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State-of-the-art solutions help decision makers manage built and natural environments

The effective management and development of built and natural environments has always been a challenge for decision makers, but modern societal and environmental pressures are placing even more demands on infrastructure, services and assets. The Visualisation and Virtual Reality (V2) group at Northumbria University is collaborating with national agencies, local authorities and industry to provide tailored, state-of-the-art solutions to urban and environmental problems that affect us all.

V2 comprises an interdisciplinary team of engineers, architects and geographers, working with a wide range of partners in international research and consultancy projects. Furthermore, their novel 3D survey, visualisation, analysis and communication approaches are transforming strategic decision making in built and natural environments.

A notable example is the group’s use of virtual city models to support urban design, planning and development. The team is able to create scaled 3D printed models, animated visualisations, virtual experiences and information-rich city models to provide new holistic perspectives on key decisions, and the impacts within urban and natural environments. Three councils in the North East of England – Newcastle, Gateshead and Sunderland – have already benefited from these virtual city models, which have guided the final design of over 20 key developments in the region, while improving transparency and efficiency in urban planning processes.

In addition, Newcastle City Council and Durham Heritage Centre have commissioned 3D print models of the cities of Durham, Gateshead and Newcastle, enabling teams of all interest groups to come together to visually assess and evolve developments. The UK Government also has taken advantage of the V2 animated visualisation to inform its Future Cities Foresight project, and Northumbrian Water has employed an information-rich city model to assess its assets and infrastructure.

Societal resilience to geohazards, such as landslides and cliff erosion, is another area of expertise for V2. The team has been developing early warning and monitoring systems as well as modelling and management strategies to deal with risks to infrastructure. Their work with Transport Scotland (TS)  and local authorities – South Tyneside Borough Council, among them – has enabled potentially hazardous slopes to be remotely monitored, aiding the understanding and prediction of failure events – essential to deciding whether certain roads should be closed to avoid endangering life.

Moreover, the slope visualisation and change detection data are informing management decisions, such as planting of tree species that could help slopes to remain stable by Forestry Enterprise Scotland and South Tyneside Borough Council’s (STBC) commissioning of V2 to monitor cliff erosion in the region over a two-year period. The team’s recommendations have led the EA and STBC to the re-evaluation of cliff erosion threats to the A183 road, where erosion rates are up to 70% lower than previously assumed. Internationally, the group are working with Natural Resources Canada to help quantify, understand and address the key threats to infrastructure and communities posed by permafrost cliff erosion.

V2’s historic architecture management services have been a boon for heritage buildings, including Durham Castle and Durham Cathedral. The group has also employed 3D information modelling processes and structural assessments to record and structurally assess the severity of historic subsidence at St Nicholas Cathedral in Newcastle, informing on remedial work dating back to the 13th Century. Meanwhile, in Durham, laser scanning technology has been used to create 3D representations of the historic architecture to support conservation assessments and develop 3D information models to support the facilities management of these world heritage assets. The use of these approaches has demonstrated the potential for these technologies to improve the efficiencies in monitoring, recording and managing historic estates.

With its strong interdisciplinary expertise, and national and international partnerships, V2 has been making an impact across many spheres. Its visualisation tools have been embedded into council planning procedures, redefining planning policy; its operational utilities management approaches have formed the bases of a national government case study; it has informed decision-making for critical infrastructure, such as arterial routes threatened by slope failures; and it has developed management, preservation and outreach strategies for heritage buildings of critical cultural and socio-economic significance. 

Cultural Impact


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