3D-Evolution of the Dutch City of Rotterdam, The Netherlands

As part of its Digital City mission, the Dutch city of Rotterdam created a Digital Twin, using existing city maps, structured and textured 3D data from LiDAR, blueprints of buildings and transport networks, and real-time sensors to plan, design and optimize the urban planning process accurately and efficiently.


The famous port city of the Netherlands, the city of Rotterdam, is at the forefront of applying digital solutions to address urban problems. The city has now taken a step further in its digital city movement initiative and created a ‘digital twin’ of the city, namely the Rotterdam 3D, which serves as a platform for the city-wide digital applications to make life better for the inhabitants. To make the city-scale 3D Model a reality, data was sourced from a multitude of data-streams, including Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and geospatial technologies (among many others) to depict the current reality of the city. The city-scale digital twin presents a 3D model of the physical city in its digital version, accurately representing the streets, public spaces, buildings, vehicle movement, etc., in real-time, to build and improve the urban planning process.

Transitioning from a 2D to 3D City Model

Rotterdam, as a city, has been at the forefront of digitalization of urban landscapes since as early as 2010. In 2010, there existed a 2D model of the city and even though government agencies were reluctant to introduce a three-dimensionality in their decision-making process, Geonovum – a National Spatial Data Infrastructure Committee, Kadaster – Netherlands National Mapping Agency, the National Geodetic Commission, and the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment initiated the 3D pilot study to advance the use of 3D in the country. The Rotterdam pilot of the 3D Model – titled, Rotterdam 3Dv1.0 – was successfully tested. However, the 3D Model did not include 3D information of the trees, objects in the subsurface, lamp posts, among many other things, presenting a wrong picture of the physical world. Further, the data themes were not regularly maintained or easily accessible for the city officials to make decisions based on the 2D model. 

Understanding the challenges faced in the implementation of Rotterdam 3D V1.0, and taking note of the advancements in 3D technology development, the city officials of Rotterdam developed a second model, namely, Rotterdam 3D 2.0, in 2014. The city officials focused on developing a model that is:

  • Reliable, continuously updated, and maintains datasets for both above-the-surface and sub-surface infrastructure;
  • Interdisciplinary, that is, one model for all kinds of applications;
  • Easily accessible and usable;
  • Able to present 3D information of all infrastructure elements and beyond (including trees, lampposts and subsurface infrastructure);
  • Able to centralize the user demand; and
  • Able to present intelligent and semantic-rich data on open standards.

Understanding that a 3D model was the need of the hour, especially for the urban planning process, the city officials built the 3D model theme-by-theme and step-by-step. The implementation of this model in 2018 finally allowed the city to transition from a 2D to a 3D model. Rotterdam 3D, as it is known today, is the 3D representation of the city fitting well with the reality geometrically, and is based on basic registrations, height data, spatial, and non-spatial data. The Rotterdam 3D was developed with a vision — to be used as a foundation for all key registers and for all urban planning processes and application, including development and management of all critical infrastructure of the city – water, road, buildings, mobility, utility networks, and subsurface infrastructure.

Development of Rotterdam 3D – Digital Twin Model

Project: To develop Rotterdam 3D, the city of Rotterdam required a 3D model of Rotterdam’s 205,000 buildings, a historical hotel boat, and six landmark bridges, to fit within the large-scale base map of the city in a CityGML 2.0 format and to be in accordance with the city of Rotterdam’s modelling guidelines. To create the Digital Twin, data had to be collected from various sources and integrated with LiDAR point cloud data, while maintaining geometrical, topological, semantic, and appearance attributes.

Technology Solution: Avineon used Bentley Systems’ MicroStation to create the 3D models of the infrastructure elements from the LiDAR point clouds collected. MicroStation technology provided traditional CAD capabilities, along with advanced BIM capabilities, and helped Avineon to precisely automate model extraction and attribute the export to an open data model. The technology facilitated seamless data capture, data use and processing from various sources – resulting in a flexible, interoperable, and comprehensive 3D model. The open modelling environment of the MicroStation helped the city officials realign and adjust any complex infrastructure with other building surfaces. Additionally, the city is now also combining the predictive power of big data analysis and artificial intelligence (AI) with a digital twin model to improve the urban planning process further.

Results: Rotterdam 3D – the digital twin model — includes 3D information, terrain, trees (inclusive of root information), subsurface infrastructure, lampposts (different types), traffic lights, cable pipelines, etc. Using the CAD/BIM capabilities of the MicroStation, the Rotterdam 3D was developed in compliance with CityGML 2.0 format – automating the previous manual processes to integrated model processes, to finally create a realistic digital representation of the 3D information collected. Using the Digital Twins, the city of Rotterdam is today able to use a new range of applications such as energy consumption analysis, asset management of the subsurface infrastructure, urban flooding applications, among other things, to optimize and enhance the various aspects of urban life including mobility, healthcare systems, etc.

Value-proposition of Using Microstation Technology

Using MicroStation technology, the Rotterdam 3D was delivered quickly, accurately and economically. Using the technology, the team was able to capture models for 205,000 buildings in one-fifth the time compared to traditional methods, to improve modelling efficiencies and resource utilization by six times. Using the interoperable and visualization software, the city of Rotterdam was able to deliver a comprehensive, data-rich 3D model in reduced time and cost.

Digital Twin for the Digital City