Journey of a Thousand Miles…

The first day of 2017. With a freshly minted GIS Master’s degree in hand, so begins my effort to become a pinball wizard at ESRI CityEngine.  You can read more about who I am, what’s behind my thinking and perhaps get some food for thought for your own efforts on the About page.  I’ve done a lot of research and talked to a lot of people, and therefore my explanations are going to evolve.

For my part, I’m not starting out entirely green. I have twice experimented with the 30-day trial, went through some of the tutorials, hand-drew some roads and building shapes and experimented with Computer Generated Architecture (CGA) code — yeah, yeah, I know, another code language to learn. Well, it’s suitably addictive.  I have learned enough to where I want to break out of a linear path through instruction and start to improvise. Maybe its my music background, but learning to play scales is not enough.  Applying fundamentals creatively is something I begin to do almost immediately, to keep the learning interesting.

So in that spirit, I will veer wildly off topic.

Chicago Tribune, May 26, 1981

Years ago, I interviewed Dan “Spiderman” Goodwin, who famously climbed the Sears (now Willis) Tower in Chicago in 1981, then the world’s tallest building at 1451 feet/443 meters.  I asked Dan, a rock climber, what building he had climbed to prepare for the Sears Tower.  The answer: Sears was the first one.  In 1980, Dan witnessed the fire that destroyed the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, where 85 people were killed and more than 700 were injured. When he tried to talk to the fire marshal in the aftermath about building rescues, the fire marshal asked if Dan had ever climbed a building. “Until you do”, he said, “don’t you try to tell me how to perform a rescue in a high rise building”.

So, which building does Dan climb first? The tallest one in the world.  “The way I felt, if I was going to fail on a building, well… it doesn’t matter,” said Dan. “Once you’re above ten floors, the end result is the same, you’re gonna die. In my way of thinking, I thought OK, if I’m going to have the same risk, I might as well go for the tallest.”

For my first self-guided modeling studies in City Engine, I chose… wait for it… Willis Tower,  not because of its size (my interest in supertall buildings notwithstanding), but because of its simple geometry.  Many building models begin by simply extruding shapes.  Willis Tower is comprised of nine “bundled tubes” that terminate at various heights.

The first model was shameless instant gratification. I drew nine cubes by hand, positioned them and extruded each to scale. For fun, I placed the model within a tutorial cityscape.

Hand-drawing a cube with a draw tool (arrow) and extruding it to the desired height (circled).

The hand-drawn model, pulled into a tutorial cityscape.

The second model was my first experiment with CGA, a problem in splitting a single shape into a 3×3 cube matrix.  A single square cube was divided into three along the x-axis; the resulting rectangles were divided into three across the z-axis; the nine cubes were extruded and individually colored using coded parameters.

Learning to create detailed shapes, not necessarily 1500-foot tall ones, is one of my early priorities. The Willis Tower model is a good first effort because a number of important abilities are applied: fashioning a shape, applying facades and writing CGA code that constructs a complete instance of the building in a single rule file.

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