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Wagstaffs: building a virtual world for the City of London

Wagstaffs: building a virtual world for the City of London

Virtual reality technologies are delivering new immersive experiences that are transforming the way we see the world.

Consumers can be immersed in sound and vision while watching a film, playing a video game or visiting a museum.

Virtual reality could also meet challenges in areas such as urban planning where complex developments have long lead times and design and decision-making processes are often slow and do not always deliver a good result.

London property technology (proptech) agency Wagstaffs Design has won support from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to lead development of a groundbreaking virtual environment for the whole square mile of the City of London.

Managing director Jason Hawthorne (pictured below) said:

"There is huge change happening in the City of London. There are tall towers being built and new ones coming forward.

If we can create a real environment to test everything – what it’s like to be a human walking past the building, what it’s like to be in the building opposite and how views change, what it’s like to walk around in the area and see the changes – town planners and architects will better understand the impact.

Wagstaffs Design managing director Jason Hawthorne

Accurate to a few centimetres

Wagstaffs Design and its partners City of London Corporation, Marshall Survey Associates (MSA), and Pipers Projects are sharing a £441,000 grant to support an 18-month project to build and host the virtual reality environment.

Wagstaffs’ existing Vu.City digital model of London is the starting point. The entire City of London will be laser-scanned by MSA to capture all the fine detail of facades and roads.

The amount of data is too large for the system, so it is reduced to a smaller number of points that outline a set of meshes. Photography will be used to overlay the meshes with the final texture.

The final environment will be an accurate reproduction of the square mile of the City of London to within a few centimetres.

A gaming platform will allow multiple people to hold a discussion while walking around the environment as avatars at human scale, viewing a proposed new development from the street, from inside it or from another building.

Virtual city could speed up planning

Jason added:

"Nobody has created a VR experience on this scale before and with so much detail where you can literally walk around the street.

"There is an amazing use case in architecture, planning and design, but we also expect to look at things such as solar glare and wind modelling."

"The Walkie Talkie building had some issues around solar glare to the point that cars melted. Mitigation of those issues is costly. With this type of model we may have been able to understand that before the building was complete and used a different type of glazing.

"The closer you can get to reality to test and try these scenarios, the more we can make mistakes and change them before we commit for real. All of this can be done at speed.

"This is what’s exciting. There is potential to speed up what is a slow and difficult process through planning and help the decision-makers reach a conclusion on whether to grant permission."

Wagstaffs Design virtual reality environment

Platform could be used in growth areas at home and abroad

The new virtual reality environment will be hosted in the City of London Authority marketing suite, where planners and councillors could ultimately use it to guide applicants and their decision making.

The marketing suite is managed by Pipers, builders of a scale model of the City of London held at the suite. They will be custodians of the finished virtual reality environment.

The £644,000 project won support from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’s Audience of the Future Challenge, a £33 million investment in projects that exploit and develop immersive technologies to create new products and services.

Jason added:

"Commercially, there’s an obvious route here in real estate and development. The days of having to create computer generated images and fly-throughs at great expense would be gone. You just introduce the building into this virtual reality environment.

"You could also use this model to work out where to put the antennae for 5G instead of doing site surveys and roof surveys.

"We could add anonymised data on people movement and demographics and demonstrate to advertisers the best place for their advertisements and what they would look like.

"We also see uses for event planning – where would people be and how many could fit in a space? You could model scenarios for crowds and large numbers of pedestrians. We could do the same with traffic.

"If we can make this work, there’s potential to take it to all the major UK cities and growth areas and then globally."

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