by Michael Mortensen, MA MCIP, RPP – a Vancouver Developer & Planner Abroad |

From afar in London UK I’ve watched with great interest the evolution of Vancouver’s nascent Urbanarium, both online and in it’s physical venue at the Museum of Vancouver. It’s been the longtime vision of many people including, most notably, former City of Vancouver Director of Planning Ray Spaxman.
I am planning to move back this year to work on the unfolding story of Vancouver and its Region, so it’s great to see the level of interest in the Urbanarium take off as it has with the latest series of debates. My only regret is that I can’t be there quite yet!


London’s Urbanarium at the NLA

What I can share from here is a bit about London’s Urbanarium, which is curated by an organization called New London Architecture at “The Building Centre” at 26 Store Street, London WC1E 7BT. It is well worth the visit if you are ever over this side of the Atlantic.


Some stats on the NLA’s scale model:

  • 1:2000 scale model, meticulously 3D printed in a series of panels
  • 12.5 metres-long and covers 85 square kilometres (19 of London’s 32 Boroughs)
  • contains 170,000 buildings
  • 34km of the Thames River
  • stretches from King’s Cross in the north to Peckham in the south and the Royal Docks in the east to Old Oak Common in the west.

The model and related displays are very informative. A computer projector beams information onto the model, covering a variety of themes. All around is exhibition space with a regularly changing series of displays.


The New London Architecture Program

From this base, New London Architecture runs a full time program of lectures, workshops and exhibitions on the evolution of Greater London. The NLA also hosts a variety of urban interest groups, and the space is often rented out by design and development firms for various meetings which must help them cover costs.


NLA 100 New Ideas for Housing Competition

As an example of a recent event that may be of interest to Vancouverites, the NLA hosted “1oo New Ideas for Housing” focusing on the supply and affordability of housing in the UK’s massively under-supplied primate city. Each of the 100 ideas is captured in the linked document. Many are incremental and iterative – additions to existing  buildings for example. Others would bring new scale and intensity to the City.
Supply is a big problem in the UK – and as I have mentioned before, little Vancouver builds more units every year than London does.


Best regards from London.

The first post from Michael, who will be guest editor this week.


  1. Thx for this. I discovered the London ‘Urbanarium’ by chance last week after a visit to the Royal Institute of British Architects. It is well worth a visit, although I’m told many if its exhibits and publications are on-line. Saves schlepping them home…like I’m foolishly doing!

  2. MM – thank you for this as well. The book is very interesting and I intend to read it more thoroughly at another time. My immediate comment is, you should have entered your “new Vancouver Special” concept in this thing!

  3. Actually Frank, on the design side, I think we could have entered “Vancouverism” … they need scale – humanized scale – here in London to address a 300,000 unit shortfall over the last 10 years! Intensity with commensurate liveability. The kind of projects you worked on at the City in our time there.
    And on the housing policy side, the UK needs to address systemic issues that are not addressed in the 100 ideas. For example, they could reform the land and property purchase process with a simple binding agreement of purchase and sale like we have in Canada [and in Scotland] because the existing process is too long, too uncertain, tilted in favour of the seller. They could implement a “specific performance” legal system that binds purchasers to their contracts, and create more of a culture of pre-sales to de-risk development (currently developers build in small increments, selling off completed inventory at a slow pace, trickling supply into the market).
    It’s been fun learning a new design and development culture because it gives you a sense of what works (and does not work, or what’s missing!). Perspective tells me that Vancouver still has some good fundamentals.

  4. The model is nice, however, I notice that Paris (Pavillon arsenal) has scrapped its, to replace it with a huge 40sqm screen, displaying an interactive 3d rendering of the city,
    …With all the powerfull tool the digital rendering can offer, especially in term of diversity of viewpoint (and also go well beyond the limit of the former physical model)…
    More importantly, it is also accessible online:
    Vancouver could be well inspired to follow the same, since such tool are great to engage the public.
    Following the Paris approach, the City could also use Google earth tools to help the public to visualize the change, as for example below for the proposed Joyce Collingwood precinct rezoning:

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