Oasys: MassMotion – What the Romans did for us

The Romans had a handle on crowd movement, it seems. So why do we need such sophisticated pedestrian simulation these days?


In what was billed as the ultimate stadium evacuation challenge, the Roman Colosseum pipped a modern building to the post. You can see the National Geographic video HERE.

So, if the Romans were so smart, why do we need such high levels of sophistication in the 21st Century? 

Well, today we are faced with bigger and more complex crowds and an urban fabric is so dense that it is very easily disrupted with immense knock-on effects, says the team behind Oasys MassMotion.

Crowd simulation software is not in itself new – it’s been around for 25 years or more and is backed up by academic research and empirical observation. However, the move to 3D design with BIM means that there’s a growing wealth of data that can be brought into simulations, making them ever more realistic and reliable. The latest release of MassMotion enables teams to combine 2D and 3D CAD assets into a single comprehensive 3D model.

In truth, the Romans had the core concepts in hand. A few years ago, the MassMotion team ran a comparison of the Colosseum in Rome with the Beijing National Stadium – designs separated by 2000 years of culture and technology. They found that both stadia would take around 15 minutes to evacuate. In short, the Romans had cracked the basics, and indeed we still use much of their thinking today.  Indeed, for fun an Arup design team ran a comparison of evacuation of one of their stadia (Beijing’s Birds Nest) h the original Colosseum.

The Romans may have won by seconds, but they had far smaller crowds and buildings that were not so crowded together.

So, it is essential that, as well as we considering how people behave within the structure of complex multi-purpose buildings, we also look at how they and the people that use them will interact with the neighbouring infrastructure. Crowd simulation has a role to play not only at master planning stage for buildings and whole areas, but also during construction/refurbishment works when different entrances may be in service, and then throughout their useful life.

Take new York’s Fulton Center where designers had to integrate six lines that had been built independently with no thought for future integration or, indeed, the enormity of future passenger load. The refurbishment of Toronto’s Union Station, is due for completion in 2019, after nearly a decade of what could have been unbearable disruption without pedestrian analysis to assist construction staging. In Europe, the multiple stages of the transformation of New Street train station in Birmingham UK was managed by the UK’s Network Rail using MassMotion and without disruption to essential rail services.

All are examples of projects that have used MassMotion to streamline a multi-faceted project and, because the models are easily queried, to experiment with different ideas and manage both costs and unexpected scenarios.