London 2030: Modelling the future

Image caption Remind you of the EastEnders opening titles? Some 50,000 individual structures sprawl across the landscape

A forest of glittering new skyscrapers bristles from the City of London, the completed Olympic Park transforms the East End and the £17bn Crossrail line straddles the metropolis at last.

This is London 2030. But made entirely of Perspex.

To describe the construction of this model as painstaking is a grave understatement.

Some 50,000 individual buildings or blocks comprise the urban landscape, each meticulously crafted to scale from aerial photography.

Every street and park - not to mention the familiar curve of the Thames - has been faithfully reproduced from Ordnance Survey maps.

Image caption The Gherkin, in grey, will be dwarfed by buildings such as the pinnacle, to the left

And a total of 5,000 hours of labour by model-making firm Pipers has gone into the 12-metre-long (36ft) result.

But this is no mere indulgence - there is a definite purpose behind the creation of the model.

For alongside the familiar structures - Buckingham Palace, the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament - sits every major development given planning permission to date.

Some 500 unborn buildings are cast across the landscape, reproduced from architects' plans and blueprints.

Thus, at a glance, the observer can see London in two decades' time.

Canary Wharf dwarfed

Nick McKeogh, director of Pipers, explained: "The model was first made in 2005, in the middle of a huge building boom.

"Not since Victorian times had London seen such development.

"We thought a model would bring professionals from all the different disciplines together - architects, developers and politicians.

"But we have everybody from people interested in architecture to members of the public worried because something is going up in their back garden."

To the casual observer, the number of new skyscrapers is particularly striking.

In London's financial district the Gherkin - designed by Norman Foster - has six new partners among the clouds.

And four buildings across the miniature landscape dwarf the UK's current tallest skyscraper, Canary Wharf - despite being barely half an inch high in the model.

Observers are left in no doubt: the skyline of 2030 will be a very different sight.

Image caption Model makers used plans of future buildings such as The Shard, under construction at London Bridge

But Mr McKeogh said: "It's not Shanghai-on-Thames. There are still a huge amount of low buildings, which is a surprise to some politicians.

"A few years ago people thought everything old and low was being knocked down to make way for big towers."

Mayor of London Boris Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne are among the politicians to have studied the model.

But, according to Mr McKeogh: "It doesn't matter how famous the politician is - the first thing they all say is still, 'Oh, I used to live there'!"

'Blank canvas'

While the proliferation of skyscrapers points firmly towards the future, the mark of history is still writ large, with clues to how developments of the past were carried out.

Debbie Whitfield, director of New London Architecture, in whose galleries off Tottenham Court Road the model resides, said: "Although the model is quite simplified it's incredible what it reveals.

"It shows how the [historically] Roman walled City of London was largely built over the medieval street plan just as it was before the Great Fire of London.

"The medieval street plan informed the shape of developments that were built later."

Ms Whitfield continued: "Architects building there (the City) had to respond to very different circumstances than elsewhere in London.

"For instance you have Canary Wharf, which was a blank canvas.

"When you come out of the Tube there you could be in Tokyo - the complexity of London is its beauty."

Image caption Nick McKeogh and Debbie Whitfield admire the Olympic Park

The city's complexity can be confusing for new inhabitants.

Many new Londoners experience the epiphany of turning the corner to recognise a whole other district of London they had no idea was so close.

And for those wanting to connect up the mental jigsaw the model provides a strong rival to peering through clouds from an aeroplane window.

"It's amazing to get a feel for where things are in relation to each other," Ms Whitfield said. "Given the size of London that's pretty difficult in the street.

"It highlights that the distance between Stratford and the Square Mile is roughly equidistant to that from the Square Mile to Paddington.

"Most people tend to think of Stratford as being much further out."

The model, built to a 1:1,500 scale, is constantly updated as new developments are approved.

But will the London of 2030 be a better place? Or are developers putting profit over civic improvement?

While his pride in the model is evident, Mr McKeogh retains a healthy cynicism.

"I would not say all of these things will contribute to a better London," he mutters.

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