University Design Consortium
You are here: Home Case Studies Digital Phoenix: Visualizing Urban Issues

Digital Phoenix: Visualizing Urban Issues

Arizona State UniversityUnited States

Topic(s): Sustainability, Community Engagement
Herberger Center for Design Research, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts
Funding Source:
University, Private
Higher Ed - Public
ASU Decision Theater; Phoenix Urban Research Lab
Type of Institution:
67,082 (2009)
Highest Degree Offered:
Project Contact Information:
Janet Holston
PO Box 871905
United States
Email Address:
001- (480) 727-0478

Over the last thirty years the unprecedented growth and development of the city of Phoenix, Arizona, has sparked concern among local urban planners, policy makers, and the academic community as they plan for the city’s future.  Key issues ranging from water shortage, population growth, suburban sprawl, and the preservation of the desert ecosystem have lead to the creation of Digital Phoenix, an academic research program at Arizona State University (ASU) that aims to visualize these issues in an innovative 3D environment.

By creating a comprehensive, interactive 3D model, Digital Phoenix strives to aid city planners, engineers, and the public by allowing critical issues affecting the city to be visually analyzed.  The project’s two components include an interactive 3D model of Phoenix’s downtown core and digital scenarios based on a database of city population, transportation, employment, and water consumption statistics. The aim is to integrate these components into a fully interactive framework for visualizing key issues facing the city.

Project Description

Created in 2006, Digital Phoenix is a research program at ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.  The interdisciplinary program combines the knowledge of students and professors from urban planning, architecture, geography, computer science, and design.  Digital Phoenix was designed as a multi-faceted program with two primary components, the visualization program and developing future scenarios. Professor Yoshihiro Kobayashi from the ASU School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture heads research in the 3D visualization program, and Professor Subhrajit Guhathakurta from the ASU School of Planning leads research in developing future scenarios for the city that are presented as 3D models by the visualization team.

The program was created as an innovative way to study the unprecedented growth occurring in and around the city of Phoenix, Arizona.  The project’s two components work in tandem to create 3D visualizations of urban issues like traffic congestion, population growth, water shortages, and infrastructure projects so that decision makers and planners can more easily understand the scope of certain problems. The completed framework allows users to interact with data displayed in the context of the city model, visualizing patterns and gaining new insights that might not otherwise emerge by analyzing data through traditional means. 

The 3D downtown Phoenix model is itself an example of innovation in computer city modeling.  Using techniques devised by Prof. Kobayashi, a team of three design students was able to model a square mile of downtown Phoenix, including over 500 buildings, in less than a week.  City modeling of this scale using conventional techniques can take several months for a small team to complete.

Since the project began in 2006, several simulations have been created by Digital Phoenix that showcase the 3D model’s versatility. In June 2009, the model was implemented in the Digital Phoenix ECO-Drive system, a fully interactive simulation in which users drive a specific route of freeway and surface roads through the downtown Phoenix model using a drive simulator.  The simulator bears close resemblance to a video arcade system and is used to record how a participant’s gas and braking behavior effects their carbon dioxide emissions as they navigate the simulation.  Upon completing the course, the user is given a CO2 emission score based on the information collected from the drive simulator. The project aims to maximize driver efficiency by showing users of the system exactly how much fuel and money can be saved by adopting eco-drive behaviors. On a city-wide scale, good eco-driving would drastically reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions without the implementation of any new technologies.

Additionally, Digital Phoenix continues to work closely with the ASU Decision Theater, an immersive visualization environment used by planners, researchers, policy makers, and a variety of private organizations.  At Decision Theater, Digital Phoenix visualizations are presented on a 270 degree immersive display system.  Using 3D glasses, viewers can fully immersed in the digital model and explore changes to the built environment anywhere from sidewalk level, high above the city, or travelling in a vehicle.

Project Results

After three years of development beginning in 2006, the Digital Phoenix Project has been exhibited extensively at major venues around the world.  Since the first public presentation of the model at ASU’s Decision Theater on October 26, 2006, the 3D interactive model has been exhibited at Siggraph 2007 in San Diego, Intelligent Transportation Systems World Congress 2008 in New York City, and many others.  The project has also been the recipient of honors at both the 2007 and 2008 Forum8 Annual 3D VR (virtual reality) Simulation contests in Tokyo, Japan.

Despite accolades and recognition for innovation in 3D city modeling, Digital Phoenix struggles to achieve its primary goal of integrating macro simulation data into its 3D city model.  Primary complications revolve around insufficient testing of data translation and software compatibility in the project’s initial design phase.  With the project’s final year slated for 2010, however, Digital Phoenix aims to surpass technical barriers and make an impact on not only the 3D graphics community, but also will prove to be a valuable tool for civil engineers, urban planners, transportation experts and decision makers. 

Document Actions
Personal tools