Spatial Synthesis
Volume II, Book 2:
Making It Clear:  The Importance of Transparency

Sandra Lach Arlinghaus


Virtual reality files created in 3D Studio Max were linked together using semi-opaque kiosks to move from one virtual reality scene to another.  This strategy was created in order to show a larger expanse of territory than might reasonably have been shown in a single file (due to demands on computers for much RAM from large files).  The need for such capability was viewed as important in possible emergency management applications.

The links in this section go to files presented to municipal authorities (at the 3D Laboratory of the Duderstadt Center at The University of Michigan, at City Hall, and at the Downtown Development Authority) to visualize possible outcomes from changing heights of buildings in the downtown and in understanding how changes in zoning might alter the vertical city. 

The author introduced 3D models to her colleagues on the City of Ann Arbor Planning Commission during her years of service to that group (1995-2003).  Initially, in the late 1990s, there were 3D models with no textures made in ArcView 3.2 with Spatial Analyst and 3D Analyst extensions.  The Ordinance Revisions Committee of Planning Commission was able to use these in selected applications. 

The image at the top of the page shows a report on a public hearing in Council Chambers in Ann Arbor City Hall.  That hearing was the outcome of months of work using the urban planning models described above in association with the Downtown Residential Task Force of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA).  The models were handed over to the DDA and ultimately to Calthorpe Associates who subsequently used them in making a variety of recommendations to City Council.

In 2003, after leaving City Planning Commission, the was able to learn (when serving as a Faculty Advisor) to make more realistic looking models in 3D Studio Max.  In continuing work with Matthew Naud, Environmental Coordinator for the City of Ann Arbor (and then Emergency Manager, as well) a variety of other 3D models were developed with textures on the buildings so that they appeared to be more realistic.

The second image on this page shows a screen capture of a virtual reality file made using 3D Studio Max.  The files were large in size and were not georeferenced.  Thus, their use was not backward compatible with the city GIS files from which the building footprints were originally derived.  Also, they were not aligned with the City aerials and contours.  Nonetheless, their realism was attractive.  Naud saw them as a possible way for firefighters, in their downtime, to have fun with them on laptops with the intended consequence of having them learn more about the road network and street names of the city they were serving. 

Because, the file size is large, separate files with building textures were built a block at a time.  In all, 12 blocks of the downtown were done.  Photographic assistance came from students in Prof. Klaus-Peter Beier's Virtual Reality course in the College of Engineering of The University of Michigan.  Being able to link between files was of course critical if one were to drive around town and learn about it.  The semi-transparent red "kiosk" in the street intersection in the bottom figure is not really there; it was introduced as a place to click to go to the next file.  Because it is somewhat transparent, building façades are not obscured.

The list of references below is selected from a much larger set.  Additional citations may be found in the linked article co-authored by Arlinghaus, Beal, and Kelbaugh.

In eBooks:
In Solstice:  An Electronic Journal of Geography and Mathematics:

Software used in analysis:

Author affiliation:

Arlinghaus, Sandra Lach.  Adjunct Professor of Mathematical Geography and Population-Environment Dynamics, School of Natural Resources and Environment, The University of Michigan.  Executive Committee Member (Secretary) Community Systems Foundation,,

Published by:
Institute of Mathematical Geography
October, 2008.
Copyright by Sandra Arlinghaus, all rights reserved.