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Helsinki, Finland’s capital and regional center, is experiencing booming development and a growing urban population of more than 600,000. Helsinki has a long tradition of 3D city modeling starting in the mid-1980s. To support city growth, promote digital city initiatives, enable new commercial ventures, and implement programs with university partners, Helsinki developed a new 3D representation of the entire city using advanced modeling technologies.

e“The first models of Helsinki were made in 1985,” said Project Manager Jarmo Suomisto. “Lots of people worked with them and we are continuing this heritage. Our project is delivering a new generation of city models to Helsinki.”

As part of a three-year initiative, Helsinki launched the €1 billion undertaking to capture city assets and create rich 3D city models of the current infrastructure that could be shared with internal and external stakeholders, as well as the public, and showcase the power of reality modeling through a collection of pilot projects. Known as Helsinki 3D+, the project required surveying more than 500 square kilometers, mapping more than 600 ground control points, and managing and sharing large amounts of data. To meet these challenges and deliver accurate city models within the prescribed period and budget, Helsinki required integrated, comprehensive reality modeling and information management capabilities.

Integrated applications

Helsinki used Bentley’s reality modeling technology for geo-coordination, optioneering, modeling, and visualization. The team produced large-scale base maps and geo-coordinated utility networks with Bentley Map. Using a combination of LiDAR laser scanning and oblique photogrammetry, they gathered terrain and surface data, and captured more than 50,000 images of the city and surrounding islands, comprising 11 terabytes of data.

The project team relied on Pointools to process the point clouds obtained via laser scanning to generate the digital terrain model (DTM), and they used Descartes to integrate the oblique and orthophotographic images into their infrastructure workflows. ContextCapture enabled Helsinki to combine the DTM with the processed imagery to produce the final detailed 3D reality model with an overall accuracy of up to 10 centimeters.

In addition to delivering the reality mesh, the Helsinki 3D+ project required generation of a 3D city semantic information model in CityGML format. The interoperability of Bentley technology enabled the team to use the same raw data gathered for the model to produce this digital city model, which is a database-based model that enables versatile, advanced city analyses and simulations that can be enriched with analytical results.

Bentley’s powerful integrated reality modeling capabilities significantly lowered the cost of producing both models covering the entire Helsinki city and outlying archipelago, with the city model being one of the largest consistent reality models in existence.

“It is not only the reality mesh or only the CityGML intelligent model. We need both,” Suomisto said. Having two models extends applications for digital city initiatives, research, and development.

Open data approach

Significant to the success of the Helsinki 3D+ project was the ability to efficiently and effectively share the models and project data and collaborate with stakeholders and the public. “We want to get the people of the city of Helsinki involved with these models and understand them,” Suomisto said. “For example, we have [implemented] a new citizen interaction platform for city planning.”

The team enlivened the models and produced animated visualizations for presentation to the public and private sector using LumenRT, enhancing understanding to achieve citizen buy-in and make the best use of the models for the benefit of the community.

ProjectWise served as the collaborative interface to manage information and share data across internal and external teams. The project management software enabled distribution and general access via a web portal, facilitated accurate data sharing, optimized document management, and streamlined workflows to keep the three-year project on track.

Utilizing Bentley applications, Helsinki has opened up its data to a host of stakeholders, optimizing information mobility and utilization of the models to ensure the city is at the forefront of digital city initiatives. With an open data approach, Helsinki is making the models available for free to citizens, private companies, and universities for use in commercial planning and development spanning the tourism, telecommunication, and power supply industries.

Reaping the benefits

With two innovative city models, optimal data management, and open data sharing, Helsinki has built a platform for developing new ways of working. When integrated into the city’s internal processes, the models provide realistic timetables, reduce errors, and digitize operating chains because they have real-time data flow, resulting in significant savings. City vendors can rely on consistent detailed models at their disposal, allowing resources to be allocated for the actual work as opposed to modeling each individual project.

Furthermore, having visual representations of the city that are capable of being simulated and analyzed to improve infrastructure, support alternative energy sources, and ensure environmental sustainability facilitates communication and understanding of new development objectives and optimizes decision making. With up-to-date capabilities available for assessing issues facing an urban community, Helsinki not only can promote digital city development in Helsinki but also can participate in frontline progress.

“I don’t know any other city in the world that has a ContextCapture model of the whole city and a City GML model of the whole city,” Suomisto said.

In addition to creating the models, Helsinki also has a required deliverable of demonstrating the power of reality modeling through a collection of pilot projects. The city’s open data approach supports this deliverable because Helsinki enlisted the help of outside business partners and universities to ensure they optimize utilization of the models. With more than 12 pilot projects in the works, Helsinki has expanded application of the models to projects such as refining energy analysis methods to achieve carbon-neutrality by 2050 and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

The models have been applied to analyze utilization of solar power and conduct flood assessments, noise calculations, and air pollution forecasts. The security and education sectors have used the models to develop serious game-like applications such as traffic simulators, convoy security arrangements, and virtual detonation analysis of wartime bombs found in urban areas. Combining 3D models with an open data approach, the city of Helsinki has pushed the boundaries of reality meshes, demonstrating to the world what a digital city can accomplish with 3D city models.


Chintana Herrin is a reality modeling product marketing manager with Bentley Systems (www.bentley.com), primarily focused on applications pertaining to 3D photogrammetry and point clouds. She is responsible for Bentley’s ContextCapture, Descartes, and Pointools applications. Herrin has nearly 20 years of experience marketing engineering software.

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