Tag Archives: Architecture

ViLo: The Virtual London Platform by CASA for Desktop


This is the first of three posts introducing CASA’s interactive urban data visualisation platform, ViLo. The platform enables visualisation of both real-time and offline spatio-temporal data sets in a digital, three-dimensional representation of the urban environment. I’ve been fortunate to work alongside the team and learn from them as the project has developed. Initially conceived as a desktop application CASA are now working on integrations for a range of different interaction devices including virtual reality with the HTC Vive and Google Daydream, augmented reality with Google’s Project Tango and Apple’s ARKit, and so called mixed realities with Microsoft’s HoloLens. ViLo forms the basis for these experiments. Underlying each of these projects is the ViLo platform.

ViLo is an interactive urban data visualisation platform developed by The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) at UCL in collaboration with the Future Cities Catapult (FCC). The platform enables visualisation of both real-time and offline spatio-temporal data sets in a digital, three-dimensional representation of the urban environment. The platform uses both OpenStreetMap data and the MapBox API for the creation of the digital environment. The platform enables us to visualise the precise locations of buildings, trees and various other urban amenities on a high resolution digital terrain model. The buildings, which are generated at runtime from OpenStreetMap data, retain their original identifiers so that they can be queried for semantic descriptions of their properties. ViLo can also visualise custom spatio-temporal data sets provided by the user in various file formats. Custom 3D models can be provided for landmarks and it is possible to switch from the OpenStreetMap generated geometries to a higher detailed CityGML model of the district in LoD2.

Dynamic data sets stored in CSV file format can also be visualised alongside real-time feeds. A specific emphasis has been placed on the visualisation of mobility data sets. Using Transport for London’s APIs ViLo has the capability to retrieve and visualise the location of bike sharing docks and the availability of bikes along with the entire bus and tube networks including the locations of bus stops and tube stations along with the position of buses and trains updated in real-time.

The ViLo platform also integrates real-time weather information from Wunderground’s API, a three dimensional visualisation of Flickr photos relating to points of interest, and a walking route planner for predefined locations using MapBox API.

An innovative aspect of the ViLo project is the possibility of conducting real time urban analysis using the various data sets loaded into the digital environment. At the current stage it is possible to conduct two-dimensional and three-dimensional visibility analysis (intervisibility; area and perimeter of the visible surfaces; maximum, minimum and average distance; compactness, convexity and concavity).

While originally conceived as part of an effort to visualise London in 3D, The ViLo platform can be used to visualise any urban area across the globe. The first version of the platform demonstrated here focuses on visualising the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London, a new district that was purpose built to host the London Summer Olympics and Paralympics in 2012.


The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA)

Project Supervisor – Professor Andrew Hudson-Smith
Backend Development – Gareth Simons
Design and Visualisation – Lyzette Zeno Cortes
VR, AR and Mixed Reality Interaction – Valerio Signorelli / Kostas Cheliotis / Oliver Dawkins
Additional Coding – Jascha Grübel

Developed in collaboration with The Future Cities Catapult (FCC)

From a purely aesthetic point of view the design of the desktop application reminds me strongly of the image from the Guide for visitors to Ise Shrine, Japan, 1948–54 that visualisation expert Edward Tufte discussed particularly favourably in his book Envisioning Information (1990). Our current efforts at ‘escaping flatland’ are a continuation of previous work undertaken by Andy Hudson-Smith and Mike Batty at CASA in the early 2000’s to create a Virtual London.

One of the main advances is our increased ability to integrate real-time data in such a way that the digital representation can be more fully coupled to the actual environment in order to reflect change. We also benefit from advances in 3D visualisation and real-time rendering afforded by the use of video game engines such as Unity. As a result the ViLo platform provides a good demonstration of our current capabilities in relation to the observation of dynamic processes as they occur in real-time at an urban scale.


Microsoft HoloLens for Architecture and Civil Engineering

Where virtual reality is fantastic for visualising and immersing a user in a scene at a human scale I’ve always felt that augmented reality provided a greater range of options for visualising data at scale. In a bid to bring HoloLens to the wider world of architecture and engineering Microsoft have recently initiated an exciting partnership with the American company Trimble. Trimble primarily work providing hardware, software and services for the provision of locational data to a range of industries including land survey, construction, transportation, telecommunications, utilities and asset tracking and management. I think this partnership offers a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate the potential of HoloLens and augmented reality to work on projects of a larger scale.


The most obvious value it provides is helping professionals visualise their data in 3D. In this video Microsoft and Trimble demonstrate how the virtual hologram could be integrated with a traditional physical model to collaboratively visualise and quickly iterate through alternative proposals. The chosen solution can then be visualised on the human scale to verify the proposal. Further than this the video hints at the power of HoloLens to provide crucial data wherever and whenever it is needed during construction, while simultaneously providing the ability to record changes and decisions on the spot. In this way HoloLens and other technologies like it could prove indispensable for urban planning, construction and asset management for the life of a development. Beyond the marketing though it will be fascinating test it to see whether the device can live up to its users’ expectations.

Building Bentham’s Panoption – A Simple Idea in Architecture

For our first project Virtual Architectures will be working to realise Jeremy Bentham’s design for the perfect prison, the Panopticon, in virtual reality. Jeremy Bentham was an British philosopher and jurist from the 18th century who is best know for his contribution to ethics in the founding of modern Utilitarianism. In formulating his plan for the Panopticon he described it as follows:

Morals reformed—health preserved—industry invigorated—instruction diffused—public burthens lightened—Economy seated, as it were, upon a rock—the gordian knot of the poor-law not cut, but untied—all by a simple idea in Architecture!

Bentham originally commissioned the British architect Will Reveley to draw up the plans:

The Panopticon

[Image – Elevation, section and plan of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon drawn by Willey Reveley in 1791 via Wikipedia]

As you can see from Reveley’s rendering, the interior of the Panopticon was to have a circular plan with un-obscured cells arranged around the edge. This was intended to provide the prison inspector lodged in the center of the building with a panoramic view of all the prisoners. This feature would be combined with a design solution for the lodge that would prevent the inspector being seen by the prisoners so they would never know which of them was being looked at by the inspector at any given moment. This uncertainty on the part of the prisoners was expected to promote a sense of total surveillance which would have a psychological affect on each prisoner by having them internalise the function of surveillance. Not knowing they were being watched they’d have to assume they were watched at all times.

For Bentham this ‘simple idea in architecture’ was intended to provide a model for the construction of any building in which large number of people could be effectively and economically supervised by relatively few: not only prisons but also factories, hospitals and schools. Today the Panopticon has become a metaphor for total surveillance in which it is the public who assume the burden of their own control.

In the coming months Virtual Architectures will be researching Bentham’s writings on the Panopticon in order to construct his design in Virtual Reality with the intention that it be publicly exhibited so each of you can make up your own minds.

Please follow Virtual Architectures for further details.

Virtual Architectures – What’s it all about?


Thanks for coming to check out the Virtual Architectures blog.

If you’ve had the chance to read our About page you’ll already know that Virtual Architectures is all about investigating different applications for the new wave of virtual reality technologies in diverse fields of architecture, urban planning, heritage and education. At the same time the project intends to offer a point of access for public engagement with those disciplines through the creation of memorable and entertaining virtual reality experiences.

We’ll look at the technology in forthcoming posts. In the meantime you may want to know why the fascination with virtual reality?

Unity Tuscany Demo in Oculus Rift

[Image – Unity Tuscany Demo running in Oculus Rift courtesy of Oculus VR]

There are many places we will never visit in our lives for practical reasons such as money, time and other commitments. Some of these places will be thriving while others may be ruins and shadows of what they once were. Then there are other places which exist only on paper, canvas or computer screen, and others still that exist solely in the minds of those who dreamt them up.

The motivation behind Virtual Architectures then is threefold. It answers the desire to create these different spaces, to explore them, and to share our experiences of them, whether they actually exist or not.

Whether they be spaces of the imagination, or of everyday life, the ability to model these spaces in 3D, to create rich interaction with the aid of computer simulation, and to place the user at the heart of it all in virtual reality is really exciting.

Here’s a great reaction to the Tuscany demo (pictured above) submitted to Youtube:

Thanks again for checking out Virtual Architectures. We hope you are interested in the project. Please check back for progress updates and follow us via twitter.