New London Architecture

Five minutes with... Graham McCormick

Monday 05 June 2023

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

David Taylor meets Graham McCormick of Hayes Davidson to talk through HDScope, the company’s new on-site impact assessment tool to improve collaboration and planning.

David Taylor  
So hi, Graham. Nice to meet you. How are you, first of all? 
 
Graham McCormick  
I'm very good, thanks, David. How are you doing?
 
David Taylor  
Very good, thank you. I wanted to ask you about your launch of HDScope. I have a vague idea of what it does and who it's for, but it's always best to ask people to put it into their own words! So firstly, what is HDScope? Could you describe it in layman's terms? 
 
Graham McCormick  
Yes, sure, not a problem. Essentially, it's a new bit of software or an application that we've developed within the studio, and its core function is an on-site impact assessment tool. It's going to be mainly used with developers, planners, architects, and various consultants around the planning process. And its main function, really, is to just speed up those early conversations; it'll facilitate earlier collaboration between consultants, and hopefully just lead to quicker decision-making in the planning process.
 
David Taylor  
So, if I've got this, right, I've got my iPhone with me, and I'm on site where my proposed building will be. And I can look on the screen and see the building in situ, as it were, and sort of walk around it. Is that roughly where we are with this?
 
Graham McCormick  
Yeah, exactly. What we do is pre-load the model in, and this can be something as simple as an extruded site boundary with various height options, right the way through to a fully detailed model. So in terms of model fidelity, we can use highly detailed models, or really simple ones. We overlay that on the device's camera. And it's a really accurate, stable sort of overlay, so you can basically walk around the site. It is going to really enhance those kind of local site visits that all consultants embark on at different stages of the project. But unlike some of the previous technology that is available, where you have to be static in a set location, in order to see the accurate overlay, this is a go anywhere, anytime tool. So we've really kind of freed up the site visit. And we think it's going to have real impact because, rather than an educated guess, of how much building is coming over the top of the skyline we will actually be able to show you on screen in an accurate way.
David Taylor  
Who is it aimed at?
 
Graham McCormick  
Primarily, from our personal experience working in the planning system, we go on a lot of site visits with planning consultants and architects, and just kind of looking at the local area, looking at the site, and we have conversations on the ground, where we're discussing: ‘oh, yeah, how high is it going to be?’ This is going to really help those conversations; we're going to be able to show it on screen and take screenshots, and even screen recordings. We can even do kinetic studies walking along the street to see how the impact changes across that streetscape. Those images and videos can go straight from the device into a report that goes to the planning officer. And again, those pre-app conversations can just be enhanced by this sort of new imagery and deliverable that's going to help speed of decisions.
 
David Taylor  
And presumably, it will potentially be able to allay fears of local community groups who are perhaps concerned about the impact a new scheme will have on their environment - or in fact, maybe it might confirm those fears, who knows? (laughs)  But it could be used in that context, too?
 
Graham McCormick  
Yeah, certainly. One of the things that we are looking at is trying to make it as simple to use as possible, not only just for the industry, so that it's a really useful, easy tool, but also then moving forward, using it with local communities and neighbourhood groups. And, like you say, just to hopefully allay fears. But you know, maybe they can use it themselves to prove a point as well. Obviously, we need to make this as accessible as possible. It is a piece of technology; it does need to be on a certain device. It is iOS-based at the moment, but we are looking to expand that. And also, you do need a fairly high-end sort of device to utilize the full potential of the app, so there is a slight accessibility issue there. But we are doing our best to make it as accessible to everybody as possible.
 
David Taylor  
And what are the costs involved? How do I gain access to this as a member of the public and how do I do so as a developer?
 
Graham McCormick  
We're in the early beta phase. This is a service that we're offering as part of our ongoing work within the planning and visualization sector. We're looking for people to test this product with; we've done a lot of testing already but at this stage, we're looking for some feedback on the actual application itself, the ease of use and the future uses. But then moving forward, with a lot more development –I won't lie, this isn't going to happen overnight - but we do hope to be able to provide this as something that is just downloadable for either the industry or the public. And you could choose a planning application to assess yourself in person. But like I say this is probably a couple of years away in terms of development - we're focusing on that initial planning application stage to start with.
 
David Taylor  
And what's the feedback been so far?
 
Graham McCormick  
Really, really positive. We've been talking with developers, planners and architects, and primarily as well, townscape and heritage consultants. These are not my words, but we've had 'game changing' mentioned a couple of times from different people. We're seeing this as a real positive step forward. What we are really trying to do is just kind of ease the early stage of planning. Obviously, councils are under pressure with the sheer workload that they have, and the sort of difficulties in having enough people to make these decisions. So anything we can do to help speed up this process for them, and then also, for our industry, making pre-apps work better, and get through a lot of these conversations quicker, is kind of what we're aiming to do.
 
David Taylor  
Was it your idea?
 
Graham McCormick  
I won't take full credit. I've been heavily involved in the development. But this is honestly just years of talking to clients, talking to studio friends about the issues that they're facing. And this is something that came up in a number of places where these site visits could be made to work harder and provide something that's more useful. You know, we often have to provide photography from 40-plus different locations. And then ultimately, we decide, actually, this view wasn't needed there. There are other tools available, that can help do desktop-based assessments. But there's no substitute for being on the ground and seeing realistic trees, you know, the real details of the architecture. And now that we can overlay the proposed scheme, over the top, it is just enhancing that experience, and hopefully will just really provide a better understanding of the scheme a lot earlier. And then, in terms of saving money and time, we'll be able to discount views from assessments a lot earlier and build confidence in all the different teams that the decisions that have been made at other curriculums.
 
David Taylor  
And presumably, it's a live tool, but there's some sort of facility in it to record one's visit and one's view of how the project sits in the landscape, is there?
 
Graham McCormick  
Yeah, exactly. We can take screenshots, and we can take video recordings, which just download straight into the device's photo gallery, which is then downloadable into different reports that that might be taken into different conversations. It's a really simple process. We also attach a GPS location to the image or the video so that you can actually go back and repeat the image, if the design changes, or there's some questions from the design officers or Planning Officers about the scheme, you can actually just go back to that location, there'll be marked on a map.
 
David Taylor  
How long have you been working on it?
 
Graham McCormick  
It's been in development for probably about a year now. We've gone through various stages; there's been technical, technologically difficult moments…
 
David Taylor  
…like what?
 
Graham McCormick  
To get to get the stability of the model, to be honest. Very early on, we had the model sort of floating around and creeping on screen. So a lot of the challenge has been to really get that locked in position, because it’s really important for the trust in the application that it looks like it's in position. If it's floating around and moving, then there becomes a distrust in the system and whether or not it's accurate. We've put a lot of effort into getting that stability and we think we're now in a position where we're really happy with it.
 
David Taylor  
Is that a coding problem or a memory problem on devices? Or both?
 
Graham McCormick  
It's basically GPS. GPS is notorious - it's very good when it's good and when it's not quite working properly, it can be a little bit loose. So it's a coding problem to solve the GPS and the device's accuracy. And once we got around that, then we got that accuracy nailed in.
 
David Taylor  
So it needs a good signal on that front, does it, to work well?
 
Graham McCormick  
We use another bit of technology, which I can't go into too much detail, but we sort of validate the GPS with other data. And we have actually given ourselves accuracy thresholds. We display these on screen. So when we reach a certain threshold, we basically hit Green, and we're like,Yeah, this is really accurate. We're not verified accurate, but we are very accurate. And then when that sort of slips, we move over into Amber. So we just give a visual reference that the GPS signal maybe isn't as strong as we'd like it at this point. But it's still pretty good accuracy. And then if things really take a turn, then we note it as red, just so that there's a visual cue that let's maybe try again, to re-establish a link. But we think that visual accuracy is really important. So we want to show that on screen at all times.
 
David Taylor  
It sounds really fascinating. And in a way, it's probably a really good boon to democratizing planning, in many ways. Do you think that is one of its key advantages?
 
Graham McCormick  
Yeah, we think so. I mean, again, it's taking the guesswork out. It is overlaying accurate data. And because it's a go anywhere tool, literally on site, you can be like, 'what about this side of the road?' And we go and check it. You have a poster or community day, and you have a site walk around, the community could have this in their hands and go where they want to go. And really, it doesn't have any limits in terms of location. So I think it really will help just take out that scepticism at that stage.
 
David Taylor  
Brilliant. Well, thank you for talking me through it. I'd love to have a go at it, sometime, when it moves beyond the beta stage. When do you think the full launch might be?
 
Graham McCormick  
Yeah, we're hoping to get through the next chunk of development after getting some beta feedback by October, and then hopefully launching then. But we'll be more than happy to do a demo with you and anyone else from the NLA members group to showcase it and get some extra feedback. 
 
David Taylor  
Lovely. Let's do that. 
 
Graham McCormick  
Finally, just to add, we're really excited about it. Hayes Davidson has got a history of innovating, with the advent of visualization in general, architecture, but then we pioneered the verified view methodology. This is for us an extension of that  - of our innovation heritage, really. We're constantly looking at new things, but for us at the moment, this is our next big thing, and we’re really excited about it.
 
David Taylor  
Thanks, again. That was really great. 
 
Graham McCormick  
Great, thanks a lot, David 


David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly



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