Designer Profile: Lowell Strauss of Amalfi West

Despite his penchant for building multimillion-dollar dream estates, Lowell Strauss likes to keep a low profile. The business he runs with his wife, Jacqueline, Amalfi West, has no website, and Strauss sidesteps social media.

“In a past life, I was a software architect, so I am supposed to love technology,” he said. “The truth is I don’t. I would prefer to live a more holistic life without social media and the like.”

Strauss hails from Waterloo, an Ontario town about 90 minutes from Toronto. He worked in construction during high school and college and grew up in a house his father designed. Strauss’ father ultimately became a commercial real estate developer and builder, after dropping out of high school to run his parent’s press shop.

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That connection to nature and the elements drives his design philosophy.

He credits this appreciation to his interactions with the Anishinaabe and Ojibwe, indigenous peoples found in Northwestern Ontario.

“When I was younger, I spent months each year planting trees and living deep in the northwestern Ontario wilderness. I lived in a tent, and worked alongside native people, who had this otherworldly contentedness to nature. Indigenous people have a connection to the Earth that we have lost,” he said. “It may sound ridiculous, a guy building multimillion-dollar homes talking about these things, but this is what inspires my wife and I.”

In this interview with The Chronicle, Strauss talks about how he and his wife select building sites, the biggest hurdles he faces and an engineering advancement that’s fundamentally changed the way they design.

Q: How do you select sites for development?

A: We invest in real estate all along the coast. We look for unique and spectacular natural settings. We are very selective about the properties we purchase. Every property has to speak to us for some reason or another. We trend toward spectacular views, oceanfront homes or land with a natural element that sets them apart. Topography is very important since we look for sites that allow for indoor/outdoor living. Having the topography that allows for easy access to the outdoors without much effort but still allows for privacy, expansive outdoor spaces and best views is very challenging.

Q: What’s the most challenging part of your job?

A: Usually it’s the design review process, and sometimes dealing with unfriendly neighbors. It’s very hard not to take it personally when you are so passionate about what you are doing. I mean, yes, we are developers and are out to make a profit, but that is not what drives our process. We don’t even think about budget when we design something. We think about creating the greatest thing we can imagine, and an integral part of that is how that thing fits into the natural environment. I think our work in the end speaks for itself. For us, leaving something magnificent behind, that people can walk past, and it really makes them happy, just like when you first look at a magnificent piece of art, that’s everything to us.

Q: How do you go about selecting fits and finishes for a home?

A: The materials must serve a purpose in terms of how we want a particular space to feel. Every room in our houses has something special about it. We try and always use natural materials like stone, wood, steel or concrete to speak to that. Stone, to me, is very emotional. We once took slabs of fossilized boulders from an ancient landslide and sandblasted them. We used them to panel the walls of a bathroom and it created this incredible three-dimensional effect that people really responded to.

Our Belvedere project has these incredible indoor/outdoor spas in some of the key bathrooms, and will be made from stone slabs with a leathered finish, which will make sitting in them feel soft, sexy and supple.

Q: What enables you to have such substantial indoor/outdoor living designs?

A: We spend a lot of time researching the glazing of the windows and doors we use. We want massive openings, with transparent minimalistic frames, that allow us to literally have walls of glass that make the building feel sheltered, yet transparent. The selection of this type of window and door system has really taken us to the pinnacle of architecture and design. There are incredibly expensive products out there that let you achieve incredible feats of engineering while providing the structural rigidity that is required for such massive open spaces.

[“source=sfchronicle”]

Date dressing: how fashion in the age of MeToo redefined sex appeal

Designs by Victoria Beckham, Christopher Kane and Stella McCartney.

‘Skirts that swish the ankle and sleeves that graze the fingertips’: designs by Victoria Beckham, Christopher Kane and Stella McCartney.

Let’s talk about sex, shall we? Fashion and sex, that is. First things first: any conversation about sex needs to be an honest one, so let’s cut straight to the chase. Sex appeal will always be an integral part of fashion, even if sexy has become a less straightforward compliment after MeToo. So please, there’s no point pretending that we are too woke to care about looking hot these days. We still care. Nobody is taking vows of sartorial chastity here. But perhaps we are making some progress in how we think about sex and fashion if we are more conscious of whose rules are being played by, and whose needs are being met. As long as the survival of the human race depends on sex, looking attractive isn’t going out of fashion. But there is room for evolution.

It is Valentine’s weekend, and dressing for date night is the hot spot where the rules of attraction meet the rules of social convention. Which means that some Valentine looks might just be a little different this year, in the MeToo afterglow. The neckline might be altered, or the skirt might be a new length. Or maybe the clothes are the same but you might wear different underwear or decide against the high court shoes with toe cleavage, and look – and feel – different as a result. The way we dress for date night through the years reveals so much about our changing attitudes to sex. Braless under a silk blouse in the midst of the sexual emancipation of the early 70s. Spike-heeled and armoured in sequins in the competitively charged, battle-of-the-boardroom 80s. Unravelled and lipstick-smudged in the fog of 90s grunge when a Saturday night was more about getting high than getting laid.

A Gucci model at Paris fashion week … dressed in a way that might work for a portrait sitting with Leonardo da Vinci rather than Helmut Newton.
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A Gucci model at Paris fashion week … dressed in a way that might work for a portrait sitting with Leonardo da Vinci rather than Helmut Newton. Photograph: Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

It is 18 months – three seasons, in fashion terms – since the MeToo movement was born. In that time, fashion’s centre of gravity has shifted away from sex. Hemlines are longer, silhouettes are looser. From London to Milan to Paris to New York, on glitzy spotlit runways polished to a mirror shine and on catwalks marked out with tape on concrete floors, a new course is being set. From Stella McCartney to Erdem, Coach to Loewe, Dior to Max Mara, there are skirts that swish the ankle and sleeves that graze the fingertips. Fashion has shifted the emphasis from skin to fabric. As a sweeping generalisation, there are more sweeping hemlines. Gucci, the runaway fashion success story of this decade, peoples its catwalks and advertising campaigns with women who would appear to be dressed in a way that might work for a portrait sitting with Leonardo da Vinci rather than for one with Helmut Newton.

Roland Mouret, a fashion icon for two decades, has recently gravitated away from the siren curves of his Galaxy dress, revisiting the pleats and cascades he learned while working with Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake in his 20s. At his spring/summer 19 show, models wore badges in support of the MeToo movement and catwalked on the roof of the National Theatre to the sound of Aretha Franklin singing Natural Woman. Mouret said at the time that the new silhouette felt like a redefinition of his relationship with the female body. In the second half of her decade in fashion, Victoria Beckham, too, has pivoted firmly away from fitted dresses and toward loose, fluid separates. Such silhouettes – once the hallmark of alternative, arthouse fashion – have become mainstream. Vanessa Spence, design director at Asos, confirms the shift is happening on the high street. “The midi length has become a staple in our fashion vocabulary. Necklines still vary, but we have recently seen more of a focus on the back as an exposed area.” Sexy, she says, is no longer a concept that takes up more bandwidth in womenswear than men’s. “It’s the same across the sexes – which is surely a good thing.”

‘The emphasis has switched from skin to fabric’ … model Kaia Gerber at the Max Mara show during Milan fashion week spring/summer 2019.
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‘The emphasis has switched from skin to fabric’ … model Kaia Gerber at the Max Mara show during Milan fashion week spring/summer 2019. Photograph: Jacopo Raule/Getty Images

There will always be cross-pollination between sex and fashion, but MeToo has prompted a conversation about healthy boundaries around nudity and exposure. Changing facilities backstage at fashion shows are one issue being brought into the spotlight. It was long considered perfectly normal for an assortment of well-wishers, journalists, celebrities, friends of the designer – most, of course, with a camera phone in their pocket – to crowd immediately after a show into the open-plan backstage area where models were scrambling out of their show looks and into their own clothes. A year ago, New York fashion week was the first to address this, pledging “a safe and respectful working environment” with private changing areas. During London fashion week last September, the British model Edie Campbell spoke to Radio 4 about the ongoing lack of privacy at some London shows, describing it as “bizarre, uncomfortable and humiliating”. Awareness is growing that an expectation of endless female nudity is not a healthy baseline for any industry.

The meteoric impact of MeToo on what it means to dress up and look your best became clear a year ago, when the Golden Globes was the first red carpet to turn black. It was a gesture of female solidarity from Hollywood’s women, in an industry reeling in the Weinstein fallout. A black dress for black tie is hardly revolutionary, yet the dresses became the story of the night. The winners’ list is now a distant memory, but the red carpet blackout remains a landmark moment. The world was reminded of the power of an outfit – even one that stays within the guardrails of convention – to send a powerful message. Natalie Portman, Elisabeth Moss, Meryl Streep, Angelina Jolie, Penélope Cruz and Salma Hayek wore long black gowns with long sleeves. In each case, the dress had a decorative element that lightened the mood – a sheer layer, a split in the skirt or a portrait neckline. Many actresses left husbands and boyfriends at home to pair up with female activists for the night, which threw into sharp relief the traditional award show optics that see an actress nominated for an Oscar totter in a tiny, pastel-toned frock on the arm of a man in a suit, as if she were a magician’s assistant about to be put in a box and sawn in half.

At the Golden Globes women wore black as a gesture of solidarity and in support of anti-harrassment campaigns.
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At the 2017 Golden Globes women wore black as a gesture of solidarity and in support of anti-harrassment campaigns. Photograph: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

But if the first half of 2018 belonged to a swelling tide of demure black-tie dressing, the second half was dominated by an angry backlash against catwalk near-nudity. The exit of Phoebe Philo from Céline after 10 years had been felt as a body blow by women who had held dear her philosophy that catwalk fashion could be an elevated woman-friendly wardrobe rather than date-bait. It was with unfortunate timing that her successor, Hedi Slimane, unveiled a debut dominated by doll-sized party dresses – one that seemed the polar opposite of what the house had stood for under Philo – on the very day of the Brett Kavanaugh sexual misconduct hearings in Washington last September. Emotions were running high, and Slimane’s dolly-drop aesthetic became a lightning rod for female fury.

Male designers mansplaining female sexuality to the women who buy their clothes is not new. But the context has changed, and in fashion, context is all. Engagement with the world is what makes fashion more than simply clothes. It is, quite literally, what makes it fashion. Two months after Slimane’s show, the Victoria’s Secret models came bounding down their runway, with the tried-and-tested formula of bouncy breasts and jutting hipbones, angel wings and skimpy boudoir lace knickers which made this the most popular fashion show in the world just a few years ago. This time the spectacle was met with critical scorn (website Vox ran a feature with the headline The Stubborn Irrelevance Of The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show), falling ratings and – most tellingly – declining sales.

A model at the Christopher Kane show, London fashion week, 2018 – the collection was adorned with drawings and quotes from the seminal 70s manual The Joy Of Sex.
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A model at the Christopher Kane show, London fashion week, 2018 – the collection was adorned with drawings and quotes from the 70s manual The Joy Of Sex. Photograph: Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

London fashion week has never been afraid of controversy. While other cities have reacted to the new climate by shying away from the idea of sex altogether, designers Christopher Kane and Michael Halpern are among those tackling the new rules of sexy dressing head-on, and reaching for a new body-positive, female-first way to talk about sex on the catwalk.

A frank curiosity about sex has always been part of Kane’s aesthetic – his spring 2014 season featured sweaters embroidered with illustrations of the reproductive organs of flowers – and in February last year, he waded into the MeToo debate with a collection adorned with drawings and quotes from the seminal 70s manual The Joy Of Sex. Six months later, he was back with a spring 2019 collection soundtracked by a David Attenborough narration about sexual behaviour in animals and Marilyn Monroe talking about how society defined her as a sex object and then despised her because of it. “There are no taboos in my studio,” Kane said after that show. “To be bluntly honest,” he told Vogue at the time, “we wear clothes to attract members of the opposite sex and of our own sex. That’s what fashion is.” Meanwhile Halpern, who burst on to the fashion scene in 2017 with sequin dresses so minuscule they might have turned heads at Studio 54, says he relies “super heavily” on the opinions of his mum and sister, “who are both feminists – of course. My focus is on being aware and awake to what women want.”

Penny Martin was almost a decade ahead of this shift when she launched The Gentlewoman magazine back in 2010. “It was the zenith of the weeklies, when the newsstand was crammed with reality TV celebrities with barely any clothes and shouty coverlines,” she recalls. “Our mission was to be the opposite of that – to give both the cover stars and the readers back their dignity.” The Gentlewoman came to be aligned with a particular kind of woman-friendly fashion, epitomised by what Phoebe Philo was doing at Céline. “Women want clothes that give them pleasure, without undermining them,” Martin says. “And I wouldn’t be in this business if I didn’t think providing women with the tools they deserve to get respect in both their working and private lives wasn’t a worthwhile ambition.”

Although certain sections of the media would love to frame this debate as a catfight, there is little appetite in the fashion industry for slut-shaming of women who choose to wear tiny, revealing dresses. (To paraphrase Voltaire: I may not like what you wear, but I will defend to the death your right to wear it.) What we wear for date night is part and parcel of sexual politics, but surely there is room for making the point that a woman’s erotic impact is not all that she is, without policing anyone’s wardrobe. “My take on it, as editor of Elle,” says Anne-Marie Curtis, “is that a modern woman wants the freedom to look sexy when she wants to. But that fashion can’t be about having to wear a pencil skirt to get a promotion, or having to wear a low-cut dress to make your boyfriend happy.

A model on the catwalk in the Halpern show, London Fashion Week 2018.
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Michael Halpern tackled the new rules of sexy head on in his London fashion week show. Photograph: WWD/REX/Shutterstock

Every single image that goes into Elle goes through our modern, feminist lens. If I am looking at a shoot and there’s a pose that I feel makes the model look vulnerable, I won’t run that picture. We just did an edit of a shoot and there were images that I took out, because I always want the woman to look like she is owning the image.”

But unlike a longer hemline, fashion’s stronger attitude cannot be measured in inches or plotted on a graph. “It comes down to intention,” Halpern says. “What makes my friends and the women in my family feel empowered is self-worth, self-definition. It’s about not letting someone else put you in a box.”

For generations, teenage girls’ teachers have used the does-it-touch-the-floor-when-you-kneel test to establish the minxiness of a skirt. But calibrations of sex appeal are more complex. A pose in which a model is lying on a sofa can project laid-back confidence or exposed vulnerability, and the overall effect depends not only on the clothes but on the lighting, the facial expression. The same minidress can be framed as a celebratory portrait of raw female power, or an exploitative image of a woman underdressed and undefended. The highly visually literate modern fashion consumer is attuned to such subtleties, which is precisely why the dog-whistle crassness of Victoria’s Secret feels so out of step with our times. “The readers of women’s magazines, and of fashion photographs, are so literate,” Martin says. “An infinitesimal degree of ‘wrong’ can be vast in this context, instantly breaking the spell.”

Sex as something unspoken, as a scent caught on the air, is part of fashion’s magic spell. When the zeitgeist is embracing a new era of informed consent, the sheer-black-stocking vibe of fashion’s traditional date-night mode can feel like an uncomfortable hangover from another era. A new dress may not change the world. But it could make date night a triumph. The rules are up to you.

[“source=theguardian”]

 

NYFW: A Celebration of Oscar-Nominated Costume Designer Ruth E. Carter

The one-night-only installation showcased the cultural relevancy of Carter’s work today in themed vignettes such as “Women In Protest” and “The Hero.”

Ruth E. Carter looked around the fifth-floor space at New York’s Spring Studios, where roughly 30 costumes from her 30-year career were arranged in a half-dozen vignettes, and she couldn’t help but appreciate the full-circle moment. “I beat these streets for years, looking for costumes, creating costumes for Spike Lee, riding the subways of New York as a stylist, as a costume designer,” Carter said. “I did everything in this city, so coming back here with my clothes and my exhibition is a really proud moment for me and is all about coming home to the city that I love.”

Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for IMG

Carter is currently enjoying high-wattage attention largely due to her Oscar-nominated designs for 2018’s Black Panther – a “Heroes and Sheroes” exhibition featuring her work has been touring the U.S. since that film premiered last February (pieces are included in the 27th annual “Art of Motion Picture Costume Design” exhibition at  L.A.’s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising through April 12). Wednesday night’s event, which doubled as a kick-off party for fall 2019 New York Fashion Week, highlighted the marriage of film and fashion woven through the thread of Carter’s designs.

“Every time you go to a fashion photo shoot, you’ll find inspiration images on the wall, and many times they come from film,” noted Ivan Bart, president of IMG Fashion. “When I first met with Ruth [in November], I told her, ‘You have to understand, you’re inspiring a whole new generation of fashion designers.’ I wanted to create an event that showcased that combination of inspiration and aspiration, and how that extends to interpretation.”

Anna Webber/Getty Images for IMG
CEO and founder of Harlem’s Fashion Row Brandice N. Daniel, honoree Ruth E. Carter and president of IMG Models and IMG Fashion Properties Ivan Bart.

Bart partnered with Harlem’s Fashion Row, the organization that works to increase visibility for multicultural designers, and enlisted British stylist Ibrahim Kamara to create looks head-to-toe inspired by the range of Carter’s designs, dating to her first film, the 1988 blaxploitation parody I’m Gonna Git You Sucka. The result was a group of six vignettes populated by live models and mannequins: Carter’s yellow suit from that film, complete with goldfish shoes, was placed alongside a model wearing Kamara’s modern interpretation of the look in a vignette titled “Fly Guys.”

Mike Coppola/Getty Images for NYFW: The Shows

Other themes ranged from “Women in Protest,” which included Carter’s designs for 1992’s Malcolm X, 1989’s Do The Right Thing and 2015’s Chi-Raq, to “The Bad Boys,” which featured pieces like the Giorgio Armani laser-cut leather coat worn by Samuel L. Jackson as part of Carter’s work in 2000’s Shaft.

A vignette titled “The Hero”  extended beyond a look worn by Chadwick Boseman in Black Pantherto include Carter’s designs for Denzel Washington in Malcolm X and David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King in 2014’s Selma. Kamara took those ideas and created a modern-day LGBTQ freedom fighter in a silk white suit with a printed overcoat.

Mike Coppola/Getty Images for NYFW: The Shows

“Ibrahim is so humble, and he’s a genius,” Carter said. “There were no egos here; we appreciated each other. I know I pushed him and inspired him, and he inspired me with his quiet confidence.”

Of course, that begs the question: Who or what inspires Ruth Carter? You only have to look at her work to know the answer. “Some people think I got into costume design because I love Dior and Chanel and Tom Ford, but it really was these stories of African-American culture, this story of our journey,” she said. “When I started, I didn’t see very much of us, and I really in my heart wanted to tell my stories. Tonight is the result of 30 years of hard, hard work.”

 

 

[“source=hollywoodreporter”]

The founders of Aje talk opening MBFWA, connecting through fashion and the future of their label

Everything you need to know ahead of MBFWA.

Edwina Forest and Adrian Norris, the co-founders of Australian fashion label Aje, have undeniably cemented their brand as one to watch. Worn by the likes of Alessandra Ambrosio, Shay Mitchell and Isabel Lucas, Aje has become a go-to for universally flattering and feminine silhouettes that transcend seasonal fads and fleeting trends.

As such, it comes as no surprise that Aje has been selected to open Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Australia 2019 with the presentation of its resort 2020 collection. Following in the footsteps of fellow ‘Mercedes Benz Presents’ designers Camilla & Marc (2018), Dion Lee (2017) and Toni Maticevski (2016), the label will kick off the week-long festivities on May 12 at a yet-to-be-disclosed location.

Proud to be embarking on the label’s second decade by headlining Australian fashion week, Norris said that the honour is “a statement of recognition for our brand, but also for our loyal clients, many of whom have been with us for 11 years, and who continue to grow along this journey with us.”

“We always seek to offer them something truly unique,” he added. “And we look forward to making this a milestone moment with them in mind.”

Speaking with Vogue, Forest teased the highly-anticipated resort collection, explaining that the label will continue to “further acknowledge and celebrate the duality inside us all and to salute the diversity and contrast within this extraordinary land we call home.”

“With this opportunity we want to really connect with hearts and tell our story in the most powerful way yet,” said Norris, who went on to reveal that the collection was in part inspired by the rawness of the Australian coastline.

When quizzed on where the future of the label lies, the co-founders and creatives shared that they intend for 2019 to be somewhat of a turning point for Aje, with the brand looking to make a concerted effort to “reach out and touch the hearts of like-minded women, at home and around the world.”

Crediting their success to their considered and strategic approach, together with their ability to never look back, it’s easy to see how Aje has managed to reach the milestone that is opening MBFWA in just 11 short years.

 

[“source=vogue”]

 

River Watcher: A pair of shoes

Image result for River Watcher: A pair of shoesAfter my wife died, my daughter Rebecca began the job of sorting clothes, but what sadly struck her at first were several pairs of shoes that Jo had worn … all lined up on the couch like they were waiting for their owner’s feet. “Absence makes the loss grow deeper.”

We take for granted that shoes are part of us in covering our feet ever since mankind went upright on two legs, putting a high importance on foot coverings. Somewhere along the line, maybe 40,000 years ago, hides were wrapped on for protection, and thus began the crafting of footwear that advanced into a vast business and countless styles.

That is not to say that footwear is always necessary, since in moderate weather going barefoot appeals to some people. I, too, was a “barefoot boy with cheeks of tan,” as Whittier described him, when I was a boy in Missouri, who couldn’t wait until winter passed and I could be foot-free and shoeless again. I don’t know how I did it — running barefoot out in the stubble fields over stickers and stones without qualms! Some cite health reasons to go barefoot in grass and sand … but throughout the fields?

I think of Ishi, the last of the Yahi tribe in Northern California, who became known in Oroville when he emerged from the woods in 1911, found crouched in a barn yard, meagerly clothed and barefooted. Ishi was taken to San Francisco museum to live, and continued to go barefoot. It was noted that his feet were wide with toes of equal length having not been confined in shoes. Being barefooted was the mode most of the time for Native Americans until moccasins were worn.

Some “shoes” made of sagebrush bark was found in Fort Rock Cave in Oregon that were dated at 8000 B.C., and other discoveries were made elsewhere that were much older.

One of the greatest barefoot events of the Western Frontier was made in 1806 when mountain man John Coulter was captured by the Blackfeet Nation, and they stripped him naked to run for his life. He outran his captors for eight miles to reach a river and hid in a drift. His bare feet were sliced badly by cactus, but he then walked 200 miles to a Fort to live to tell the tale!

Back in my homeland of Missouri there was a relative, James Hessenflow, who farmed barefooted. At family reunions, Uncle Jimmy would grab a softball and run barefooted out into the field, yelling “let’s play ball.” Never mind that he was 70, his feet were tough as leather!

Leather for more modern shoes was tough but slick-soled unless you fastened “hobnob” nails to the soles, like John Muir did when exploring the Petrified Forest. At Oakland Camp one summer, I led a hike-group to the Cascades, and one senior, Tom, from the city wore leather-soled slippers. He slipped constantly, crossed the log-bridge by crawling — but reached the falls and was happy!

Thousands of styles have been devised, especially in the last few thousand years, and today the market is marooned in endless choices, often as arguable as camera models. Hiking boots are critical. My best pair was Cabelas kangaroo hide high tops — extremely tough, soft and light. They’re worn out but I can’t throw my old friends away, although Neil Armstrong, first on the moon, had to leave his boots behind as there was fear of contaminating Earth. Today, I wear Nike Monarchs, and their bouncy comfort saved my feet.

Wild animals have adapted their feet to earth’s conditions, and must wonder what those things are on man’s feet. The versatility of hoofed mammals, especially mountain goats and sheep, is remarkable, better than any shoe, and provided by nature free of charge!

[“source=orovillemr”]

Virtual cities: Designing the metropolises of the future

Futuristic city on water

Simulation software that can create accurate “digital twins” of entire cities is enabling planners, designers and engineers to improve their designs and measure the effect changes will have on the lives of citizens.

Cities are hugely complex and dynamic creations. They live and breathe.

Think about all the parts: millions of people, schools, offices, shops, parks, utilities, hospitals, homes and transport systems.

Changing one aspect affects many others. Which is why planning is such a hard job.

So imagine having a tool at your disposal that could answer questions such as “What will happen to pedestrian and traffic flow if we put the new metro station here?” or “How can we persuade more people to leave their cars at home when they go to work?”

This is where 3D simulation software is coming into its own.

Architects, engineers, construction companies and city planners have long used computer-aided design and building information modelling software to help them create, plan and construct their projects.

But with the addition of internet of things (IoT) sensors, big data and cloud computing, they can now create “digital twins” of entire cities and simulate how things will look and behave in a wide range of scenarios.

“A digital twin is a virtual representation of physical buildings and assets but connected to all the data and information around those assets, so that machine learning and AI algorithms can be applied to them to help them operate more efficiently,” explains Michael Jansen, chief executive of Cityzenith, the firm behind the Smart World Pro simulation platform.

Take Singapore as an example.

View of Singapore across the bayImage copyrightNRF SINGAPORE
Image captionThe real Singapore has been faithfully recreated in virtual form
Virtual view across the bayImage copyrightNRF SINGAPORE
Image captionPlanners now have a data-rich simulation of the city to interact with

This island state, sitting at the foot of the Malaysian peninsula with a population of six million people, has developed a virtual digital twin of the entire city using software developed by French firm Dassault Systemes.

“Virtual Singapore is a 3D digital twin of Singapore built on topographical as well as real-time, dynamic data,” explains George Loh, progammes director for the city’s National Research Foundation (NRF), a department within the prime minister’s office.

“It will be the country’s authoritative platform that can be used by urban planners to simulate the testing of innovative solutions in a virtual environment.”

In addition to the usual map and terrain data, the platform incorporates real-time traffic, demographic and climate information, says Mr Loh, giving planners the ability to engage in “virtual experimentation”.

“For example, we can plan barrier-free routes for disabled and elderly people,” he says.

Bernard Charles, Dassault Systemes’ chief executive, says the addition of real-time data from multiple sources facilitates joined-up, holistic thinking.

Virtual map of driverless cars around SingaporeImage copyrightNRF SINGAPORE
Image captionThe city envisages Virtual Singapore being used by citizens to locate driverless cars for hire

“The problem is that when we decide about the evolution of a city we are in some way blind. You have the urban view of it – a map – you decide to put a building here, but another agency has to think about transport, another agency has to think about commercial use and flats for people.

“The creation of one thing changes so many other things – the flow and life of citizens.”

The firm’s 3DExperience platform gives planners and designers “a global overview” they’ve never had before, explains Mr Charles.

Dassault’s software, which incorporates calculations that simulate the flow of a fluid, is used to design most F1 cars and aeroplanes, says Mr Charles, and this capability is useful for understanding wind flow around buildings, through streets and green spaces.

Laptop showing wind flow through SingaporeImage copyrightNRF
Image captionThe software can model wind flow through built up areas

“If some parts of a city are too windy and cold, no-one will like to go there,” he says.

Tracking people’s movements through a city using anonymised mobile phone and transport GPS data can help authorities spot bottlenecks and heat maps as the day progresses, hopefully leading to smarter, more integrated transport and traffic management systems.

“You can look at all ‘what if’ scenarios, so if we ask the right question we can change the city, the world,” concludes Mr Charles.

  • Is India failing to build its newest state capital?

In the state of Andhra Pradesh in India, a brand new $6.5bn “smart city” called Amaravati has been planned since 2015, but has been mired in controversy amid disagreements over the designs and criticism of its environmental impact.

But last year Foster + Partners, the global architecture and engineering firm, and Surbana Jurong, the Asian urban and infrastructure consultancy, were chosen to take on the huge task.

And Chicago-based Cityzenith is providing the single “command and control” digital platform for the entire project.

Map showing aerial view of city designImage copyrightCITYZENITH
Image captionCityzenith’s Smart World Pro platform gives a real-time simulation of the entire Amaravati city project

IoT sensors will monitor construction progress in real time, says Mr Jansen, and the software will integrate all the designs from the 30 or so design consultants already involved in the first phase of the project.

“The portal will simulate the impact of these proposed buildings before anyone even breaks ground,” he says, “and these simulations will adjust to real-time changes.”

The platform can incorporate more than a thousand datasets, says Mr Jansen, and integrate all the various design and planning tools the designers and contractors use.

The city, which will eventually be home to 3.5 million people, will be hot and humid, experiencing temperatures approaching 50C at times, so simulating how buildings will cope with the climate will be crucial, says Mr Jansen.

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One large Norwegian engineering consultancy, Norconsult, is even combining simulation software with gaming to help improve its designs.

When working on a large rail tunnel project in Norway, the firm developed a virtual reality game to involve train drivers in the design of the signalling system. The drivers operated a virtual train and “drove” it through the tunnel, flagging up any issues with the proposed position of the signals.

Screengrab from VR train cockpitImage copyrightNORCONSULT
Image captionTrain drivers “drove” a virtual train through the tunnel to test the positions of the signals

“They could change weather conditions, the speed and so on,” says Thomas Angeltveit, who worked on the project. “It feels real, so it is much easier for them to interact.”

“We had a lot of comments, so we were able to change the design and make a lot of adjustments.”

Changing the design before construction begins obviously saves money in the long-term.

Digital twin simulation software is a fast-growing business, with firms such as Siemens, Microsoft and GE joining Dassault Systemes and Cityzenith as lead practitioners.

Research firm Gartner predicts that by 2021 half of large industrial companies will use digital twins and estimates that those that do could save up to 25% in operational running costs as a result.

[“source=bbc”]