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London’s amazing new supermodel

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NLA’s interactive new model of London represents a leap forward in understanding the city around us, writes Will Hurst

Will Hurst

London has a new supermodel and I’m not talking about the next Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell or Cara Delevingne.

At its Store Street base yesterday, New London Architecture launched its 12.5m long new model of the capital, shown at last month’s Mipim in Cannes but only now boasting an interactive projection and lighting system which takes understanding of the city and its future development to a whole new level. Speaking at the launch (a ‘soft’ one ahead of the full unveiling after the election), NLA chairman Peter Murray was in reflective mood, talking about the way tragedies such as the Great Fire and the Blitz have shaped London and the NLA’s formation almost 10 years ago on the very same day as another – the 7/7 bombings. But he also talked about the influence of people and specifically those groups who should be interested in the model – professionals, the public and politicians such as London’s last two mayors Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson.

The 1:2000 scale model, built by Pipers using Ordnance Survey data, simply cannot be compared with NLA’s old model. It boasts an amazing 170,000 buildings spread across 85sq km and 19 boroughs. Most of them are grey and laser-cut while those under construction or boasting planning permission were created using 3D printing and are marked out in the model as white clusters in areas such as Old Oak Common, Earl’s Court or Battersea. As Murray noted, west London has now become a twin focus for development whereas back in 2005 it was all about the east in the form of the Olympic Park and the Thames Gateway.

There were one or two technology glitches at this morning’s launch but that could not obscure how successfully the model is brought to life through digital animation.

Want to know where the Great Estates are and you only have to tap one of the tablets surrounding the model to have these areas picked out by spotlight while you simultaneously view images and information about them. Similarly new transport routes such as Crossrail One and Two and HS2 can be highlighted as colourful ribbons snaking through the capital as can protected viewing corridors, the latter giving the visitor a sense of how and why high rise London has developed up until now.

Most impressive of all is the way in which illuminated displays of the model seamlessly accompany five bespoke NLA films on London including one presented by Murray on London’s recent dash to build upwards.

But the model does have limitations. It could of course have been larger had it not been for the physical limits of the Building Centre’s ground floor. It reaches ‘only’ from King’s Cross in the north to Peckham in the south and from Old Oak Common in the west to the Royal Docks in the east  - something which sits oddly with the surrounding wall displays which detail numerous other suburban areas where large scale development is happening.

And for all its interactive elements NLA’s new model isn’t the virtual model of a great world city that the Internet Age – and indeed AJ’s Skyline campaign – demands. It’s a wonderfully engaging and educational tool that enhances your sense of the city around you and its constantly shifting form. But for those of us wishing to see a more joined-up approach towards planning London’s high-rise future, let’s hope it’s a stepping stone towards an even more detailed and responsive model online.

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