Data City

Interactive data visualization, projection mapping, 3D printing, exhibitions

Data City is a multi-modal platform for visualising data and telling data stories. It is a research output of the Building City Dashboards project at the National Centre for Geocomputation, Maynooth University. It consists of a 3D printed city model, a projector and projected graphics that are carefully aligned with the model. There are currently 2 versions; Data City: Dublin and Data City: Cork.

The models are 3.5m x 2m in size with accurate topography at a scale of 1:2000 yielding a 28km2 representation in each model. The source data used to build the models were supplied by our project partner, Ordnance Survey Ireland. Prime2 building outlines, LiDAR pointcloud and digital terrain model datasets were combined in a data manipulation software called FME in order to create a detailed digital version of each city. These digital versions were then fabricated by a 3D printing company in a process that took several months to complete.

The data visualisation component of the project is built upon the same datasets that were used in fabrication. This means that we can align the projected data visualisations very precisely with the model. This is called projection mapping and it is done by warping the flat, 2 dimensional graphics so that they match the 3 dimensional surface of the printed model. We can then select and highlight specific features in the model very easily and display many kinds of data that have a spatial structure. Graphics rendering and projection mapping are done using TouchDesigner software with additional Python scripting for data manipulation.

So far we have built visualisations of air quality and noise levels, building use classifications, geodemographic analyses, AirBnB properties, historic maps, the Urban Atlas maps of urban land use and a simulation of Luas tram movements.

Because it is centred on a physical model, this project allows for an embodied interaction with the data visualisation. One can move around the model and see it from different perspectives. This can help in making sense of the data or seeing it in new ways. It also supports a shared experience in the context of a public exhibition. Many people can view it at the same time and this can lead to conversation and new insight. These kinds of interactions are a crucial aspect of the urban planning process, for example, where consultation and citizen input is so important.