Visualizing new infrastructure

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    Project: Butler Street Roundabout, Hillsboro, Ore.

    Civil Engineer:
    Cardno

    Product application: Linking designs in AutoCAD Civil 3D with photorealistic rendering in Autodesk 3ds Max saved time and supported public outreach.


    For many people, “new infrastructure” conjures up images of something large, expensive, and time-consuming to build. When they hear new infrastructure is coming to their neighborhood, some people may assume that construction is about to disrupt their lives for years — and significantly change their area in ways they won’t like. That’s especially true when new infrastructure takes an unfamiliar form. The Butler Street Roundabout in Hillsboro, Ore., faced these potential hurdles. Cardno, the engineering firm on the project, used photorealistic visualizations to effectively communicate design intent and impact with direct project stakeholders and local residents to help overcome key concerns.

    The Cardno team faced a scenario involving a massive, new high-tech facility expansion in Hillsboro that included two 1,500-car parking garages. Traffic engineers determined that a two-lane roundabout would be the most efficient way to handle the 3,000 vehicles arriving and leaving the facility at approximately the same time each day. The project would be the city’s first multilane roundabout.

    Two challenges stood out for the project team at Cardno: The roundabout could not encroach on private property to the south due to existing buildings’ proximity to the property line; and the project had to be designed and constructed in just seven months.

    Photorealistic visualizations were used extensively to help overcome key concerns about appearance and impact on the surrounding residential area. Image: Cardno

    Instead of looking at 2D paper designs that only engineers truly understand or cartoonish sketches, people were able to view the coming roundabout as a series of photorealistic renderings. Image: Cardno

    “Normally, you’d expect to spend about 12 to 18 months designing, permitting, and constructing a roundabout of this size,” said Fred Wismer, the project engineer who led the design effort for Cardno. “We had to work quickly. And to accelerate approvals, we needed to create a 3D visualization that would help nearby residents fully understand what the roundabout would look like.”

    Visualization critical

    As the first two-lane roundabout in Hillsboro, the Butler Street Roundabout generated doubt among nearby residents about whether it would be sufficiently safe and attractive. The project team felt that presenting the project as realistically as possible would be important to communicating the positive aspects of the project to the community. So, despite the time crunch on the design portion of the project, Cardno opted to create a photorealistic visualization of the roundabout along with the design.

    Wismer explained some of the pluses and potential drawbacks of large roundabouts. “In general, roundabouts move traffic efficiently,” he said. “They also provide ample opportunities for landscaping. That means they can be more visually attractive than a large intersection with multiple lights and turn lanes. On the other hand, people may not be familiar with roundabouts, especially those with two lanes. It’s difficult to visualize how something unfamiliar will look in your community.

    “The renderings you can create directly from model-based design software can be a great way to communicate a design, but they aren’t photorealistic,” Wismer said. “We wanted to be able to show details of the roundabout, right down to the anticipated size of the trees at the time of planting. The key was to generate realistic visualizations without adding significant time to the project.”

    A side-by-side comparison shows one of the pre-construction 3D renderings (left) and a photo of the site today. Using advanced visualization technology enabled the Cardno team to give project stakeholders an idea of what the total site would look like several years after completion as plantings mature. Image: Cardno

    Linking designs and visualizations

    With no time to waste, the Cardno team started its initial designs in AutoCAD Civil 3D software. They began by exploring options that would fit the project area. These initial sketches gave the client and the city a way to review and approve the roundabout’s location and basic elements. Cardno then developed a detailed model of the project. After creating the preliminary model, Cardno started the photorealistic rendering in Autodesk 3ds Max Design software.

    Cardno linked the design and visualization models so that when the project team modified the design, those changes appeared in the visualization. “We defined elements in the design model, such as grass and the locations of trees,” explained Wismer. “The visualization software recognized the defined elements. When we moved a tree in the design, it moved in the visualization, too.”

    Despite adding the visualization to an already tight project schedule, Cardno finished its work in less than the three months allotted for design. “There were two big timesavers on the project,” Wismer said. “Taking advantage of the full 3D capabilities of our design tools let us make and apply changes across the design quickly. Being able to link the design and visualization also saved a tremendous amount of time. We didn’t have to wait until the design was complete to start the visualization.”

    A window into the future

    When the designs were finished, it was time to share them with area residents. Instead of looking at 2D paper designs that only engineers truly understand or cartoonish sketches, people were able to view the coming roundabout as a series of photorealistic renderings. The renderings gave street-level views of what the project would look like from multiple angles. People could easily see how the mature trees included in the project would obscure the parking structures, and how the landscaping around the roundabout provided a visual break from the gray of the pavement.

    “Giving people a realistic view of what the roundabout would look like helped them understand what was coming,” said Wismer. “Did it turn them all into fans of roundabouts or the project in general? That’s hard to say. In my experience, it is helpful to share realistic renderings of potentially controversial projects. Otherwise, it’s easy to imagine negative visual impacts while missing just how much good design and landscaping contribute to the overall look of a project.”

    Melissa Newton is a senior marketing associate with Cardno. She coordinates marketing and communications for Cardno’s Portland, Ore., office. Teresa Elliott is an industry marketing manager for infrastructure for Autodesk.

    Visualization on large infrastructure projects

    Many infrastructure projects impact a much larger area than the Butler Street Roundabout. On these types of projects, Cardno has found that visualizations that let stakeholders explore the proposed designs dynamically may make more sense than static photorealistic visualizations. A recent road widening project in Hillsboro, Ore., illustrates this approach.

    The project involved widening 5,600 linear feet of road from three lanes to five. Drainage issues led Cardno to vary the curb heights throughout the project. By using Autodesk InfraWorks software, Cardno was able to quickly generate 3D models that showed the design in the context of the existing environment. Area residents were able to explore the model on Apple iPad mobile devices devoted to presenting the project at open houses. By flying through the models, residents were even able to look at the proposed curb heights in front of their homes.

    “Visualization makes sense on just about every infrastructure project,” said Cardno Project Engineer Fred Wismer. “A 3D model that encompasses a larger area can be a perfect fit for long roadway or rail projects. You get a more dynamic model that lets you fly through the whole project or zero in on details. On the road widening, people appreciated seeing their driveways in the context of the larger project. It really comes down to choosing the right tool for the information and detail you want to convey.”

    The NE 28th Avenue roadway project, also in Hillsboro, Ore., included adding travel lanes, bike lanes, and sidewalks without relocating residents. 3D visualizations enabled residents to look at the proposed curb heights in front of their homes. Image: Cardno