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In this week's Architech, Sutherland Lyall offers an insight into the tortuous process of producing the visualisations required as evidence in the Heron Tower planning enquiry. In addition to the endless computer images showing the building in a variety of different lighting conditions and from every conceivable angle, visualisation company Hayes Davidson produced a video depicting the view of the proposed tower as experienced by a pedestrian crossing Waterloo Bridge.

(Opponents of the project claim those crossing the Thames at a certain point will be deprived of views of St Paul's. ) Creating the video was time-consuming, but not as arduous as preparing the 120-page document which describes the methodology in order to demonstrate the video's veracity.

While the Heron Tower team may have been stunned at the resources it had to spend on visualisations, others might feel aggrieved at the implication that only those who can afford it should attempt to put forward such a contentious scheme.From either perspective, there is something inherently unjust in a system which channels such a high proportion of project cost away from design and construction. Having already created a threedimensional model of the City of London, Hayes Davidson was able to produce images of the Heron Tower in context at reasonable expense. It is inevitable that the digital image will play an ever more crucial role in our planning system. And, in the interests of fairness, some of the resources that the Heron Tower team had to pay for should be made more universally available.

The Architecture Foundation has carried out valuable work in establishing a digital map of London as a public resource, but it is time for the initiative to go nationwide. A government-backed initiative could be at least partially self-funding if anyone interested could download part of a three-dimensional model of Britain for a fee based, say, on a unit cost per square of the Ordnance Survey map. Individual applicants would have to prove the accuracy of images of the proposed intervention, but the credibility of the context model could be taken as read.

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