Get ready for 3D version of DMC zone

Imagine Rochester's Destination Medical Center as a giant capable of picking up entire city blocks.

Soon that won't be hard to visualize, thanks to the efforts of the University of Minnesota's Metropolitan Design Center.

Mapping out Rochester's future will be a hands-on experience once a new block-by-block, 3D-printed model of the DMC development district is completed and put on display downtown.

The DMC Economic Development Agency commissioned the U of M's Metropolitan Design team to create a large 3D map of the DMC district that also doubles as a conference table. The 8-foot by 4-foot table will have a glass top that will open and allow people to touch and move the pieces of the map.

The model is designed to address one of the speed bumps DMC advocates have faced since the beginning. One of the major issues with trying to explain the $6.5 billion initiative and related developments is the difficulty of picturing exactly where the new plans fit into the existing landscape.


"A lot people have trouble reading a 2D plan. This (model) will provide an ongoing opportunity to show development and offer community engagement. It's made so people can touch it," said Tom Fisher, the director of U of M's Metropolitan Design Center.

Fisher is also a member of the DMC EDA Board, though he recused himself from the vote on commissioning his department to make the model table. The DMC EDA budgeted $20,000 for the project, which Fisher said should come in under budget.

The DMC map top and the 3D printed plastic city blocks are done. The final steps of building the table frame and assembling the pieces are underway. The hope is to have the finished product in Rochester later this month.

While the design center works on a wide variety of prototype projects for U of M researchers and students, the ivory-colored DMC model broke new ground for them.

"This may be the largest 3D printing project that we've done," said Fisher.

Made from the same plastic used to make Lego building pieces, the model feels like a play set.

Art Research Studio Technician Patrick McKennan described the complexity of crafting such a detailed and large piece. He had to wait until the university's winter break to be able to use all four of the studio's 3D printers to avoid jockeying with students for time.

"We had all four printers running almost 24 hours a day for almost two weeks," he said of printing the miniature Rochester cityscape. "It took almost $10,000 of plastic to print it all."


The little buildings don't show architectural features, though each is in the correct spot and is the right height for the scale. The tallest building in Rochester — the 29-floor Broadway Plaza — stands just under 3.5 inches in the model, and the 21-floor Gonda Building is about 2.5 inches tall.

McKennan used mapping software to identify the footprint of each building within the DMC district that is larger than 100-square-feet. Then the center acquired the Light Detection and Ranging or LIDAR laser-mapped images for the City of Rochester.

The university melded the street data and the LIDAR images to place each building in the right spot and make it the appropriate height.

To keep the model from becoming too unwieldy, the city's topography is represented as flat -- which isn't so unrealistic. Streets, the Zumbro River and ponds are shown, though trees were left out to keep the map easier to use.

A large sheet of plywood had the shape of each block routed out, so the mini-versions of the city blocks fit in like puzzle pieces. As development re-casts the city in the coming years, each block can be updated, re-printed and replaced within the model.

"This will be an ongoing planning tool. It will displayed in the DMC EDA office (in downtown), where it can be seen through a window from the street," said Fisher.

What To Read Next
Get Local