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Virtual city provides an interactive platform for architects, planners, heritage and the arts

Many of the old industrial areas of cities like Newcastle have been re-invented into spaces for living, culture and leisure activities. Accurately assessing the impact of a proposed development, not only visually but on traffic and pedestrian flow, for example, is essential for city authorities to make informed planning decisions that enhance the built environment for residents. For Gateshead and Newcastle Councils this aspect of the planning process has been significantly improved with the creation of the Virtual Newcastle Gateshead (VNG) City Model, a dynamic virtual model of Newcastle created by researchers at Northumbria University.

The model was developed by the University’s Virtual Reality and Visualisation Group in partnership with Gateshead and Newcastle City Councils. It was first introduced in 2009 and now covers over 100km2 of Newcastle and Gateshead.  The model has helped to harmonise the planning process and assessment methodologies of the two Councils, improving decision making and saving both time and money. For example, the VNG model provides planners with a means of ‘view impact assessment’. This allows them to assess the impact of a proposed new development from different parts of the city, thus allowing them to pre-empt any objections and issues and to make an informed planning-decision.

VNG has proved to be a powerful communication tool, used by architects and developers to provide accurate imagery for their clients and stakeholders throughout the design development and planning process. The model has been introduced to more than 50 architectural practices via partnerships with RIBA and Northern Architecture. As a result it has been used in 12 recent major urban development projects including the £150million development of Gateshead’s Trinity Square and Quayside developments.

Tim Gray who was the architectural lead for the developers of Trinity Square confirms the benefits of using the VNG model. He commented: “It allowed us to address the Local Authority’s requirements of the impact of the development … and how the development would tie into the existing urban fabric as part of a regenerated town centre.”

As well as supporting in the future development of new buildings, the model is being used in a wide variety of projects including gaining a better idea of the city’s past.  A virtual reconstruction of medieval Newcastle is aiding the management of the city’s surviving timber-framed buildings and the methodology behind the VNG is being used to create a virtual model of Hadrian’s Wall which will be used as an educational and community resource.  Versions of the model have also contributed to arts projects: providing the framework for a multi-media animation in Peter Dillon’s play ‘GUTS’ and supporting an exhibition by landscape artist Colin Book.


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