CityEngine Open Course

From TOI-Pedia

This page is the landing-page in the TOI-Pedia for students that take the CityEngine course.


This course is available online for self study or for study programmes. The course offers a programme to explore basic skills in City Engine and to apply these in advanced modules. The course consist of three components:

  1. entrance requirements and preparation;
  2. scripting course;
  3. application in advanced modules.

Basic skills in ArcGIS and CityEngine are offered in online courses at the ESRI campus website. Therefore, this course builds on these courses. What will you learn here? We provide a scripting course, which enables the use of Cityengine for parametric design. Further, we offer advanced modules on specify topics in which you can apply the skills from the scripting course.

Students and staff from TU Delft, but also from any other institutes, as well as individuals and professionals can follow the individual modules on their own. Study programmes can link to preferred modules at the TOI-Pedia platform. At the moment the platfrom doesn’t provide certificates for the course. Deliverables have to be delivered to the courses linking to this site, taking into account their respective local requirements. When linking from an external programme, please acknowledge this site (TOI-Pedia: Contributions in new advanced modules for application of the basic skills is appreciated.

In this course, we will familiarize ourselves with ESRI’s CityEngine application and its integration with other GIS softwares, like ArcGIS. The goal of this course is to produce a 3D-GIS environment to facilitate Geodesign. We will primarily focus on the following points:
  • Implementation of 3D-GIS in Geodesign
  • Build up a 3D environment using geodata of the Netherlands
  • Using procedural modeling in a smart way
  • The ability to quickly build a 3D environment with CityEngine’s features
  • CityEngine’s file formats in relation to other formats
  • Case Study for Geodesign: Windturbine planner

Geodesign and 3D

Simplified Geodesign Workflow

Geodesign is a set of techniques and enabling technologies for planning built and natural environments in an integrated process, including project conceptualization, analysis, design specification, stakeholder participation and collaboration, design creation, simulation, and evaluation (among other stages). “Geodesign is a design and planning method which tightly couples the creation of design proposals with impact simulations informed by geographic contexts.[1]

Planning on the existing site/environment and the natural context becomes more efficient, because you get instant feedback from the stakeholders. This way of designing with direct communication between the parties involved will be widely adopted in the future. By working in 3D, every aspect of the geodesign process becomes much more clearer.

CityEngine is designed specifically to facilitate this form of geodesign, where the digital 3D environment is generated so we can analyze it with ArcGIS software. This 3D environment is built up from GIS-data and external 3D models.

Visualizing geo-data in 3D is clearer and easier to understand than 2D map drawings and it certainly shows its effectiveness when communicating these data between relevant parties. It is even logical to visualize the data in 3D, because most data already contains information with 3D attributes or has been defined in 3D.

Simple 3D Zoning Visualization

CityEngine and Geodesign

As mentioned earlier, CityEngine is a software that generates a 3D environment. It is the platform where various 3D geometrical models comes together to form a 3D “base map”. CityEngine achieves this by utilizing a method called “Procedural modeling”. This is different from the traditional way of modeling by hand, like in Rhino, AutoCAD or Maya. Instead, we use “rules” (pieces of scripts/codes) to define our geometries. The advantage of procedural modeling is that the model is defined by rules and these rules are based on various parameters which in turn depends on location, features of that location, random variables. The cool thing is, we can also modify those parameters ourselves and we can re-use the same rules for something else! Within a short time and with one “rule” we can make multiple variations of 3D environments whereas it would take a lot more time to make by hand. So, how does this relate to geodesign? Well...

Due to the way our 3D environments are generated, we can make fast and interactive iteration. It also applies to designs for urban planning. This allows us to make decisions much faster, because we can make, present and analyze various designs in a shorter time frame before an expert is hired to work out the details and make in-depth analyses. This way, the chance that those highly detailed designs are rejected (by any reasons) and has to be modified is reduced greatly.

One thing you have to keep in mind is that CityEngine is not intended as the technically accurate software in which you will produce your final designs and details. You must see it as a sketchbook, but in 3D. Similar to a sketchbook, you can make multiple variations quickly so you can use it to communicate and then analyze with other parties before reaching the decision to make the final design.

There are of course drawbacks when you are procedurally modeling. The trade off is the levels of detail you get and the inaccuracies that comes with procedural modeling. Simulating reality is more difficult than modeling it by hand, because we are using “rules” to generate our geometries. Furthermore estimation is often applied rather than inputting exact numbers by hand.


Installation ArcGIS for Desktop

Before the first workshop make sure you have installed ArcGIS for Desktop. You can download a 60-day free trial from Esri. Follow the installation and activation instructions in the e-mail you receive from Esri.

Installation CityEngine

You can download a 30-day trial from Esri. Follow the installation and activation instructions in the e-mail you receive from Esri.

Architecture students and staff can use CityEngine (only version 2015 and older) with a license from the TU Delft. Download the manual from for instructions.

Module 0: Getting started

Getting started with ArcGIS for Desktop

Esri get certificate.png

To get an introduction to the basic components of a GIS, follow the free web course Getting Started with GIS offered by Esri. Login with your newly created Esri account.

After finishing the web course with a small exam, get your digital certificate by clicking on "Get Certificate". Optionally, save this PDF file on your computer.

Getting started with CityEngine

With CityEngine you can create highly realistic 3D urban landscapes from GIS data. Follow the free web course Esri CityEngine Essentials 1: Getting Started. Log in with your Esri account.

After finishing the web course with a small exam, get your digital certificate by clicking on "Get Certificate". Optionally, save this PDF file on your computer.

Creating Smart 3D City Models with CityEngine

Follow this seminar which presents an urban redevelopment example to explain basic CityEngine and 3D modeling concepts.

Module 1: Scripting

You will start with a small introduction to CityEngine and finish small tasks with scripting capabilities of CityEngine to generate (parts of) cities with pre-defined rules and rules created by yourself.

Acknowledgement: The scripting course was originally developed by Geodan and VU University Amsterdam and transferred to TU Delft in autumn 2014.

Module 2: Advanced applications

Extra modules are (to be made) available to practice advanced GIS applications in different scenarios.

Module 2A: Transit Oriented Development

You will procedurally design two alternatives for the development of the Delft station area using CityEngine.

Module 2B: Urban Heat-Island

Available soon.


  1. Flaxman, Michael. Geodesign: Fundamental Principles and Routes Forward. Talk at GeoDesign Summit 2010.
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