A 3D model for London

Thursday 17 December 2015

How could a 3D model for London work? And what might the
barriers to its formulation be?

The proposal, mooted by NLA in 2014 as a reaction to the
spate of tall buildings being proposed for the capital, was the
subject of a think tank kicked off by City of London assistant
director, development design Gwyn Richards.

The City cluster is the centre for the City’s focus on this
issue, and the potential to consolidate it into a more coherent,
single identifiable urban form, said Richards. ‘I think we are
very sensitive to the criticism in the past that we may have
approached tall buildings in a haphazard manner with knee-jerk
reactions to individual applications – which may or may not be
a fair comment.’ The work on the cluster is to do with existing
policies and constraints to see how they and forthcoming
consented schemes interact. ‘It is only through a 3D model that
we can understand that in a holistic way’, he said. One of the
debates the City wanted to have was to do with 20 Fenchurch
Street and whether infilling the gap between it and the cluster
could make it less ‘assertive’. It also wanted to look at street
level and the extent to which daylight and wind patterns might
be affected by building heights around the cluster and proposed
new schemes, as well as what might be needed by the quantum
of new workers coming into the area.

Professor Andrew Hudson-Smith, director and deputy chair,
Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, wondered how
the technology required could be put up online in a secure way
that is usable by both the public at large and by private firms.
His department looks at what happens on the 15th floor and
the 30th floor for example, on the movement of crowds, of
traffic and merging GIS data with BIM to create a complete
London system. Over the last six months various companies
had moved into this area, aiming at architects, planners, the
Mayor’s office. ‘I’m interested in how we stop all trying to do
the same thing’, he said. ‘It only needs one.’ There is lots of data
out there, but it needs to be linked up. ‘We should have a single
system that is London-wide that we can all just check into and
out of’, he said. ‘But things have moved on. I think we’re at the
edge of finally making it work.’

For Millerhare partner John Hare, the idea of a single model
that could ever be ‘complete’ was a difficult one to imagine
in a city as complex as London. The issues that need to be
addressed are many – although data capture is not one of
those, with London blessed in that department. One site has
203 models, for example. But Millerhare’s model gets denser
and more interesting where change is happening. Key to the
area is roofline profile, said Hare. ‘I think at the moment
London is ahead of lots of other cities because our curious
planning system and now our property selling system have
forced London’s 3D community to develop very sophisticated
applications. And the good thing is that there is competition, so
if we don’t get it right one of our competitors will find us out.’
It is very good that there is more than one data supplier, but it
doesn’t come cheap. Millerhare spends over £100,000 a year
in non-returnable investment in this area.

Zmapping director Raju Pookottil developed a planning tool
for the GLA’s Thames Gateway model, and latterly Vauxhall
Nine Elms, modelling tall buildings, said GLA strategic planning
manager Colin Wilson. But could there be a standard requirement
to architects and developers, and could it all be put online,
managed around licensing and other technical requirements?
‘I think we’re interested in the model explaining the story of
London’, said Wilson, ‘what does the City cluster look like next
to the Blackfriars cluster, next to the Isle of Dogs cluster, next to
what’s happening in King’s Cross?’ This should be for decision-makers
and developers as well as the public, he added.

One of the things that Rupert Green, smart design lead at
WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff, has noticed in his work in London at
Old Oak Common and Park Royal is a need for an overview on
cumulative impact and to allow various parties access to that data
to enable developers and design teams to do modelling. Tying in
effectively with the utilities with their data in appropriate formats
is also optimal, he added, although communication with providers
has improved since the establishment of the Infrastructure
Commission, said Wilson. Ultimately, such models help good
decision-making but are not decision-making in themselves.
Data from Ordnance Survey is simply a representation of its
core data, said its senior product manager for detailed content
& 3D Rollo Home. It is possible to represent that data in
different ways, including to an extent, in 3D. But the issue of 3D
modelling is not limited to London, but must cover Brighton,
Reading, the M4 corridor and all Great Britain. ‘We can’t be
too narrow in our thinking in developing a solution just for
London’, he said. ‘It could be that what we’re talking about
here is various stakeholders defining their bit of the problem
and what data they can make available’, said Hare.
All of this is being explored by Old Oak & Park Royal
Development Corporation, said its principal planning officer
Peter Farnham, with an app produced which shows high-level
massing with basic rendering and virtual reality.

How might a model be funded? Might the GLA ask developers
to pay? Could it be a requirement for developers to provide
information on utilities? The answers to all of these questions
are yet to be fully established. But it is clear that a fully formed
3D model for London is edging ever closer.

By David Taylor, Editor, NLQ.

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