The Origins and Structure of the Digital City: From SimCity to Big BIM

Michael Crilly, Alexander Wilson

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

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SimCity is one of the most significant and impactful computer games of the modern computer era, falling at the interface of popular culture and professional planning practice. In this paper we chart the evolution of this computer software with parallels in the evolution of city information modelling and the emergence of digital twins and set out an abbreviated chronology of technological development around digital or synthetic cities. This chronology is presented with a series of overlayed analysis including;

identification of the key changes in software and / or technological developments in the supporting city information platforms and operational specifications;

the changing purpose or professional applications for the urban modelling process: ranging from digital simulations seeking to improve our understanding of complex urban systems, exploratory role play, through to predictive modelling;

the widening scope of data and metadata requirements, and the growing complexity of data standards, interoperability, and real-time process; in the context of using ‘big data’ and default proxy data for decision-making;

the requisite levels of agency and control within the urban models, highlighting single or multiple agents operating the controls and the growing impact of artificial intelligence;

interface design, and the basis of user interfaces ranging from birds’-eye isometric model and / or map interface to first-person immersive experiences.

In conclusion, we consider the underlying ‘structures’ and ‘rules’ for data collection, integration, and processing, including the clarity of these rules throughout this technological progression and the interrelationships of these data layers. We illustrate the prevalent and fundamental questions about a digital or synthetic ‘model’ city regarding the structure of urban parametric data, the purpose to which this data can be applied alongside any supporting rationale for the choices made by decision-making agents.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 23 Jun 2023
EventThe Synthetic City Conference: Exploring the impact of AI abd digital media on urban living - Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland
Duration: 6 Sept 20237 Sept 2023​


ConferenceThe Synthetic City Conference
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