How virtual reality will dramatically redefine architecture

By Alyssa
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By: Quartz creative services

 

 

 

As we construct future buildings, we will start to see more mingling between architecture and virtual reality.

Imagine you’re a hotelier. Your newest property—let’s call it a high-end resort in the south of France—has gone into construction, but is not yet fully designed. Your firm is based in New York. The old way of designing the property would have involved several transatlantic flights and PDFs sent between you, the architecture firm, your marketing team, and any other stakeholders. Choosing the layout of the hotel rooms, making furniture selections, even just picking out materials and a color scheme, “can be a long and expensive process,” says Benoît Pagotto, a co-founder of IVR Nation.

IVR Nation is one of a few companies championing a new approach to making these kinds of architectural decisions. In the new way, clients need not fly back and forth. They simply strap on a virtual reality headset and “step into” a digital version of their new property. Once the client is there—virtually, at least—she has a spatial understanding of how a furniture layout feels, or how a floorboard material meshes with the textiles chosen for bedding. Without leaving the VR experience, the client can make changes and collaborate with her partners in real time. What once took weeks can now happen in an afternoon. “It’s a real game changer for what the architecture industry has been doing,” Pagotto says.

VR is a place
Architects have come a long way from drafting plans on big sheets of royal blue paper with dotted white lines. The analog blueprint is, by now, practically a cartoon of an architectural rendering—but for years, they’ve still lacked the tools to bring their work into the third dimension. Most architects today will use CAD software to create computer-rendered mockups of a physical space. Some will even augment them by 3D scanning a property and feeding that data into the rendering. One particularly advanced design method is called building information modeling; with BIM, architects use meta-data about projects to create interactive, digital prototypes of buildings. This allows for a new degree of precision and efficiency during the design process. But even in sophisticated BIM and CAD programs, architects and clients can only see abstracted versions of a project.

This makes architecture a particularly fitting application for VR. Technologists, filmmakers, and designers are still making sense of exactly how VR will fit into mainstream culture, but in its simplest form, VR is a place. So, too, is architecture. Pagotto and his IVR Nation co-founder, Olivier Demangel, recognized this a couple years ago and launched their studio in January 2015. Pagotto comes from the world of luxury retail design; Demangel is a veteran of the video game world. The combination is important: IVR Nation provides a service-for-hire for developers and designers, and the experience needs to simulate materials, finishes, and colors to work. To do that, IVR Nation treats 3D models a bit like video game design. Pagotto and Demangel take information from clients—either an existing 3D model or one they create from scratch based on the architect’s plan—and build the experience in Unreal Engine, a game design platform Pagotto says they chose “because it’s the most advanced in terms of photorealism.”

Hardware for our architects of the future
IVR Nation uses the Vive headset to show clients spatial renderings. Pagotto says they chose the Vive over, say, the Oculus Rift, because the Vive can track your body’s position (so if you lie down in the real world, you’ll also lie down in the virtual world) and since it comes with dedicated controllers that help users control their experience, it cuts down on common VR side effects like motion sickness.

TruVision VR, another company working at the intersection of VR and architecture, also uses the Vive. It also offers clients experiences via the Samsung Gear VR or the Oculus Rift. This is partly because TruVision has a wider sliding scale for its projects. Some clients come in at the very initial stage of design, while others come in to make some final nips and tucks, says Connor Handley-Collins, a co-founder and sales and marketing director of TruVision. Like Pagotto, Handley-Collins says these new models allow for clients to make design decisions more efficiently than in the past. That cuts down on mistakes, and therefore, costs. “For us, the biggest part of the design process is the ability to change the objects and colors in real time,” Handley-Collins says. “Before we may have looked at colors in 2D, and then you do them one way, and they’re stuck.” These efficiencies are particularly desirable for large-scale projects that will use one template to design many rooms, like micro-living units, hospitals, schools, and hotels.

Looking ahead, the ability to make these changes ahead of time will become even more powerful when they’re part of a larger, virtual decision-making process. This could include, for instance, construction worker training ahead of putting stakes in the ground. Dassault Systèmes’s Optimized Construction lets designers and build create virtual animated scenarios that act out how to use equipment, or how to handle a given terrain. Once these become available, they’ll become part of a string of VR experiences that help buildings go up more efficiently.

Right now, the design-oriented VR experiences come as services created by third-party studios like IVR Nation and Tru Vision. But Pagotto says soon, it will be a standard offering. “In the coming years architecture firms will integrate this in-house,” he says. “You can put your headset on and look directly at what you modeled.” That may be happening already: global architecture firm Gensler just launched its Gensler VR app, which combines with the Microsoft HoloLens to start showing clients work created in-house. Gensler will use the new technology to do things like adjust office layouts to encourage collaboration, move indoor infrastructure to make spaces more pleasant, and reconsider the sightlines in arenas to give sports fans the best view possible. For smaller firms like IVR Nation and Tru Vision, that could signal opportunity for consulting, or acquisition. Either way, soon, Pagotto predicts, “The whole architecture world is going to be working in real time.”

 

To discuss this and other topics about the future of technology, finance, life sciences and more, join the Future Realities discussion on LinkedIn.

This article was produced by Quartz creative services and not by the Quartz editorial staff.

Intelligent Construction: Transforming the Industry in the Digital Age

By John S.
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Excerpted from the keynote address, “Strategic Business Transformation for the Building & Construction Industry,” delivered to the BIM-MEP AUS Construction Innovation 2016 Forum on August 4, 2016 in Sydney, Australia.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: Intelligent Construction: Transforming
#AEC in the Digital Age | @bimmepaus @3DSAEC


John Stokoe CB CBE Head of Strategy EuroNorth, Dassault Systemes

John Stokoe, CB, CBE, Head of Strategy EuroNorth, Dassault Systèmes

The fourth industrial revolution – the Digital Age – is creating the drivers to transform the Construction Industry as it seeks to exploit the significant advantages to be derived from the effective and efficient use and management of data.

Industry-leading technology, developed for other sectors, is exponentially improving value and efficiency, and can be employed to propel Construction into the digital age.

This impacts not only the Construction Industry but also the logistic supply chains which support it, improving capability and skills, and contributing to the economies and construction potential of the countries involved.

The considerable amount of data which is created during the design, development, construction and utilization of the built asset, if properly configured and integrated, can be harnessed to drive value, cut costs and waste, and used to create a digital asset. This data-driven digital equivalent, when used by the end customer, can provide a dynamic platform on which to manage legacy, sustain the present and plan the future.

Effective configuration management will drive operations and ongoing maintenance, leading to an increase in the return on equity.

With Singapore as a reference, cities across the globe are getting smarter with data sources and multiple sensors connecting people, services and things, so they can engage with each other.

Bringing together infrastructure, social capital and technology fuels sustainable economic and social development, with the aim of providing better lives and urban environments for all. Cities are not just trying to be smarter, but are using technology to engineer their futures.

Cities are on an upward technology path. The construction industry, however, is not taking the same dynamic trajectory.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: “#Cities are on upward technology path;
#AEC is not taking same dynamic trajectory” -@stokoe_john

Construction itself is often an outdated, dangerous, and low-productivity industry. The Industry must start driving value and keeping pace with the development of future cities.

But steering the Construction Industry in the right direction has challenged planners for decades. This is especially true in the UK, which lags behind many countries and much of Asia for modern building practice.

Process models for construction have remained largely the same for hundreds of years.

As a stark example, though materials were very different, the construction techniques employed to build the 72-story Shard tower in London were not that different from those employed to construct St Paul’s Cathedral nearly 400 years ago. (However, St Paul’s took 35 years to build, the Shard three, so some things have improved!)

Essential transformation is emerging.

  • Automated manufacture of building components is leading to lower construction costs, improved quality, and significantly reduced waste.
  • On-site work consists of assembly of quality-assured parts, each guaranteed to be fit for purpose.
  • 3D technology has made significant inroads into architectural design and fabrication to excellent effect.

But process modeling at the construction phase is virtually non-existent. When we get it right, we will see Building Information Modeling literally take on new dimensions, at the design stage, during construction, and ultimately in building management, enabling built assets to be managed economically and effectively using real-time sensor data fed onto the platform; this breathes life into the digital equivalent.

Using shared 3D experiences to simulate cities and developments reveals potential problems that may not be seen by any other means. Overlaying data reveals new views. And it is possible, with this technology, to predict events in transport systems and hubs, in public services, in utility provisioning, and in security.

Seamlessly linking the system to financial software allows cost planning and budgetary predictability. By this means, potential problems and their outcomes can be observed, costed and fixed before they occur.

A significant business opportunity appears as this scientific approach is extended into the supply chain.

When collaborative practices, which have powered other industries into innovation, are applied to building, they produce stunning results.

A construction supply chain, sharing closed data, can have a major positive impact on the time and cost to deliver a project, adding value to the overall process.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: “Sharing closed data w/#AEC supply chain = major impact
on project time & cost” @stokoe_john @bimmepaus @3DSAEC

Many building projects overrun and outspend their budgets by more than 20% and end in expensive and wasteful litigation.

Between concept and delivery of a finished building lie the stages of design and engineering, contracts, bids and awards, fabrication and construction.

Each stage is fraught with risk, and stakeholders’ risk in a building project of any kind can be more than financial. Buildings define their locations and neighborhoods; people have emotional attachments to them.

Much of this risk can be reduced when clients, architects, contractors, communities and stakeholders work on the same current unified knowledge platform, where guesswork and misinterpretation are removed, and open yet secure collaborative integration is a given.

Litigation at, during, or after a construction project is commonly the result of poor communication between systems and people.

Errors with building components and services are expected, and usually occur, but are absolutely avoidable.

Simply unifying the change order system on a building project allows people to work collaboratively. They have access to the current status of the building and its information. This enables better informed strategic and tactical decision making at all stages and virtually eliminates errors caused by wrong or superseded instructions being acted upon.

In summary, technology can forever change the popular perception of the Construction Industry as one which is labor-intensive, wasteful, costly, and financially and physically risky.

A dynamic, effective, high-value Construction Industry will attract investment and become an economic driver.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: “An effective Construction Industry can be
an economic driver” -@stokoe_john @3DSAEC #AEC

Effective configuration management will drive operations and ongoing services and maintenance, leading to an increase in return on equity, and the ability to compete more effectively in a demanding industrial and economic climate, leading in turn to national economic growth able to withstand global economic shocks, as well as expanding job opportunity and stimulating economic activity and increased GDP growth.

Integrated and configured data on a dynamic business experience platform gives the politician, the business leader, the developer, and the people who are forging global and national economies, a window into their world – a window into what might be as they shoulder the legacy of the past, manage the reality of the present, and shape the vision of the future.


MEMKO and Dassault Systèmes' Exhibit at the 2016 BIM-MEP AUS Construction Innovation Forum

MEMKO and Dassault Systèmes’ booth at the 2016 BIM-MEP AUS Construction Innovation Forum

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: Intelligent Construction: Transforming
#AEC in the Digital Age | @bimmepaus @3DSAEC


Related Resources

Collaborative, Industrialized Construction

Design for Fabrication Industry Solution Experience: Connect Your Design Data from Concept to Delivery

Optimized Construction Industry Solution Experience: Eliminate Waste and Increase Profits

How drones are helping Japan overcome a labor shortage

By Catherine
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By Catherine Bolgar

The “i-Constructioninitiative was unveiled last December by Keiichi Ishii, Japan’s minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism. Its goal is a 50% increase in construction workers’ productivity. Japan’s labor force is projected to decline to 56.8 million in 2030 due to a shrinking population, down 14% from 2010, and automation is seen as a strong solution.

The program mostly involves developing standards for integrating information and communications technology (ICT) with the construction industry. The new technology is being developed by the private sector.

Komatsu Ltd., a large Japanese construction company, is leading the charge. With experienced bulldozer pilots in scarce supply, Komatsu three years ago started looking for ways to make the job easier.

“Bulldozers move earth to get the foundation ready,” explains Christian Sanz, founder and chief executive of Skycatch Inc., a San Francisco company that uses its own specialized drones to create extremely accurate land surveys, which is working with Komatsu. “To do that, you need a really skilled pilot to cut the earth.”

With real-time, digitized 3D data about the volume and shape of the dirt, the bulldozers can be highly automated.

What is removed from the equation is how experienced the pilot has to be,” Mr. Sanz says.

Completely robotic trucks and equipment already are at work in Australian mines, but for safety reasons, the Komatsu bulldozers continue to have a person in the cabin. Automation allows less-experienced pilots to execute complex maneuvers and experienced pilots to do them even faster, vastly improving productivity.

Skycatch drones work in two ways. First, drones gather data to generate surveys of the site. A traditional survey done by humans takes about two weeks to complete on a typical construction site. Skycatch can do the same work in four to six hours, and the resulting data can be communicated to automate bulldozers.

In addition, objects, such as trees or construction equipment, on the job site have to be removed before human surveys—a labor-intensive process that can take another week. Software can remove such objects for digitized surveys.

The survey process usually is done twice, once before work starts and then a refresh after the machines have started cutting the earth. That means the drones can speed up work by over a month.

Skycatch’s drones and technology can deliver surveys that are accurate to between one and three centimeters. “You need accuracy within centimeters in order to automate,” Mr. Sanz says. “Our margin of error is almost zero. Human surveys are extremely accurate and reliable, but they take two weeks on average.”

Surveyors can map a few hundred points per day, whereas Skycatch drones can survey a few million points in about 15 minutes.

While Skycatch makes its own surveying drones, it also can use its software to enable other drones that have the ability to collect imagery with GPS and create survey images, but at accuracies of 10 centimeters to 15 centimeters.

Komatsu compares the digital surveys with engineers’ completion drawings, which also have been converted to 3D, in order to calculate the precise area and volume of earth to be moved. Then, the data is used to run simulations of each stage of work.

Komatsu also uses fleets of Skycatch drones to gather information during digging, in order to guide the bulldozers, in what Komatsu calls Smart Construction. Conventional bulldozer pilots follow small wooden stakes planted in the ground, but Smart Construction bulldozers don’t need stakes.

The future of drones in construction isn’t in building, but in gathering data to give machines eyes, Mr. Sanz says. “Drones will never pick up something as heavy as a boulder and move it somewhere,” he says. “The visibility and accuracy of automated machines moving things is what drones will be able to create.”

The construction industry tends to be conservative, he says. “People are married to the old way of doing things. But having i-Construction become the standard in Japan is going to force every company to move in that direction.”

Japan’s i-Construction initiative is a good model for other countries, he says, by differentiating regulation of drones for commercial use—such as construction—from consumer use. The regulations will set requirements for accuracy, cameras on drones, equipment validation and quality of data to ensure quality and safety.

As for the future of drones in construction, the sky’s the limit. “Komatsu has a vision for 10 to 20 years that will blow people’s minds,” Mr. Sanz says.

 

Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe, now working as a freelance writer and editor with WSJ. Custom Studios in EMEA. For more from Catherine Bolgar, along with other industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion on LinkedIn.

Photos courtesy of iStock



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