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UCLA Deploys Homebrewed Urban Simulator for Campus Planning

A 3D urban simulation tool that the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) developed nearly 20 years ago is still in operation, helping architects and administrators with construction challenges on the crowded campus.

The UCLA Urban Simulation Team, developed by the university's department of architecture and urban design, helped city planners in the 1990s envision how a rapid transit bus system would work on Wilshire Boulevard, one of Los Angeles' busiest streets.

The lab had created a 3D fly/drive-through of the downtown Los Angeles area, which was then enhanced by a new graphics system with highly realistic, textured 3D models. Its 1GB of texture memory allowed UCLA students and professors to use more photo-based, real-world textures for the buildings and surrounding environments, in addition to higher-quality textures. The chief benefit was much higher visual fidelity over larger areas than was achievable before while still maintaining real-time interactivity.

While the Urban Simulation Team was disbanded in 2013, the simulator itself was moved to the UCLA Capital Programs design and construction team, which has used it to figure how to fit new buildings into available space on what is already a crowded campus.

"It gives us extra breadth as a design and visualization tool," said campus architect Jeffrey Averill.

One particularly complex job completed in 2013 involved construction of new residential halls and recreation facilities in one corner of the campus.

Private companies have also partnered with UCLA to make use of the simulator. Several years ago, an endoscope maker used it to help with construction of operating rooms with endoscopic video systems at what would eventually be the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

"It's one thing to see a piece of paper that states an institution's vision," said Connie Padden, Karl Storz Endoscopy-America director of technology integration. "It's another to have an institution show you visually what they plan to do."

About the Author

Michael Hart is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and the former executive editor of THE Journal.

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