Modelling Urban Space

From TOI-Pedia


Urban Model

During design of an urban environment, two approaches are applicable to quickly model design decisions and reflect on those. Both have a different approach in developing the urban space.

The first design method starts with an empty ground plane on which the urban fabric is placed, this consist of building blocks or separate buildings. The urban fabric defines the open space in between. This method will be referred to as the block method.

The second method starts with a solid piece of urban fabric out of which the volumes of open spaces are extracted by carving. By shaping the open space, the urban fabric is designed. This method will be referred to as the carve method.

Both methods are particularly useful to design interactively by experimenting and refining of multiple solutions. In order to use the block method to create a model of urban space, knowledge of basic modelling in Maya is assumed, which was educated in the previous semester. To refresh this knowledge an example is given as a possible approach. For the use of the carve method a simple tool will be used to organize the several carving objects. How to work with this tool is explained in the second part of this modelling tutorial.

Block Method

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Blokkenmethode 01 Grondvlak.jpg

Create a plane. Define the boundaries of the urban area by typing the x and z scale values.

Blokkenmethode 02 Schalen.jpg

Create primitives, like a cube, which will form the urban fabric. Position them on the ground plane using Pointsnap and if necessary relocate the pivot point. Scale the objects to the desired size.

Blokkenmethode 03 Edit.jpg

After making a coarse arrangement of object, refinements can be made in component mode by moving vertices. More complex shapes can be created. For exact dimensioning make use of relative transform.

Carve Method

As mentioned for this method a very useful tool is used. To carve the urban fabric from the solid, boolean operations are use. Boolean operations have been used in the previous semester, for example to make a hole in a wall. To organize and dynamically use the several Boolean operations performed on the initial solid, the TOI Boolean Tool is used. This tool can be downloaded as a script. For the preparation of the modelling using the carve method, the script will be downloaded and executed.

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Starting the tool

Snijmethode01 MelDatabase.jpg

Go to the website of TO&I,, and look for the MEL Database on the right side of the website.

Snijmethode02 BooleanScript.jpg

A wide selection of useful scripts for Maya can be searched and downloaded here. In this case the search string "boolean" is used. The TOI Boolean Tool is found. Click the link to view some information about the script and to download it. Save it to a specific location on your hard drive to be able to find it later.

Snijmethode03 ScriptEditor.jpg

To use the tool in Maya, open the Script Editor via Window > General Editors > Script Editor. The script can be loaded in the Script Editor via File > Source Script... Select the downloaded script. After pressing the ok button nothing seems to have happened. In fact Maya has loaded the script, but not yet executed it.

To execute the script type the following command in the white space of the Script Editor: toi_booleanTool(); Execute the command by pressing Ctrl + Enter on your keyboard. The TOI Boolean Tool will now be activated and shown.


Snijmethode04 MakeCube.jpg

Start with a large block to carve from. Create a cube primitive and scale it to a scale large enough to fit large buildings and all building blocks within. For the following example a block of 200 x 200 x 50 units is used.

Snijmethode05 FirstBoolean.jpg

Create another cube primitive to serve as a street to be carved out of the block. Carve the object out of the block using the boolean tool. In the example a block of 15 units wide is used. Notice the margins at either end to make sure the boolean cuts all the way through.

Snijmethode06 RunScript.jpg

Make another street the same way. From now the TOI Boolean Tool will be put to work. Make sure the tool is visible. Otherwise execute the command toi_booleanTool(); once more. Select the large block, which has two streets carved out of it, and hit 'use selected' in the TOI Boolean Tool window. The object is loaded and the Boolean operations performed on the block are being shown.

Snijmethode07 RenameBoolean.jpg

The name of each Boolean can be altered. Name the first Dorpstraat and the second Kerkstraat, in order to keep track of the different Booleans. A colour can be applied for even more distinction using the slider.

Snijmethode08 ShowEditBoolean.jpg

Using the buttons on the left side, the carving objects used for the Booleans can be shown. There is choice between shaded, outline or hide. Press the button twice to outline the Dorpstraat. Select the object and move it with the move tool. The Boolean is dynamically updated.

Snijmethode09 CreatePolygonTool.jpg

This way the booleans can be altered in scale or any other adjustment to fit the design needs. Multiple Booleans can be applied to refine the design into more detail.

Snijmethode10 Extrude.jpg

Until now only cubes have been used, but all other shapes can be carved from the block. With use of the Create Polygon Tool more complex street profiles can be created. Draw the following profile with the Create Polygon Tool. Extrude the surface and give it the desired height. Then carve the object out of the block using a new Boolean.

Snijmethode11 ReloadBoolean.jpg

In order for the Boolean to be recognized by the TOI Boolean Tool, select the object and press 'use selected'. Maya in fact creates a new object, now with the third object carved from it. Therefore the new object should be loaded.

Snijmethode12 ComponentMode.jpg

This object too can be altered after wards. Make sure the object is visible in outline and select it. Go to Component Mode and select the following vertices and move them in order to alter the angle of the street.

Snijmethode13 On-Off-1.jpg

Testing and reflecting on different solutions is essential to the design process. By clicking the tick inside the box, a Boolean can be disabled. This way multiple variants of streets can be compared and tested.


The previously used example is fairly basic. To show the potential of this method using the TOI Boolean Tool the following example displays multiple steps to build the model.

01 Block.jpg

Start with a solid block.

02 Water.jpg

Carve the water out of the block.

03 MainStreets.jpg

Carve the main streets.

04 SubStreets.jpg

Carve sub level streets.

05 Square.jpg.jpg

Carve the central square.

06 Patios.jpg

Carve the inner patios inside the building blocks.

07 EnlargeStreet.jpg

Edit the size of the main street.

08 InfraStructureElements.jpg

Add infrastructural elements.

09 RefineBuildingBlocks.jpg

Refine the heights and roofs of the building blocks.

Modeling Urban Space.

10 UrbanModel.gif

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