Model London: 3D platform aims to transform planning

Posted August 5, 2016 in Sonas News

A fully interactive 3D model of London aims to change the way developments are conceived and planning decisions are made – with major implications for contractors.

Wouldn’t it be useful to have an accurate, 3D digital model of the whole of London?

And what if that model could show protected views, traffic modelling, transport links, property prices, noise levels and much more– all helping developers and local authorities better plan where to put new buildings?

Well, this model is now a reality in the form of VUCITY.

The model, created by digital communications agency Wagstaffs and 3D specialist Vertex Modelling, is available now and could change the way developments are conceived in London – with benefits for contractors, too.

“Over time, we realised the areas we were creating were more and more useful the further out we got from the developments we were working on – to the point where we thought of the wild idea to create a model of the whole of London,” says Wagstaffs managing director Jason Hawthorne.

“There are other models out there, but the unique part of VUCITY is that it has to be highly accurate and fit for planning to be able to go in front of the planning committee, with a development in it, and be accurate enough for them to make a decision based upon it.”

The team has now covered 200 sq km of London, modelled to an accuracy of plus or minus 15 cm – a claim currently being verified by a leading London university.

All the views

The team used photogrammetry to collect the data, with aerial surveys taking images before buildings were manually sketched in for maximum accuracy.The reason accuracy is so important is so the model is a truly useful tool for planners and developers, rather than simply a pretty overview of London.

With that in mind, the system includes an option to include consented and planned schemes, allowing planners to see the cumulative impact of development. This is particularly significant in terms of overshadowing and rights to light, with a tool to display the sunlight at any given time of day in the year, as well as accurate weather modelling to allow for less-than-sunny days.

In one example we’re shown, a particular point on the ground gets denied sunlight for more than 90 minutes a day – but this increases as other consented and proposed developments are added in, clearly demonstrating the cumulative effect. The system also includes all of the City’s protected views, showing in colour-coded slices what is off-limits, what is debatable and what would require consultation, as well as other information such as postcode areas, borough boundaries and transport links.

The model is also being used to assess the visual impact of a scheme, with the ability to place cameras at ground level to view how your proposed development will look in context. This allows the user to create views that are needed for the planning process, potentially even replacing some of the currently required

Change for contractors

The system is clearly powerful as a demonstration tool, able to show off the different phases of a project from start to finish. “Some of the biggest issues contractors face are around vehicle movements, noise and consulting with neighbours,” Mr Hawthorne says.

“We’ve used this to great effect to show the phasing of a scheme, all the way from start through to completion. And we can bring in vehicle movement data from traffic engineers and put it in as real vehicles. The other element is that we can also link to the BIM process. While we wouldn’t replace the BIM phasing work, if we want to show a building going up in phases to explain how it will work, we could do that.”

The system is also virtual reality-ready, providing another layer of showmanship to the 3D visualisation process.
“We did a piece down in the City, looking at a new building – and being able to actually walk along the street and look up at a building to scale is so different from looking at it on a screen. It’s not the same,The biggest challenge for the team is keeping the model up to date, vast as it is – especially as it’s expanding all the time. “We have to fly pretty regularly, once every three years,” Mr Hawthorne says.

“We’re constantly growing, so by this time next year we hope to be out to the North and South Circular, so that’s a significant growth, over 7 sq km per month at the minute. The aspiration will be to get out to the M25. We’re also already in discussions with Manchester and Belfast – the only thing stopping it working with other cities is actually getting the modelling sorted.”

The team has also already worked on models of Dubai and Nicosia, with other international cities interested, showing the potential of the model.