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All buildings sit in a specific context, and are influenced by their environment. Whether considering daylighting, wind, or site levels it’s important for Architects and Designers to know how their proposal will meet the ground. As more and more AEC professionals and planning departments are adopting BIM in their practice, digital 3D site models are becoming integral. In the UK there are a few providers each offering slightly different solutions to digital 3D models. In this article we will look at how VU.CITY compares to Cetopo, and how you could use either, or a combination of both in your workflow.

Highlights of VU.CITY

VU.CITY has been around since 2015 and focuses on streamlining the planning application process for Architects and Local Authorities. By providing many layers of information, VU.CITY helps architects to make sure they are complying with local regulations. Highlights include:

  • Information layers including protected views, micro-climate analysis and conservation areas
  • Easy to cooperate with local authorities who have adopted VU.CITY
  • Ability to upload your building model to the VU.CITY platform
Vu.City model in London showing existing buildings and new development

Highlights of Cetopo

Cetopo expanded to cover the UK in 2023, having built a very strong user base in the Nordics since 2020. Cetopo specialises in instant access 3D site models and 2D plans. Models can be configured by the user and downloaded directly into their own software. All model formats are optimised to run quickly in any BIM or 3D software and are fully editable. Highlights include:

  • Full coverage of England, and most of Scotland including ALL cities
  • Native models, designed to be fully and easily editable by the user
  • Ordnance Survey Mastermap data licensed for use in Planning Applications
  • Instant access and unlimited model downloads in a set area

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What is included?

  • Access to platform with layers of information
  • Ability to communicate and collaborate with external stakeholders within the platform
  • Micro-climate analysis tools
  • Unlimited 3D and 2D downloads in all common formats
  • OS Mastermap in DXF and/or included in 3D BIM
  • Ability to configure and preview models before download

Where do VU.CITY and Cetopo cover?

Cetopo covers all of England and most of Scotland. All cities in Scotland are covered, but some rural areas are not covered. Cetopo’s interface shows exactly which areas are covered.

VU.CITY covers 24 UK cities. It is also possible to order custom built models of areas not included under VU.CITY’s ‘Site License’ model.

How useable are the site models?

Cetopo models are designed to sit in your workflow, and are fully editable in all major architectural software. Buildings, roads, paths, terrain and trees, are all individual models grouped in layers for ease of use and editability.

VU.CITY allows users to upload their building model (.fbx) to the platform, and hide existing buildings.


What other features are available?

VU.CITY offers some additional products which are available to buy separately, while Cetopo gives users access to all of its features included in the cost. Some additional features include:

  • Downloadable 3D models
  • Custom Site License
  • 2D DXF files inc. OS Mastermap data
  • Laser cutter ready files
  • A range of 2D graphic templates
  • Interactive preview

What does it cost?

Both Cetopo and VU.CITY offer subscription based services. Cetopo’s model is project based, and allows the user to select how many project sites they would like per year, while VU.CITY offers the ability to subscribe to one or more city models.

Cetopo subscriptions range from around £1,000 for 4 projects to £12,000 for 100 projects, and can be tailored to suit your practice.

VU.CITY licenses start at around £10,000 for each included city, with bulk discounts for multiple city licenses. Custom built sites are significantly more expensive.

Are there any additional costs?

Users can incur additional costs while using either platform, but are much more likely to do so using VU.CITY. Notably, VU.CITY does not include the option to download models as standard.


Expanding Project Area

Downloading Models

Additional Users

Additional Models/ Formats









How accurate are the models?

Cetopo and VU.CITY use different methods to survey the terrain, buildings etc. Cetopo uses LIDAR, Ordnance Survey, and other governmental and private data to compute models, while VU.CITY uses photometry and manually models the buildings and terrain. VU.CITY models can include more detail on buildings (parapets, lamp posts etc) which looks more visually pleasing but may not be as accurate, while Cetopo models have a more precise terrain.








Horizontal: Based on Aerial photography.
Vertical: max. +0.15m, varies between cities

Based on Aerial Photography

Based on Aerial photography


Horizontal: 1m grid (up to 0.25m in Scotland)
Vertical: max. ±0.05m min. ±0.15m

Based on Ordnance Survey, includes pavements etc
Localised based on Lidar, Species from UK Forestry

TLDR: Which should I use?

As described above, Cetopo and VU.CITY are not really direct competitors, and for many offices the best use case may be a combination of both platforms. However, if you are looking to use only one we can recommend the following:

Use VU.CITY if:
  • You do not plan to use 3D site models within your software
  • The majority of your work is in just one of the cities covers
  • Your local authority requires a Vu.City model for planning applications
  • You want to test your design against planning requirements
  • You do not want to edit the surrounding terrain
Use Cetopo if:
  • You want to work with a site model within your software
  • You work in smaller towns/villages across the UK, as well as cities
  • You want multiple models and 2D drawings
  • You work across multiple softwares
  • You want to edit your model and control how it behaves

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