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Prepared by Nickolai Vasilieff – copyright 2011. All rights reserved No reprint or reissue of all or part of this document may be made without the express written permission of the author. Subject: Jacobs Facilities – New campus for the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, in Atlanta, GA Interview with Jim Kessler, Project Architect by Nickolai Vasilieff

Realistic Imaging Brings the New Campus for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention To Life Before Design Begins

In a world where graphics and animation have brought Jurassic Park, and Stuart Little (a computer generated mouse) into our living rooms, companies using CAD are increasingly finding customers want more than just 2D or 3D drawings to show them what their projects will look like. Even three-dimensional illustrations are no longer filling the need for visual communication. Jacobs Facilities is meeting the need for more realistic visualizations in the conceptual stage of projects, with creativity and a combination of powerful, and innovative software applications.

Jacobs Facilities, a division of Jacobs Engineering, is one of the worlds leading design-build firms. With over 23,000 employees and 65 offices worldwide, Jacobs provides engineering, architectural, and construction management services around the world.  As the architectural and facilities design side of the business, Jacobs Facilities provides full service architectural design services. This interview was conducted with Jim Kessler, Project Architect with the Strategic Services Group of Jacobs Facilities. This group manages master planning, facilities planning, and real estate advisory services.

The project identified in this article is the master plan design for a new complex for the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC), in Atlanta, GA. The CDC is one of eight federal public health agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services. With approximately 7,800 employees, the CDC has campuses located in ten cities throughout the Untied States, as well as international locations. Currently there are eight campuses, including the headquarters, located in Atlanta. This project by Jacobs Facilities will complete the main campus in the Atlanta area, and will be called the Roybal Campus.

“As more and more clients are asking for realistic visualizations of their project in the master planning stage”, says Jim Kessler, “Jacobs Facilities is required to do greater analysis of the client’s program needs, and provide higher quality visualizations of projects. This creates a chicken-and-the-egg problem, because Jacobs Facilities is being asked to illustrate a project before it is actually designed. This means we have to not only maximize our creative architectural expertise, but we have to use some very powerful software tools.”

On the Roybal Campus project, Jacobs Facilities was required to create realistic visualizations of the entire site long before the design stage was completed. In fact, the site visualizations were to become an integral part of facilitating the design of the new campus. Jim was charged with developing three-dimensional visualizations that accurately and realistically represented what the completed campus would look like for two primary reasons:

1-    In the design phase many different departments are required to meet to coordinate activities. In these meetings Jim displays the images onto a large screen using an LCD projector, allowing everyone (engineers, owners, and infrastructure architects) to conceptualize the master plan and coordinate their individual activities. Because the site had elevation changes of as much as 110 feet, the ability to visualize actual topographical features was critical.

2-    As an agency of the United States government, CDC is required to prepare a request for budget. Jacobs Facilities was asked to provide realistic 3D imaging of the proposed project, and a video animation walk-through of the campus for presentation before Congress.

In addition to the pressure of creating the visualizations, Jim was also under a time constraint.  This was no small consideration because the master plan for the project called for developing facilities needs, infrastructure requirements, parking, circulation analysis, and other activities. The total project would be both a renovation to existing structures, a design of several new structures, and new utilities and ground features such as roads and landscaping. And, the total campus site encompassed over 40+ acres. Creating a terrain model with roads, buildings, and other ground features that were actually a part of the model could take months by conventional methods.

Jacobs Facilities had been using AutoCAD ® for the preparation of drawings, and had also used 3D Studio Viz® for imaging on other projects. With these two programs Jim knew he could create the plans, and even 3D images, and he could render them. The problem came with creating roads, parking lots, and other ground features. He simply did not have time to create all these 3D features manually. He had recently purchased a new site-modeling application called EasySite™ and decided to make this the final piece of his software puzzle.

The first step was the preparation of site layout design drawings. These are two-dimensional plans of the site drawn in AutoCAD®, with building footprints. The footprints are outlines of proposed buildings, parking structures and parking lots created with closed polylines. Jim also included topographical lines on the drawings that showed the ground elevations. These site plans had no three-dimension information other than the topographical lines indicating the elevation of the ground along each line.

The next step was to create a terrain model.  Using a 3D modeling program called Form-Z ® to create a TIN mesh. Then, working with EasySite running in AutoCAD, he brought the TIN mesh into EasySite and began preparation of the site model. With traditional modeling processes he would have had to draw each ground feature individually, then cut them into the terrain model, and then patch the TIN mesh where the feature had been added.  With EasySite, Jim simply drew a polyline representing the terrain feature he desired, called up an EasySite menu, picked the icon he desired, and then touched the polyline. EasySite then turned each polyline into a full 3D object as pictured by the icon, and cut it into the terrain model at the elevation desired. EasySite also automatically repaired the TIM mesh where features were inserted, maintaining the integrity of the terrain model.

Jim created his own profiles and templates specific to this project, so when he called up the EasySite menu for roads, for example, he saw the road profile he had created. Having drawn a single polyline on the plan to indicate a length of road, he then picked his road profile and touched the polyline. EasySite automatically turned the polyline into a full 3D road, exactly as he had created the template, ran it along the entire length of the line, and cut it into the model at the correct elevation. Using the pick-and-place icons, he continued the process of creating roads, intersections, driveways, parking lots, and building-loading docks until he had the entire 50-acre site modeled with road features.

After the roads features, Jim modeled building pads and water features, including a pond, using similar icon driven pick-and-place manus.  In spite of server elevation changes, and the large size and number of site features, the entire process took only 3 1/2 weeks, a savings of up to 80% over traditional methods.

Once the site was modeled, Jim used the smoothing features in EasySite to clean up the site model and eliminate extreme faces caused by the elevation changes. He then had a complete 3-D site model ready for rendering.

Jim imported the 3-D site model, including the terrain features into 3D Studio Viz to created the buildings, set up lighting, and apply textures, which included building fascias, road surfaces, and landscaping. “3D Studio Viz is an excellent application for modeling buildings, creating foliage, establishing real world lighting conditions, and applying realistic textures to surfaces.” Says Jim, “Our biggest problem in the past has been how to build sites easily using 3D Studio Viz. Now with EasySite in AutoCAD, that’s a snap. The three programs combine to make a very powerful site modeling and imaging suite.”

The final step of the project was to take the 3D Studio Viz drawings (created with AutoCAD, EasySite and 3D Studio Viz) and create a 4-minute animation – walk through of the project.  Jim used 3D Studio Viz to create the animation that took about 3 days to render on 6 dual PIII 550’s.  In total, the project site modeling, visualization, and animation walk-through took about 6 weeks. “This is a remarkably short time” Jim commented,  “considering this is a 40+ acre site, and one 3D site model drawing has over 30,000 3D faces, and is 3.7 megabytes in size.”

It’s not Jurassic Park, but for architectural firms like Jacobs Facilities creating 3-D site models and visualizations can seem just as daunting. In today’s design-build market, customers are asking to see a realistic rendering of their projects, before they start. As computer hardware and software technology continues to improve, companies like Jacobs will increasingly be able to satisfy those customer needs. This project demonstrates that PC based software tools are getting faster and easier to use, making realistic modeling and visualization a cost effective reality. — END — Jacobs Facilities used an Intergraph ZX-1 workstation, with dual PIII 700 MZ processors, Intense 3D Wildcat 4105 video card, 1 gigabyte RAM, and 18-gigabyte SCSI hard drive and a Matrox DigiSuite LE video editing system. More information on primary applications in this article can be found at AutoCAD – EasySite – 3D Studio Viz – FormZ – Article prepared by: Nickolai N. Vasilieff Third Party International

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