You’ll see my recent blog posts have been mainly about CityEngine and more recently Lumion3D.   Exciting stuff is being done by the people at Digital Urban (UCL) as well!   Both have been talked about as being ‘game changers’ but why?

  • Is it there advanced capabilities?
  • Or is it because of their 3D visualisation possibilities?
  • Perhaps it’s because they work nicely with other file formats?

The answer is in part yes to all of the above, but there is something more fundamental going on and it is in part due to a tool called SketchUp.

When you work in three dimensions everything becomes a little more complicated, yes you can visualise your buildings nicely and see what you are designing, but there is an added layer of complication, for myself it is viewpoints.

I know what a building should look like and all its component parts but you have to be able to view how everything interacts behind other features.   Understanding how a building will look from a 3D model is easier, but understanding how all the component parts fit together (services, floor levels etc..) can be harder to understand.

Working in an architectural practice two dimensional black and white drawings provide a good snapshot of how things fit together and work.   Now that virtually every client wants a 3D model and to walk around it like a computer game, has given us a problematic transition.   UK planning departments still want properly measured 2D black and white drawings, whereas clients would often prefer 3D models.

Historically we have worked with AutoCAD LT, as we’re too small to require AutoCAD (and wouldn’t use many of the advanced features) as well as the various Building Information Modelling (BIM) solutions.   However our clients do want 3D models so we have been creating models for a while now using SketchUp (even prior to it being purchased by Google and now Trimble).

SketchUp is amazing, no that’s not correct, it’s an incredible piece of software.    In fact I regard its development as being one of the most important things to have ever happened to our industry (architecture and urban design).    There are two main reasons for me giving such importance:

  • It fits into our existing software/workflows nicely
  • It is easy to use

That’s it, no really!   The learning curve as anyone who has used SketchUp will know, is very small.   I can guarantee most first time computer literate professional users (with no reading of a manual) can produce a good looking useful 3D model with ease.

Lumion3D is also not the most powerful of visualisation packages but after a couple of minutes of using it I realised I could with relative ease create beautifully rendered models and all within my existing workflows. Like SketchUp the real utility of this tool is how easy it is to create a good looking useful product with minimal training.

But what about CityEngine? It certainly is very powerful and the learning curve is quite steep for anyone without a background in programming.    However it does fit in with my existing workflows just like SketchUp and Lumion3D.   I’m certain that the ESRI CityEngine team is working on usability so I’m asking nicely ESRI, will you please SketchUp your software too?


  1. Hi,
    I have used CityEngine and Sketchup for some time and I fully agree on your Sketchup review: it is really easy to use and integrate in a workflow.
    Changing CityEngine will hold some challenges because of its procedural engine … I guess they can ‘sketchup’ the user interface, stretching a building’s height manually instead of using the level-counter but you will not easily adapt to e.g. cutting holes etc … without breaking the procedural stack.
    As an alternative to Sketchup I can recommend Bonzai3D (
    Now that ESRI drives Procedural’s development, who knows what will happen …
    cheers, Erwin

  2. Dear Elliot,

    Thanks for your inputs.

    I fully agree with you that it is all about user experience, workflow, and capability. The team in Zurich is currently working hard on the new release and I hope you will not be disappointed :-).

    Looking forward to your presentation at Esri UC in San Diego!

    Kind regards from Redlands,

    Dominik (Esri Inc., 3D Markets)

    PS @ Erwin: As always, like the way you think and appreciate your valuable inputs!

  3. Hi,
    You really hit the spot on this post. If ESRI is going to make Cityengine more ‘mainstream’, they have to either 1. simplify the rule-creating process or 2. provide more samples. The first is Sketchup-ish, hire a good interaction designer to look at the workprocesses, make things intuitive like Sketchup. Things that are easy are more popular (word/office/Apple) than things that are difficult(Linux/pc-behind the standard windows). The second is more Lumion3d-ish. You don’t have to create a tree cga, or a car cga, or an water cga, they did it for you. Copy paste, adjust a little and you get a semi-professional 3d render.
    Personally I prefer the Sketchup approach, because you control your model/scene more. But either helps the program forward.

    Regards, Sander


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