A comprehensive study and mapping undertaken by Allies and Morrison for Historic England has won a 2017 RIBA President’s Award for Research. Taking the prize in the Cities and Community Category, the London Local Character and Density study uses geospatial mapping and analysis to uncover a detailed understanding of London’s local character.

The research suggests that the long-standing assumption of London’s three broad character types – central, urban and suburban – is actually much more complex. It identifies new character types reflecting the unique and extensive history of London. These newly understood categories include designations such as Georgian planning and growth, Victorian suburbs, medieval market towns and high road edges, introducing a more sophisticated understanding of London’s places. The research reveals that many of London’s most historic areas can contribute to intensification without having to lose their character.

A key output has been the production of a London-wide character map illustrating this complexity, which has been incorporated into the recently unveiled Draft London Plan; citing this work, the Draft Plan calls for character – alongside a more granular understanding of density –  to play a bigger role in planning for future development.

The project’s significance could also reverberate beyond London. The research methodology and mapping process is one that could be applied to other cities, especially those with long histories and good baseline data available, to assist them in accommodating urban development in ways that are more sustainable and accommodating to their heritage assets.