How 360° views helped a Slough residential scheme, the Chiswick Curve Enquiry, Cross-Harbour and 225 Marshwall win planning approval
2018 was a good year for A-VR and with a surprisingly diverse range of completed projects the future for immersive technology feels very bright. We used virtual reality as an engagement tool for a major bank, and similar production techniques for an installation at Tate Modern just before Christmas. Due to the power of immersion, and the unambiguous nature of VR, we also found a great deal of value building content that supported the planning process.
The UK planning system is extremely rigid despite modest increases for approvals in recent years. However, we supported several new developments in 2018 where VR technology helped improve communication during planning.
One of the first projects in 2018 was a residential development in Slough for Click Above Properties which was seeking consent. We decided to pilot some 360° views to remove any ambiguity from the visual material; Verified CGIs remain fixed viewpoint images and despite their accuracy this can be dynamite to a review board. By rotating the viewpoint in a 360 image it was possible to assess the relationship between the proposal and the context around that point, which in this case was particularly important. The application was granted.
We used the process again on three developments within the M25 – the Chiswick Curve Enquiry (Egret West), Cross-Harbour (CZWG) and 225 Marshwall (Make) – paying particular attention to the accuracy of the compositions and adding VR headset support. We developed a method for verifying the 360 for 225 Marshwall (Make), which got consent and overwhelmingly positive feedback for the dozens of views we produced. Of particular note on that project was the ability to don a portable headset on site and see the building as it would be.
‘The inspector made an explicit reference to the extreme usefulness of the method to his understanding of the scalar juxtaposition in open inquiry and also made specific reference to it in the decision letter,’ commented Russell Harris QC. ‘He granted planning permission at least in part because he became comfortable with the nature of the juxtaposition he saw in the glasses.’
We are developing a planning package which will use immersion not only to remove ambiguity, but to engage its audience by layering all the key information into one experience. An example of this was the VR study we made for the Chiswick Curve public enquiry. We re-created a 2km by 1km area of the site, complete with a stretch of the M4, in VR. The simulation had day and night scenarios, and a virtual vehicle was added so the impact of the proposal could be assessed as if driving along that stretch of motorway. Finally, all the 360 views were added as nodes throughout the model.
Bringing the real world into 3D, creating a digital twin of a site, and using it to accurately develop and assess future developments, is the idea here as we begin to streamline decision making with virtual reality.
Felix Dodd is founder director of A-VR