Seasonal architect photography is a great way to bring your planned property development to life in both summer and winter months. Key to securing planning permission, in this article, we explain why Verified Views are an important and often essential aspect in the design process of property development in the UK.
What are Verified Views?
Verified Views show you what your proposed development will look like in the real world. Also known as Accurate Visual Representations (AVRs), they are highly accurate photomontages that layer real life photography with computer generated images (CGI) of the proposed scheme. Taken from a specific viewpoint and using site specific data, they allow you to gauge the visual impact of the project before a single brick is laid. New technology means that these methodologies are constantly evolving to be more sophisticated and detailed, with advice notes published by organisations such as the Landscape Institute detailing the current and correct procedures to follow. They are now central to the UK planning system, eliminating the guesswork and artistic interpretation associated with CGIs and basic photomontages.
What are Accurate Visual Representations?
Accurate Visual Representations (AVRs), or Verified Views, are highly accurate three-dimensional photomontages. They use computer generated images (CGI) to create a precise model of the proposed development, and then use site data to accurately position it within a real world photograph, blending the two seamlessly. GPS survey data and professional photography equipment help AVRs to depict the size and scale of a proposed development as precisely as possible. In the UK, the images follow the rigorous methodologies set out by the Landscape Institute and London View Management Framework (LVMF) which ensure consistency throughout. Accurate Visual Representations are divided into four classifications, each one increasing in detail, from AVR0 to AVR3. Each class is used to answer specific requests from planning authorities.
Are there any other names for Verified Views?
Verified Views are also often called: Accurate Visual Representations (AVR), Visually Verified Montages (VVM) and Verified Photomontages (VP).
Why do you need Verified Views?
Typically, AVRs and Verified Views are requested as part of the planning application process. This can come at various stages, from pre-application to later when discussions open with the local planning authority.
Verified Views are essential. They must be open to expert scrutiny, especially if used as evidence at a public enquiry. Therefore, the utmost care must always be taken, in combination with the most up to date industry tools, to avoid any error.
What are the Accurate Visual Representation (AVR) classifications?
Verified Views are presented in 4 classifications: AVR0, AVR1, AVR2, and AVR3. Each one describes the level of render applied. In other words, the level of detail. AVR0 Verified Views provide a simple outline of the proposal. AVR3 Verified Views are ‘photorealistic’. The higher the number, the more detail you will find. The specific outputs of each stage can be altered based on the requirements of the client and the resolution needed.
AVR0: Accurate Visual Representation Level 0
Location and size of proposal. This is the most basic visualisation. It shows just the building outline and massing, superimposed in the correct position over the baseline. It is usually a simple line graphic.
This level gives the general outline of the size. It is often used a first stage massing study in the design process or for outline discussion with planning departments and stakeholders. It is there to help see how the development will fit in the landscape and impact views.
AVR1: Accurate Visual Representation Level 1
Location, size, and degree of visibility. This stage merges the basic model into the photo, making it seem to be ‘behind’ certain other features. This better shows its location, size and visibility from that specific angle, as it now exists relative to existing features (e.g. trees, other buildings, street signs).
This is similar to an AVR0 Verified View and is often shown as a block massing or wireframe, but it gives some site-specific context. It helps to show how the proposal would fill the space of that specific site.
AVR2: Accurate Visual Representation Level 2
As Level 1, plus detailed architectural form. This is a step up from AVR Level 1, as the model now includes much more detail. Windows, extrusions and shapes now give it a real sense of identity. Instead of just blocking out a mass of building, you get a sense of the identity of the actual proposal.
This stage is often used for distance views where lighting and material aesthetic are less important. It can also be useful in projects before materials have been specified or signed off.
AVR3: Accurate Visual Representation Level 3
As Level 2, plus all materials and accurate lighting. This is the most advanced and accurate render. It now includes all building materials (e.g. textures, colours, finishes, foliage), as well as state of the art lighting simulations. AVR3 renders are photorealistic. The aim of these images is to show exactly how the scheme will look upon completion. They can be used for publicity, public consultation or evidence at a public enquiry.
Because they are so widely viewed, the details are captured as accurately as possible. Materials and lighting are matched as closely as possible with the original photos. Tree mitigation and architectural planting are included and match up precisely with plans provided. These renders present a definitive impression of the proposal.
We were looking for a company to prepare a set of verified views of our new hotel scheme in the centre of Leeds. We chose rbmp and they did a great job! The views looked great, they were extremely helpful and advice on shot selection, camera lenses, and planning methodology and process was excellent. Would definitely recommend.Martin Jones, Fruition
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What is the verified views methodology and process?
The Verified View process follows industry standard methodologies, covering photography, 3D modelling and photomontages. These are specified by the Landscape Institute: Guidelines for Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment 3rd edition (April 2013); Landscape Institute Technical Guidance Note 06/19 (September 2019), and Visual Representation of Development Proposals; The Revised SPG London View Management Framework (March 2012.)
A great deal of experience and understanding is required to create the verified views. Each stage of the process outlined below need to be understood and carried out to a level that not only satisfies the project brief, but also stands up against independent scrutiny. We provide industry level methodology documents to support all our verified views.
The first step is to take what is known as a ‘baseline’ photo. We go to the site and take high resolution, full-frame photos from pre-selected locations. This gives us a current unaltered view of the site. For all AVR photography it is important to use a prime lens (fixed focal length) at a standard consistent focal length, one that matches the cone of human vision as closely as possible. Most often, a 50mm prime lens offers the best image quality with the lowest level of distortion.
Certain developments will require the use of panoramic photography to fit the whole scheme into one image. In this case, the stitched frames are manually matched to the correct parallax point, allowing an approximate overlap of 50% at which point they are spliced together. A single viewpoint frame, usually centred on the site, is always supplied along with panoramic verified views to show what a standard human view would look like in the given situation.
We can offer advice on shot selection, including the preparation of ZTV (Zone of Theoretical Visibility) assessments, or follow instructions from our clients. For various viewing locations, it is important to adapt. For close up views, we would use a 28mm or 24mm tilt-shift lens to capture the complete context of the scene. From further away, we would use a 50mm lens as it gives a more accurate interpretation of what the human eye would see. Throughout each site visit, records are taken of the time of day, date, and weather conditions to ensure accurate model matching later in the process.
During or after the photography site visit, a qualified surveyor will visit all the viewpoint locations and gather GPS readings (to the OSGB36 co-ordinate system) to generate point cloud data for objects within the baseline photos. This includes things like lamp posts, railings, or corners of buildings. These ‘control points’ allow the AVR to be verified to +/- 20mm accuracy. The information collected is then cross referenced with topographical surveys and OS data. The final point cloud is used to visually align the virtual model with the actual photograph in model space, prior to the photomontage creation.
Verified Views are all about the development proposals; what the final build will look like in the real-world context. Therefore, modelling is key. It ensures that the design team’s intent is properly understood and visualised. We either create models of proposals from scratch or work with anything that can be provided by the client, from hand-drawn plans to 2D AutoCAD drawings and Revit models. Using GPS topographic survey data, either gathered during the site visit or provided by the client, the model is positioned in the real-world model space occupied by the virtual cameras. Depending on the level of render and AVR classification, accurate architectural details are modelled onto the elevations, and real-world materials are applied along with accurately matched daylight and environments to illuminate the model.
The survey data and point cloud information are vital. They allow the control points to be aligned with the real-world photo to a huge degree of accuracy. Without this information, the results are merely photomontages, open to interpretation and potential criticism. Virtual cameras are set up in modelling software which exactly match the technical settings and physical locations of the site visit cameras. Focal lengths, ISO settings, aperture controls and exposure speeds are all input along with the GPS readings. The point cloud data is visualised as cones in the model space and the virtual camera are aligned to match the baseline photos.
The final stage of the creation process is to merge the accurate camera-matched model with the corresponding baseline photo. Highly detailed renders are produced in the modelling software. These are then composited with the baseline photos in photo editing software. All objects (including buildings, walls, cars, trees, plants etc.) in front of the model will be masked out to blend the model accurately into the image.
To show the planting proposals over time, it can be useful to visualise how trees and shrubs might look at timed intervals, often between Year 0 and Year 15. This ensures that growth is properly referenced and that the results can be accurately assessed.
When following the above methodology, this final image is effectively the Verified View or Accurate Visual Representation.
To fully understand and interpret the final Verified Views, all the information gathered and used in the creation process is displayed alongside the image. All the Verified Views are compiled in a document, showing each viewpoint and each AVR classification output associated with it, ready for planning submission. This information includes: camera settings, lens choice, times and dates, GPS coordinates and mapped camera locations, and reference photos of the camera and tripod in-situ. A viewing distance is also shown; this is distance at which perspective in the photograph matches the perspective seen from the location where the photograph was taken. This allows an observer to stand and accurately assess what the final development will look like using the printed page as a guide.
To be accepted as Verified Views, all outputs must be accompanied by a supporting, project-specific methodology which demonstrates exactly how the views were created and the processes involved. This includes site visit details, photographic and survey equipment, data software employed, visualisation date, and any specific project information such as other consultants’ assessments and third-party requests.
How long does the process take?
We understand the time constraints and urgency associated with planning applications. It is important that information is gathered quickly so that budgets do not overrun, and decisions can be made early on. As a full service Verified View company, from photography to modelling and view creation, we’re able to be efficient and responsive for all our clients. We aim to deliver every Verified View package within 2 weeks. From site visits, photography, survey, modelling, and view creation all the way through to delivery.
What type of verified views are there?
Verified Views are used for all development types including large inner-city landmark towers, rural energy operations, conservation and protection, residential and mixed-use schemes, and coastal developments. For any type of project, it is important that the Verified Views are both highly accurate and reliable. That’s where we come in!
Our Verified Views process
We strive to ensure our Verified Views are reliable, robust and work effectively for all parties. We provide a great value service with a fast turnaround, helping our clients understand the impacts of the proposals and gain planning permission and for their schemes. With over 10 years’ experience producing AVR views for clients across the UK, we are fluent in the latest and best practices. We are a full service practice, from photography to view creation. You can trust us to deliver for you.