Animating the evolution of cities

There is a now a growing awareness that knowledge of a city's past is necessary to predict and plan for its future.

Evolution animations can rapidly visualise vast amounts of historical spatial data across unlimited time periods. They allow historical patterns of development and demolition (in both our cities and our local areas) to be better understood and to be debated more widely.

Below we show three examples produced for London.

The London Evolution Animation (2012)

The London Evolution Animation brings together and animates thousands of georeferenced historical street network records for the first time. It was built at CASA by Flora Roumpani in 2012 and commissioned and directed, on behalf of English Heritage, by Polly Hudson for the exhibition ‘Almost Lost’.​ The animation has received over 350,000 hits on YouTube demonstrating its popular appeal.

We are grateful to the following organisations and individuals for their generous

contribution of historical spatial data: Dr Kiril Stanilov (CASA/CSIC University of Cambridge), Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA). English Heritage (now Historic England), The Institute of Historic Research, The Centre for Metropolitan Studies, and The Historic Towns Trust.

3D Local Evolution Animations. The Clapton Model

Experimentation with 3D animated local evolution models has been carried out since 2004 by Steve Evans (now at UCL's Energy Institute) and Polly Hudson.

Such models are hypothesised to become of growing relevance to those working in energy consumption, waste reduction, sustainable planning policy, and urban resource conservation. Substantial investment of time is required for initial archive research however, once built, animated models can be used by local authorities and others to visualise multiple narratives.

The Clapton Model was initially developed in collaboration with The Building Exploratory charitable trust for use as a public information tool. Since then collaborators & funding contributors have included The UK Green Building Council, The Wates Foundation, The Centre for the Historic Environment (Kellogg College, University of Oxford), English Heritage and The Heritage Lottery Fund.

Above the Clapton model is used to develop a narrative for English Heritage on the history of the conservation movement.

(3D evolution animations are also designed to complement 3D digital city models. Research is currently underway at CASA to create a 3D interactive model for London, reviving the unit’s earlier research in this field).

Experimenting with animated evolution data to attract new audiences

'Re-viewing the Tower' is an experimental animation which plays with vectorised historical data, to test methods of engaging new audiences in the planning process.

Here attention is paid to colour, line, music and movement, rather than chronology or narrative. Colour coded datasets show street networks in the City of London, and specifically those around the Tower of London, from Roman times to the present day.

Roman networks are represented in green; Medieval/Tudor in orange; Victorian in purple; Edwardian in pink, with today's roads shown in red.

The 3 minute animation, produced by Polly Hudson, explores the spatial relationship between these networks and their very different 'feel'. It also aims to stimulate debate on the seemingly irreversible impact of modern networks on the intimate (and centuries old) relationship between the Thames and the City's delicate mesh of streets.

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