2d de­sign is dead, long live VR AND AR

Vir­tual and aug­mented re­al­ity are shak­ing up the ar­chi­tec­ture i ndus­try, Con­text Ar­chi­tects manag­ing di­rec­tor Stephen Voyle says. But de­sign­ers shouldn’t worry – it means bet­ter build­ings faster and a more demo­cratic way of work­ing.

Idealog - - SECTION -

The first time peo­ple strap on a VR head­set, they’re amazed by the way they can walk into a dig­i­tally cre­ated environment, move around it and see re­al­is­tic tex­tures and light­ing.

Clients, col­leagues and peers are knocked out by what we can do with vir­tual re­al­ity and aug­mented re­al­ity (VR and AR). And by we, I mean the ar­chi­tec­tural pro­fes­sion.

Last week, a visi­tor to our VR lab told me it’s the most ex­cited she’s been by tech­nol­ogy since the first Star Wars movie. Vir­tual re­al­ity does have some­thing of the zeit­geisty wow-fac­tor of a sci-fi block­buster.

So peo­ple look at me side­ways when I say VR and AR are just get­ting started. And when I start talk­ing about how they will change the ar­chi­tec­tural pro­fes­sion in ways that peo­ple haven’t thought of and aren’t talk­ing about yet.

Let me be clear: I be­lieve VR and AR will change ar­chi­tec­ture for the bet­ter. It will democra­tise de­sign and help end the myth that good de­sign has to be ex­pen­sive.

It is trans­form­ing the way we work with clients, stake­hold­ers and the con­struc­tion in­dus­try. It’s de­mys­ti­fy­ing the process, strip­ping away our trap­pings of mystery and our opaque lan­guage of mass­ing and ma­te­ri­al­ity.

Think about the way ar­chi­tects have al­ways worked with clients. We magic up free­hand sketches, but then pro­duce plans and el­e­va­tions that most peo­ple can’t imag­ine as real three-di­men­sional places.

As ar­chi­tects, we’ve learnt to see how these el­e­ments come to­gether to make build­ings. We don’t al­ways see that our clients can’t al­ways imag­ine that too with the same ac­cu­racy.

We re­quire them to make a bit of a leap of faith. To trust us to de­liver some­thing they’d be happy with two years down the road. We’d ask them to gam­ble a size­able in­vest­ment that we’d pro­duce a place they’d love and would de­liver on their driv­ers.

Ar­chi­tec­ture sold – and sells – a dream. But it’s a dream that can hold a lot of re­al­ity: a few wrin­kles in the fan­tasy fab­ric and things can go awry, with views not quite how they looked on the artist’s im­pres­sion or apart­ments with ceil­ings not quite as ex­pan­sive as they seemed on the page.

In the past, clients lived with this process be­cause we guarded the mys­ter­ies of the tem­ple. Vir­tual and aug­mented re­al­ity changes that.

Clients can now see ex­actly what we see. If they feel the walk­way’s too nar­row as they stroll through their vir­tu­ally re­alised devel­op­ment, they’ll let you know.

Some ar­chi­tects might see this as a blow for the pro­fes­sion. An end to the ar­chi­tect’s role as the con­jurer of forms. A sor­cerer rel­e­gated to the role of a screen jockey. I per­son­ally think it will re­vi­talise

It means we can rein­vent ar­chi­tec­ture as a highly creative ser­vice i ndus­try, as well as an art form. Which i s re­ally what i t should al­ways have been: a pro­fes­sion that col­lab­o­ra­tively pro­duces beau­ti­ful places for peo­ple to l i ve and work well.

and en­hance ar­chi­tec­ture.

It means we can rein­vent ar­chi­tec­ture as a highly creative ser­vice in­dus­try, as well as an art form. Which is re­ally what it should al­ways have been: a pro­fes­sion that col­lab­o­ra­tively pro­duces beau­ti­ful places for peo­ple to live and work well.

This will be the real im­pact of VR and AR de­sign tech­niques: an aug­mented re­al­ity that lets peo­ple see and ex­pe­ri­ence a dig­i­tal build­ing in place, on a real site.

Think of the time-con­sum­ing vi­tal con­sul­ta­tion process for large projects and con­sul­ta­tions with users, the lo­cal com­mu­nity, dis­cus­sions with plan­ners and au­thor­i­ties. VR gives us a way to achieve a faster process with bet­ter, more mean­ing­ful en­gage­ment.

A group of stake­hold­ers will be able to gather on a real site, like the 29 hectare site that will be carved out of the Unitec cam­pus to pro­vide 4,000 new Auck­land homes.

The pro­posed build­ings ma­te­ri­alise in front of them and they can walk the vir­tual streets, en­ter the houses, and even climb the stairs and check out the view from the back bed­room.

Ar­chi­tects can hear their ques­tions and feed­back first hand and ex­plain de­sign de­ci­sions, and maybe even mod­ify them. They can show how mak­ing gar­dens big­ger can mean fewer green streets, and no space for cy­cle paths and less ob­tru­sive park­ing.

VR also makes us de­sign bet­ter. In the past, it was pos­si­ble to over­look nig­gly de­tails to be re­solved as the build­ings took shape. A nipped win­dow width here, a tucked gut­ter there.

Vir­tual build­ings, which is what we call our ap­proach, means that de­tails have to be re­solved early on, but it’s eas­ier to iron out the wrin­kles be­cause you can see them. You’ll feel that the ceil­ing height isn’t right. You can agree con­struc­tion de­tails with a pre­fab­ri­ca­tor – VR de­sign en­ables the pre­ci­sion that off­site con­struc­tion re­quires – or con­trac­tor long be­fore muddy boots con­nect with damp con­crete.

This means bet­ter out­comes and fewer ex­pen­sive mis­takes, which should trans­late into higher stan­dards for all homes, in­clud­ing for the ones that cost $2,500 a square me­tre – which is where the de­sign de­tails have to work hard­est – not just the $15,000 per square me­tre state­ment houses. This mat­ters be­cause ev­ery­one de­serves a good, well-de­signed home.

And the de­sign tools will keep get­ting bet­ter. The soft­ware and hard­ware is de­vel­op­ing fast. At the mo­ment, you still have to do a lit­tle cus­tom knit­ting to turn a vir­tual build­ing model into con­vinc­ing, im­mer­sive VR ex­pe­ri­ences, but this is chang­ing.

This year, Mi­crosoft and Trim­ble, the com­pany that owns SketchUp, launched a hard­hat with a built-in 3D pro­jec­tor. Con­struc­tion work­ers can see 3D en­gi­neer­ing draw­ings over­laid on a phys­i­cal environment. Science fic­tion made tradie science-fact.

Bright peo­ple are trans­fer­ring skills from the game devel­op­ment and movie in­dus­tries into vi­su­al­i­sa­tion. We have sev­eral gamers on the team at Con­text Ar­chi­tects.

How­ever the tech­nol­ogy plays out, I be­lieve VR and AR is good for ar­chi­tects and good for the peo­ple who live in the build­ings they de­sign. And when it comes to the im­pact of vir­tual and aug­mented re­al­ity on ar­chi­tec­ture, as the song says, we ain’t seen noth­ing yet.

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