VIRTUAL SINGAPORE: Creating an intelligent 3D model to improve experiences of residents, business and government

By Akio
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Originally published in Compass: The 3DEXPERIENCE® Magazine, written by William J. Holstein

Powered by sophisticated analysis of images and data collected from public agencies and real-time sensors, Virtual Singapore is designed to give a whole new meaning to the term “smart city.”

By giving the city-state’s citizens, businesses, government agencies and research community dynamic 3D visualizations of wildly diverse scenarios, it can be used to plan everything from emergency evacuations to a perfect night on the town.


Singapore is a small country with a giant plan. In one of the world’s most ambitious information technology experiments, the city-state is building a system that will virtualize the buildings, infrastructures, green spaces and almost every aspect of life in Singapore and then display the results as an interactive, 3D replica.

The project, called Virtual Singapore, is led by the National Research Foundation Singapore together with the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), and is expected to be progressively developed, with completion in 2018.

Although many cities are working to assemble and analyze their data in hopes of improving city life, Virtual Singapore is unusual because it will allow all users to visualize in 3D how the city will develop and evolve with time in response to population growth, new construction and other major events.

“We will capture the virtualized life of Singapore,” said George Loh, director of the Foundation’s Programmes Directorate, which includes responsibility for leading the Virtual Singapore project. “For example, it will include demographic data about where elderly people are living, where the businesses and shopping malls and restaurants are, and what the transport schedules are. People can have access to all of that information and make sense of it.”

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: “We will capture
the virtualized life of #Singapore”

Virtual Singapore will assemble and analyze data that already exists in dozens of government agencies, plus new data collected in real time from smartphones, cameras and sensors, to model and predict solutions to the emerging and complex challenges Singapore faces.

Displayed in the context of a virtual 3D model of the city, Virtual Singapore will enable city planners to test various responses to everything from population growth and resource management to public events and building patterns, and implement those that create the safest, most positive experiences.

“The words they’ve been using to describe it are ‘digital twin,’” said Chris Holmes, managing director, IDC Insights Asia Pacific, who has lived in Singapore for 16 years. “They’re looking to capture all the moving parts of the city and to track what is happening in the city in real time.”


The Virtual Singapore concept combines several hot technological trends, including big data, the Internet of Things, 3D modeling and predictive analytics. The model will provide information to four basic constituencies.

“It can serve government agencies,” Loh said, “but it also can be a platform where people could have access to limited data and they could use applications that make their lives much more convenient.

Businesses also can offer targeted services to their customers.

And the last stakeholder group is researchers, who may have more ideas than government bureaucrats about how to create new technologies and services.”

The Virtual Singapore project will support Singapore’s vision for creating a “smart nation,” but its vision of giving access to citizens and visitors makes it fundamentally different from what other cities, such as Rio de Janeiro, are doing to make their operations “smarter.”

As it prepares for the 2016 Summer Olympics, Rio has created a command-and-control center where information about electricity usage, water and waste management, traffic flow and crime can be collected in real time. But only government agencies will have access to the data.

Singapore’s project is more challenging because it envisions giving multiple constituencies access to the data each needs, with controls to ensure that confidential and sensitive data is protected – a complex security and privacy challenge.

“We need to give the right data to the right people at the right level at the right time,” Loh said.

The system also needs to be able to serve many different devices. For example, individuals will be able to access the system from smartphones, tablets, laptops or desktop computers.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: “#VirtualSingapore gives access to all:
govt, researchers, businesses, citizens”


How will Virtual Singapore help the city, recognized as one of the world’s most livable, maintain that status in the face of rapid growth projections?

As an example, Loh cites the planning required for Singapore to host the Formula One automobile races held there every September, when the government shuts down roads at night and the race cars speed through the city. Huge crowds come to watch the races, but city planners have to prepare for the dangers of evacuating spectators in case of a fiery crash.

Virtual Singapore will help by giving city planners the ability to overlay or “stream in” the locations of people based on signals from their smartphones.

“You will know where all the entrances and exits are, and you know how the crowd will be moving based on the historical data of previous years,” Loh explained. “If something really bad happens, through 3D predictive and intelligent agents modeling you can see how people would disperse and how they would behave. You create a plan for how you would evacuate people.”

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: “Imagine an evacuation plan
based on how people behave in emergencies”

Virtual Singapore will also develop a common data exchange platform, making much of the data that already exists in government ministries easier to access and share in a secured and controlled environment.

Visualization is a major goal of the project so that the aggregated and integrated data from different sources can be “seen.”

Related: Civil Design for Fabrication


One implication of the Virtual Singapore project, and of similar efforts around the world, is that the way governments work will change for the better, IDC’s Holmes said.

“You’re going to see a more integrated approach in government. If there is a sewage leak somewhere in the city, for example, you need to alert transportation authorities, you need the police to block the roads and you need the engineers to attack the problem. If all those agencies can ‘see’ the problem on the same platform, they will be able to better coordinate their efforts.”

Ultimately, the biggest challenge smart city projects face is that of involving average citizens, said Carlo Ratti, director of the SENSEable City Lab at the Urban Planning Department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

“Crucially, the work must demonstrate concepts that promote interaction and debate,” said Ratti, one of the world’s most renowned smart city experts. “The goal of design is to generate alternatives and open up new possibilities. The momentum of the crowd can project ideas into the future and spark development; as a result, our work is meaningless unless it ignites imaginations. This implicates each and every citizen.”

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: “The goal of #design is to generate alternatives
& open up new possibilities @SenseableCity”

Ratti argues that the best smart city projects are bottom up, not top down, because they enlist average people in creating them and then using what is created to deliver tangible benefits.

“The overall goal of real-time information in cities is to help people make better decisions,” Ratti said. “Giving data back to those who generate it allows them to be more in sync with their environment.”


Virtual Singapore also gives its leaders an opportunity to inspire the city’s young people to take up science and technology subjects through projects such as the National Science Experiment (NSE).

The NSE has a dual goal of exposing students to real-world applications of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) while collecting environmental data that can be used to populate Virtual Singapore.

Organized by the National Research Foundation Singapore and the Ministry of Education, in partnership with the Singapore University of Technology and Design, the Science Centre Singapore and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, the program began in 2015 with a pilot project involving more than 300 young Singaporeans. By the time the NSE ends in 2017, more than 250,000 students are expected to take part.

Each participant is equipped with a simple device called SENSg, which can capture data, including temperature, humidity and noise levels, wherever the devices go. The information is transmitted wirelessly to a central computer server.

Students can go online and log in to see their own data, including their number of steps taken, time spent outdoors and travel patterns. They can also compare notes with friends while discovering the relationship between travel patterns and carbon footprints.

As the students mature and begin to enter the workforce, organizers hope that projects like the NSE will have made using big data second nature for them.

“This is the first step in crowdsourcing of data,” Loh said. “The people must be smart. The people must be able to leverage the massive amount of data we are going to make available.”

Much of the data that Virtual Singapore will display is already available, although not integrated, in numerical form on computer screens.

One of the key goals of the project is to display that data visually in ways that do not require a user to whip out a calculator to understand the implications.

That’s where 3D modeling becomes critical.

“A picture speaks a thousand words, even without doing any analysis,” Loh said. “Singaporeans should be able to access those images on their handheld devices. A visual display of a crowded train or bus station, for example, should communicate more information more quickly than mere numbers.”

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: #3D Modeling is key: “A picture
speaks 1000 words, even without any analysis”

Related Resources:

Civil Design for Fabrication

Virtual Singapore: A Platform to Solve Emerging and Complex Challenges

Virtual Singapore and the Economy of the Digital Twin


George Loh, who leads the Virtual Singapore project as director of the National Research Foundation’s Programmes Directorate, has a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from Ohio State University (Columbus, Ohio) and a master’s degree in Industrial Systems Engineering from the University of Southern California (Los Angeles).

He has more than 20 years of experience in information technology, research strategy, high-tech security and systems engineering for the Ministry of Defence Singapore, the Defence Science & Technology Agency and the NRF, where he also manages programs that include National Cybersecurity Research and Development and the Land and Liveability National Innovation Challenge.

How an Industrial Mindset Helps SHoP Speed Its Design Process

By Akio
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ArchiFuture 2015 is the largest and most influential BIM strategy and technology event in Japan. John Cerone, Director of Virtual Design & Construction at SHoP Architects, delivered a keynote address on Design Delivery to the ArchiFuture conference attendees on October 23, 2015 in Tokyo. The following is a summary of his presentation:

SHoP Architects ArchiFuture2015

John Cerone, Director of Virtual Design & Construction at SHoP Architects

Since moving its design process to the 3DExperience platform, New York-based architecture firm SHoP has adopted an “industrial” attitude toward buildings. The firm uses virtual design to “fabricate” buildings, much as the aerospace industry assembles airplanes using digital models.

“In architecture every building is different, and every detail is different, but our processes are very much the same,” explains John Cerone, director of virtual design and construction with SHoP Architects.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: “Every building is different but our processes
are very much the same” – John Cerone @SHoPArchitects

This approach requires a new design mentality, focusing on a high level of detail and a close working relationship with fabricators very early in the design process.

Moving to a parts mentality

The most significant difference in this industrial approach is shifting to a focus on individual pieces as well as the project as a whole.

Very early on in a project, the design team works in terms of individual components and systems.

“They may not be the final systems that will be fabricated — they’re more like placeholders — but the system is setup so that when we get the accurate information we can easily swap the parts in,” Cerone explains.

A project may have hundreds of thousands of parts, but virtual tools allow the firm to structure all of that component data and access it in context of the larger system. CATIA allows the designers to easily move from a view of the entire building into separate building systems as well as the individual part.

Individual components within the larger structure

On SHoP’s largest implementation of this technology, the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, SHoP learned to create templates for component types, then use CATIA language to expand those templates into distinct pieces.

As Cerone explains, “We’re beginning to think about design in terms of which parts are reusable and which parts are different.”

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: “We’re thinking about #design in
terms of which parts are reusable, which are different”

In this case, a simple panel template containing all of the design, engineering and fabrication information was expanded into a handful of panel “families,” and then 12,000 unique panels.

Barclays Center: Installation of 12,000 unique panels

Barclays Center: Installation of 12,000 unique panels

The schedule component

With every aspect of a project living in the 3DExperience platform — not just geometry but also drawings, models, schedules and other details — something so abstract as the schedule itself can become a component that is attached to a design detail as a specific line item.

“That line item has a deliverable — the detail or a model of that detail is the deliverable and that can be attached to that schedule,” Cerone explains. “The schedule can be used in two ways: the linear time, but also as an object. The task that is associated with time is also a container for these deliverables.”

The result of this is a holistic view where time is always a factor, helping keep projects on schedule.


Viewing the schedule as a “component” attached to a design detail can help keep projects on time

A world without drawings

Because all component information is generated in the model, SHoP prefers to communicates through fabrication plans when possible, rather than passing design drawings to fabricators.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: “Component info in model allows @SHoPArchitects
to communicate via fabrication plans, not drawings”

In the case of the Barclays Center, SHoP provided the panel fabricator with the machine code needed to cut each panel, as well as information on the install sequence to help plan which panels to cut and deliver first.


Fabricators receive machine codes needed to perform the cuts of specific pieces; no drawings need be exchanged

For both fabrication and installation, Cerone notes that the laser scan becomes a critical part of the design process.

“It’s essential that we know the conditions that we’re installing to so that we can find problem areas ahead of time, before units are installed,” he says. A laser scan will reveal when conditions are out of tolerance, and ensure an accurate fit for installed components.

An evolving process

In addition, the firm has found that as new virtual processes are explored on a given project, subsequent projects move much more rapidly.

For example, as the Barclays Center neared completion, SHoP began to apply the processes it had learned on that project to a project in Kenya. Despite working with a vastly different form, using a different technique, the firm was able to reduce the design time on its new project to a couple of months.

“This leaves more time to run analysis, and to be much more specific about what we’re designing,” Cerone says.

Subsequent projects have moved from design to fabrication in a matter of weeks, while retaining a high level of complexity.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: “How an Industrial Mindset Helps
@SHoPArchitects Speed Its Design Process”

Related Resource: 

Façade Design for Fabrication: an Industry Solution Experience from Dassault Systèmes


Think a Zero RFI Goal Is Impossible? Consider These Strategies for Improving Project Coordination

By Marty R
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clicktotweetClick to Tweet: “Early collaboration can reduce RFIs,
reduce change orders on AEC projects”

The typical commercial construction project generates on the order of 3,000 to 20,000 RFIs (Requests for Information). It’s a staggering number, especially considering reviewing and documenting each RFI takes time. Studies show each RFI resolution costs about $1,000 in time and labor, even when BIM design tools are utilized.

RFIs are an indication of a lack of understanding of the design, as well as a lack of close coordination among the project teams. Further, RFIs are the source of changes in scope, costing the project owner more time and money than expected.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: “AEC projects generate 3k-20k RFIs per project; indicates lack of understanding & coordination”

For AEC teams aiming to improve performance and predictability in construction, the goal should be to reduce RFIs as much as possible.

One way to do this is to get all team members on the same page early in the design process. A building lifecycle management (BLM) approach can facilitate this, drastically reducing RFIs and change orders.

Related Whitepaper: End-To-End Collaboration Enabled by BIM Level 3: An Architecture, Engineering & Construction Industry Solution Based on Manufacturing Best Practices 

BLM success story: One Island East, Hong Kong

Swire Properties Ltd. applied BLM processes and technologies for its One Island East tower in Hong Kong. The 70-story, 1.75 million square foot project was delivered on time, and with zero cost overruns.

3D clash detection became a primary vehicle for early collaboration and enhanced coordination. Over 2,000 issues were identified and resolved prior to tender. As a result, the One Island East project team issued just 140 RFIs—a 93% reduction from traditional construction coordination processes.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: “How a 70-story 1.75Mill sq ft
project was delivered on time, with 0 overruns.”


One Island East,
Hong Kong

Incentivizing the shift to early collaboration

The benefits of closely coordinated teams might be clear cut for to the project owner: a project that is delivered on time and on budget. However, individual members of the design and construction team might not be so quick to invest in a change to BLM processes that enable this improved coordination.

Typical construction project budgets include a healthy contingency, meant to cover overruns caused by RFIs and change orders. A portion of the contingency can be reallocated as a fee for the design firm and subcontractors to work on identifying issues that create RFIs.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: “Reallocate AEC contingency budget to
architect & subs as incentive for preventing RFIs”

Thus, re-allocating a portion of the contingency becomes an incentive for eliminating jobsite problems before they arise.  Technology can support the detection and resolution of these problems earlier—when these issues are less costly to resolve.

The benefits of a collaborative approach

Such early coordination among team members can dramatically reduce RFIs, preventing budget and schedule inflation. Moreover, owners benefit in the long run by having a project team focused on improving operational performance.

AEC teams that put the tools in place to improve project coordination are better prepared to turnover a project that can ease maintenance and operations throughout the building’s lifecycle. And they’ll be able to improve their own bottom-line as well.

To learn more about how AEC professionals can benefit from the collaboration enabled by BLM, download the Dassault Systèmes whitepaper.


BLM Processes Reduce RFIs

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: “Think a Zero RFI Goal Is Impossible?
Consider These Strategies for Improving Project Coordination”

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