Empirically validating five propositions regarding 3D visualizations for subsurface utility projects

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Purpose: This study aims to empirically validate five propositions about the benefits of three-dimensional (3D) visualizations for the management of subsurface utility projects. Specifically, the authors validate whether benefits from 3D in the literature of building construction project management also apply to subsurface utility projects and map them using a taxonomy of project complexity levels. Design/methodology/approach: A multiple case study of three utility construction projects was carried out during which the first author was involved in the daily work practices at a utility contractor. 3D visualizations of existing project models were developed, and design and construction meetings were conducted. Practitioners' interactions with and reflections on these 3D visualizations were noted. Observational data from the three project types were matched with the five propositions to determine where benefits of 3D visualizations manifested themselves. Findings: Practitioners found that 3D visualizations had most merit in crowded urban environments when constructing rigid pipelines. All propositions were validated and evaluated as beneficial in subsurface utility projects of complexity level C3. It is shown that in urban projects with rigid pipelines (project with the highest complexity level), 3D visualization prevents misunderstanding or misinterpretations and increases efficiency of coordination. It is recommended to implement 3D visualization approaches in such complex projects Originality/value: There is only limited evidence on the value 3D visualizations in managing utility projects. This study contributes rich empirical evidence on this value based on a six-month observation period at a subsurface contractor. Their merit was assessed by associating 3D approaches with project complexity levels, which may help utility contractors in strategically implementing 3D applications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2535-2553
JournalEngineering, Construction and Architectural Management
Issue number6
Early online date15 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jun 2022


  • underground construction
  • three-dimensional visualization
  • subsurface utilities
  • computer-aided design
  • NLA


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