Technology: Virtual buildings, real solutions

By Matt Balmer
February 25, 2018

Following a visit to the tech integration Mecca that is ISE 2018, Rob Lane discusses how virtual site visits, powered by VR, are almost a reality.

February 2018

Last month, I made my annual pilgrimage to Amsterdam for Integrated Systems Europe 2018, the world’s largest technology systems integration show. The four-day event showcases the latest cutting-edge technology and solutions, and it was the biggest ISE yet, with just shy of 81,000 attendees and almost 1,300 exhibitors, packed into 53,000sq m of exhibition floor space across 15 halls.

There was much to excite Studio readers across the 15 halls, with the Smart Building hall and new XR Technology Zone the main areas of interest. Created in response to the growing importance of augmented (AR), virtual (VR), and mixed reality (MR) tech, the XR (extended reality) Tech Zone hosted ISE’s first XR Summit the day before the main event kicked off.

Italian architect Fabio D’Agnano spoke during the XR Summit and discussed VR in architecture, engineering and construction, saying it is currently going through a period of “rapid” adoption. At least two thirds of architectural practices are now experimenting with VR, according to D’Agnano, and utilising it across the design, construction and maintenance stages. He also opined that real time rendering – enabling architects and clients to do virtual site visits – is less than “a couple of years away”.

In fact, I would argue it’s already here. I recently wrote about the high-tech AVALON cave, where architects, contractors, and investors can view, evaluate, and change almost any type of 3D model, in real time within a virtual reality environment – radically changing the way the design of a building is evaluated and visualised.

A high-tech projection-based VR cave, AVALON is specifically configured for architectural applications for groups of up to eight people to experience a shared VR experience – a 3D-evaluation of buildings and solutions. Active 3D glasses create a stereoscopic image and track user movements, generating the 3D-illusion – but still allow users to see and interact with other participants whilst standing outside as well as inside virtual buildings, looking around and moving within them.

Created for Reynaers Aluminium, the Belgium-based windows and doors specialist, AVALON had to be fully immersive to work effectively. The solution was a five-sided (4.8 x 3.3 x 2.5m) LED projection-powered cave, including ceiling and floor projection. The cave required roof imagery so users could look up at the virtual architectural model, and floor projection to create the experience of standing inside or outside the model. Powerful computers handle the complex architectural models and process the real-time rendering.

Whether ISE 2019 will be able to demonstrate such a system remains to be seen, but it would certainly give D’Agnano pause for thought – and wow those of us who value the growing use of technology in building design processes.