macroworks - Visibility Analysis and Optimisation

By: Macroworks  05/12/2011
Keywords: Visibility Analysis

Changes to the layout and/or design of a development proposal on the basis of visual impact – especially after consultants from other disciplines have begun their work – can be a costly exercise and can significantly delay the process of achieving planning consent. Such changes are wholly avoidable by conducting a visual assessment of the site and surrounding terrain at the project outset.

At Macro Works we see visual analysis as a tool for guiding design rather than documenting design –  a tool that should be engaged at the project outset rather than as a formality at the conclusion. Visual analysis – like ecology and archaeology must be carried out for the whole site area being considered thus enabling compilation of a visual constraints map that will feed into the design strategy.

With constraints mapping in place for the relevant environmental disciplines (ecology, hydrology, archaeology etc), Macro Works can draw upon a wealth of experience to help optimise the design of the development from critical viewpoints, while being careful not to impact upon the project economics.

While it is important to fill all the boxes necessary for a complete EIA / EIS submission, it is all-to-often done with a less-than-sympathetic eye for the environment in which it is being proposed. It is our experience that those submissions that demonstrate a conscious effort to reduce impact by considering alternative layouts, are the quickest to achieve a positive outcome.

By documenting the stages from draft layout to final layout; showing the initial impact and the measures taken to address this impact - the developer demonstrates both the willingness and the flexibility to achieve the best fit between commercial interest and existing landscape. The benefit that such conscious action brings to the acceptability of a project cannot be overstated.

Macro Works has developed both the skill set and the tools to help achieve and document such a process.

The first step to minimising the visual impact of a development is to properly ascertain what is likely to be visible if the project is built to realise maximum economic potential. This is the unconstrained model which will – within budget – be as large as possible and will occupy as much of the available site area as possible.

Using this worst-case model as a control we can pre-determine the visually sensitive zones surrounding the site that may be impacted and use these in conjunction with our in-house processes to systematically refine the workable site boundary. The result is a Visual Constraints Map that provides valuable decision support and informs the subsequent design on many levels – be it layout, footprint, height, materials or even colour.

Macro Works has employed its knowledge of visibility and terrain analysis to improve the acceptability of many schemes in its portfolio of successful projects. This ranges from subtle changes to the height of buildings to the complete design of large offshore wind proposals.

Macro Works clients are aware of the cost-benefit of our visibility analysis and layout optimisation services and engage us at the project outset as a matter of course.

Many of the successful wind energy submissions with which Macro Works has been involved have utilised our analysis and optimisation tools to great effect – in some cases considerably aiding in successful appeals against planning refusals.

It has been widely accepted that while photomontage is an acceptable method of assessing the potential impact of a proposed development, it is limited by virtue of it being (a) a static image (b) 2-dimensional (c) non-immersive. It also suffers due to the printed copy not being able to realistically portray daylight and objects that reflect the sun i.e. paper doesn’t shine.

Macro Works is currently working in conjunction with the IADT (Institute of Art and Design Technology) to overcome each of these limitations and explore viable alternatives to static-printed-photomontage as a means to view proposed developments in the planning process.

Keywords: Visibility Analysis

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