Physical Model Building

The BPDA is home to a 1:40 inch scale, physical, basswood model of the downtown and portions of the Innovation District, Charlestown, North End, Beacon Hill and Back Bay. It was started in the 1980s and is kept current by an in-house full time model builder. The model is used to study planning and development options within this area as well as to describe the city to visitors.

3D Model and Data Downloads

Up until 2000, the scaled wooden model of the City was the main tool for the BPDA to understand new developments in context. Developers needed to bring in physical models of their projects to be critiqued within the larger city model, and only individuals who were able to visit the BPDA could see the results up close. After 2000, the department began assembling a robust citywide 3D model.

The 3D model is highly detailed and includes terrain, highway tunnels, trees, and more than 92,000 buildings. Many portions of the model are available for free public download as DWG and Max files. This service is invaluable to developers and the BPDA, who benefit from utilizing a consistent context as they move through the project approval process. Academics may use the model for their own studies. Finally, model helps convey information about planning and development work and to promote a constructive public dialogue about physical changes to the city.

2D Downloads

2D CAD files of the entire city of Boston can be found in the Document Center. Additional 2D GIS Data is available through the City of Boston's GIS Data Hub and MassGIS

3D Downloads

Digital 3D models of buildings, bridges, and terrain can be found in the Document Center.

If you are looking for 3D buildings situated on actual terrain of Boston (in .DAE, DXF and .SKP format), please see the 3D Smart Model Data Download page.

Please note that the BPDA does not guarantee or warrant the accuracy of the dimensional information embedded in models available for download in our Document Center.

3D Frequently Asked Questions

What program are these 3D models created with? 

These 3D models are created by using 3ds Max from AutoDesk. Then, they were exported into AutoCAD DWG formats.

How often are these 3D models updated? 

These 3D models are updated from time to time or upon request from the public.

What is the coordinate system and scale of the 3D models? 

Massachusetts Mainland State Plane Feet, NAD1983 is the coordinate system. The scale is one drawing unit equals to one foot. To use the model in architectural scale, scale up the model by 12.

Why are the files in pieces? Where can I download a single 3D file for the entire Boston? 

The files are divided by neighborhoods of Boston because of the file size. If all pieces are put together as one file, the size will be more than 700 MBs. Most 3D programs cannot open the file of such size. Even if it could be opened, it will be very hard to work with. There is not a single 3D file of Boston exist as of today.

How can I put together these pieces into a single file?

For any 3D program (such as AutoCAD, 3ds Max...) that recognizes coordinate system, these pieces are very easy to put together. For Max users, xreference each piece into your scene, they will fit together. For SketchUp users, compose these pieces in AutoCAD. Insert each piece at the insertion point of 0, 0, 0 and then import the composed file into SketchUp.

Which file should I download? 

Download the file according to your project's loaction, you may need to download neighboring neighborhood files. Also download Under Construction Buildings.

Article 80 Design Review Process

Design Review staff are responsible for guiding projects through the regulatory frameworks identified in our zoning code for design review. The team plays a crucial role in the development process by shaping projects through design review. Learn more about the processes for Small and Large Project Review below.

ZBA-BPDA Design Review Guide

In an effort to make BPDA design review of Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) cases easier to navigate for residents and small business owners, the Design staff have created a six-page handout that describes the review process and addresses common issues that arise during design review. Learn more about the process by viewing the ZBA-BPDA Design Review Guide.