can be developed," says Hafferty. "This is particularly important as we are at the beginning of the development of a total model of the entire Leeds city center based on the six key regeneration areas."

Hafferty deployed a mixture of commercial software and proprietary technology to process the scanned data. It was eventually output to Autodesk 3ds max, enabling interested parties to edit the city model as required.

A Microsoft Direct X-based product was used as the interactive tool to enable clients to navigate through this historic site. The Holbeck model is available from AMT3D for a licensing fee. Hafferty points out that developers and architects might, for instance, insert 3D architectural objects into the model to see how they fit into the surrounding cityscape and to analyze the new addition from various vantage points -- an ideal solution to the many problems often associated with the process of public consultation.


AMT3D's Holbeck district model from two perspectives.

Hafferty used the RIEGL LMS-Z420i, a terrestrial scanner. It weighs 14.5kg (32lb) and measures 463x210 mm (1.5x0.69 ft) and has an integral calibrated high-resolution digital camera. At a rate of 0.5km (0.32 mile or 1,640ft) per day, he spent about 14 days scanning Holbeck, from its streets and alleys below -- "snickets" in Yorkshire lingo -- to its classical Italian towers.

To explore Holbeck from your desktop, point your browser to the video.