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Digital Modelling for Urban Design by Brian McGrath

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Introduction

The Spectacularisation of Urban Design

During the last weeks of 2002, crowds politely lined up in the annual ritual of viewing miniature Christmas scenes populated by mechanically moving automatons in Manhattan's old department store windows. But starting on 18 December, new moving displays attracted huge crowds away from the shopping district along Fifth Avenue, to the recently reopened Winter Garden at the World Financial Center in Lower Manhattan. Here, in the apsidal space under the Winter Garden's monumental marble veneer stairs, giant plasma screens displayed digital animations of the recently unveiled ‘innovative design proposals’ for the rebuilding of the 16-acre World Trade Center site. The crowds were drawn and dazzled by a media-hyped, graphic-intensive assault of both digital and physical models of the various design proposals for Ground Zero. Similar to the grand panoramas in 19th-century exhibitions, not only were new technologies displayed for popular consumption, but new ways of seeing were introduced to a mass public audience - in this case the first prominent use of digital modelling for urban design.

This introductory chapter closely examines the public dissemination of urban design representations that led up to and followed the 2002 Winter Garden exhibit as evidence of a radical rupture of urban design as a form of knowledge as well as professional practice. The advent of digital modelling technologies occurred at a particular juncture in the history ...

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