The ARCH


Please help us build Main Street MMO!

Main Street MMO

We’re raising funds to launch Main Street MMO, and we need YOUR help as a founding supporter!      

There are so many incredible sci-fi, war games and medieval adventures available today, with amazing complexity, detail and realism.

Main Street MMO seeks to combine the fun and interactivity of video games with real cities to promote local businesses, showcase city initiatives, visualize architectural designs, and a lot more.

We need your help!

Here’s a link to our Kickstarter page where you can pledge your support for our project:
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/keystone/main-street-mmo-real-cities-in-realtime-3d

As a founding supporter of Main Street MMO, we will engrave your name in a cornerstone, add your name to the credits, name an NPC after you, or even kickstart an MMO of your city (other creative award ideas are welcome! =)

Even if you can’t afford to back the project financially, please consider sharing this within your network to help raise awareness!  Your tweets, facebook updates, and blog posts are the stuff a successful Kickstarter project is made of, so please help us spread the word!

premiere city of Dubuque Iowa

We’re just getting started! For the past year, we’ve been partnering directly with local businesses in our premiere city of Dubuque, Iowa to determine which features they feel would be most useful in a technology like this, and have compiled a list of features and functionality we believe will take this project to a new level, but we need your help!

Please consider backing Main Street MMO! Your support is very much appreciated. If you think your city would be interested in something like this, or if you have ideas for new features we should add, please get in touch with us!

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/keystone/main-street-mmo-real-cities-in-realtime-3d

Thanks SO MUCH @openingdesign @epredator  @pbroviak  Derek Barrett @samdriver and @moirah for stepping up as our first backers!  We can’t thank you enough for your support! 



Realtime Cities by Arch Virtual: Welcome to Virtual Dubuque!

Introducing Virtual Dubuque, a premiere development of our new Realtime Cities initiative by Arch Virtual, built with ArchTech Engine.

Read the full post HERE.

This new community resource will provide free and easy to access windows into interactive, customizable 3D models of cities.  To learn more about how we can build a realtime model of your city or architectural project, send us a note here.  We’re currently seeking development partners to build new features, create custom content, and build out additional architecture and cities around the world, so please send us a note to learn more.

Over the past year,we have been partnering with local businesses and organizations in Dubuque, Iowa to develop features and sponsored content, including a project in the Historic Millwork District for a local real estate developer (coming soon!), as well as the Masonic Temple, where international members of Demolay will be working with industry pioneers in developing a world-class learning environment, using Virtual Cities as its core platform.

Read the full post HERE.

“We’re harnessing the same technology used to make the latest iPad apps and XBox 360 games, but we’re not making a game, we’re building dynamic and ever-changing models of cities that are designed to serve as true community resources that can be easily accessed directly from a website,” said Jon Brouchoud, Founder of Virtual Cities.

Using ArchTech Engine and the Unity3D platform, we’re now able to transforms buildings, geography and entire cities into realtime 3D environments that are easily accessible, and can be embedded on your website, or deployed to a tablet.  These interactive models can be geo-referenced to real-world coordinates, dynamically linked to databases, and layered with interactive content.

Virtual Cities by Arch Virtual - urban planning

As visitors explore virtual cities, links to websites and additional information about nearby buildings, parks, and businesses appear automatically.  For example, when you approach a restaurant, you can click through to read their menu.  If you’re near a historic building, you can learn more about its past.  Businesses and organizations can customize and enhance their space in the virtual model, layering it with more information or interactive features.

Read the full post HERE.

Proceeds from sponsorship and custom content are then re-invested in the ongoing development of the city model, enabling Realtime Cities to add more features, build new parts of the city, and refine models with more detail.

But a virtual replica is just the beginning.

Virtual Cities by Arch Virtual - Dubquque Iowa

“If you’ve ever experienced the Voices Gallery in the Millwork District of Dubuque Iowa, for example, you’ve seen how a building can be completely re-imagined into a destination that celebrates the unique architectural character of a place, yet transcends it to become something completely unique,” said Brouchoud.

“That’s really what Virtual Dubuque, and the Realtime Cities initiative is all about.  A replica of the city as it is now will certainly have interesting use cases, but I’m looking forward to seeing how cities can be re-imagined within an environment where anything is possible.”

Read the full post HERE.

Virtual Cities for architectural visualization and urban planning

Read the full post HERE.



Introducing the ArchTech Engine: Transforming buildings, cities and geography into realtime 3D environments

[Intro video]  I am very excited to announce the launch of our new ArchTech Engine, a technology that transforms buildings, cities and geography into realtime 3D environments that are easily accessible, and can be embedded on your website, or deployed to a tablet.

Read the full post HERE

These interactive models can be geo-referenced to real-world coordinates, dynamically linked to databases, and layered with interactive content.

Transform your architectural drawings and 3D models of almost any format (including CAD and BIM) into information-rich applications that are perfect for architectural visualization, and city planning, as well as learning environments, military simulations, historical recreations, training environments and more. Students can interact within a more memorable learning environment, and achieve much greater retention over reading a textbook. All within a web browser or tablet.

Your application can be customized to suit your project’s specific needs. Make it multiplayer with voice and video communication or a single player experience and add non-player characters or an entire crowd of people to bring it to life.

To learn more about Arch Tech Engine, or to get started on your own project, visit www.archtechengine.com Arch Tech Engine is built on the Unity3D, and was developed in partnership between Arch Virtual and Tipodean Technologies.

Read the full post HERE



Barack Obama’s ‘Kansas to Cairo’ vision being realized in Second Life

Cross-posted from the ARCH Network main site!

During President Obama’s historic speech at Cairo University in Egypt last June, he describe a vision to, “invest in online learning for teachers and children around the world; and create a new online network, so a young person in Kansas can communicate instantly with a young person in Cairo.”

If you’ve spent any time in a virtual world at all, you know that the ‘online network’ Obama described doesn’t need to be created, it already exists.  Students don’t merely use it to ‘communicate,’ as they would in a phone call or web conference, they are able to discover new cultures, make new friends, learn, and collaborate on a very deep level inside of an immersive environment where geography is completely irrelevant.

Visionaries like Dr. Amr Attia from Cairo’s Ain Shams University and California-based architect David Denton, have volunteered countless hours to organize this project, with modest support pledged from the United States Department of State to realize Obama’s ‘Kansas to Cairo’ vision – a project they first discussed at a panel hosted by the State Department last June (read more about this architectural panel held in Second Life on america.govor watch video coverage here).

Using Second Life, architecture students in Egypt and the U.S. are working together side by side, collaborating on design concepts inside the realtime, 3D, virtual world – even though they are physically located on opposite sides of the planet.  In the screenshot below, I am interviewing some of the students from Cairo, who proudly opened a variety of 3D models they had been working on, one after another, right before my eyes.  As we walked together through their design ideas, I realized that this moment was Saturday for me, Sunday for them, and we were 6,200 miles apart – yet sharing the same space, at the same time.  I felt sure that I was witnessing a phenomenon with world changing potential, and the students certainly agree.

One of the Egyptian architecture students, Mohammed Ahmed Alfiky, had this to say about it:

“This Second Life project is helping me make direct contact with other students of a different culture, a different architectural school and different way of thinking.  It will inspire me to make more effective designs, and critique my work from a different point of view.”

The U.S. Department of State has offered funding to bring several of the Egyptian students to the U.S. – a prospect that obviously has the students very excited.

During several visits to their space in Second Life, I have had the good fortune of talking with some incredibly bright and enthusiastic students from both Egypt and the U.S.   It is difficult to describe just how excited they are about this project – so I’ll borrow quotes directly from them so they can say it in their own words:

“Imagine all of this put together …. collaboration and group work on an international scale, dealing with a whole different culture , language and view of life.  Over and above getting to master the use of the virtual world as a tool to make your fantasies become a reality… I think this is what the Kansas to Cairo project offers us new ideas, new tools, and a better percetion of life and of future work in architecure and urban planning.” – Hebatullah Aly Ghali

“After working with 3DS Max for 5yrs , I found Second Life to be an easy new tool for architecture visualization, where I can represent myself, my work, my culture and my country.  In education, it helps anybody learn –  anytime, anywhere.  In general, Second Life is drawing a new future for exchanging, learning, collaborating, working and connecting people of all ages.”   – Sayed Abdul Mohsen

“I think Second Life is a great public participation tool as it is easy that anyone can use it .” -Amr Mohamed Abdelaal

“I think that Second Life is a platform for collaboration that breaks down cultural barriers and designing in it is a constructive path to narrow the division between eastern and western societies.” – Salma Muhammad.

Where other architectural educators await a safety net of case studies before they begin exploring virtual worlds in architectural education, here we can see pioneers at work in this space – demonstrating that there really is nothing to wait for.

As we witness a project that has achieved President Obama’s vision verbatim, it seems clear to me that this project deserves every bit of the same support and attention given to the multitude of other million-dollar programs described in similar speeches – yet the support has been relatively minimal thus far, amounting to travel stipends for a few students.  When I interviewed architect David Denton about the project, he expressed similar concerns.

“I’m enormously appreciative of the support that has been pledged, but I feel very strongly that this is a program that is of tremendous benefit, and that more resources should be made available to create an expanded ongoing program that would include many universities, in both the United States and in other countries around the world.”

I agree, and I can’t imagine why a project with so much potential wouldn’t be able to secure greater support.  David adds,

“I’m hoping to drum up support to get that funding increased.  Surely the Obama administration can find a way to be more supportive financially with the project that was announced in a major international speech in Cairo by the President.”

With no other visible projects on the table to carry Obama’s promise forward, I’m hopeful that they will be able to find the support they need to successfully complete this project, and send a message that this wasn’t an empty promise.  Even though this project has only just begun, it is easy to tell that it is already changing the lives and opening doors for many of the students involved with the project.  Virtual worlds offer a tremendous opportunity for cross-cultural, international collaboration between schools of architecture, and this program is definitely worth far greater support than it has achieved so far.

Obama concluded his famous Cairo speech with this thought that I think is particularly relevant here.

“I want to particularly say, to young people of every faith and every country: YOU of all people have the ability to re-imagine the world; to remake this world”.

Visit their virtual studio in Second Life sometime, and see a group of passionate students doing just that.

Cross-posted from the ARCH Network main site!



Hanging up the old shoehorn: Stunning realtime multi-user architectural visualization in a web browser

Are browser-based virtual environments the way of the future for virtual design visualization?   Here is a brief overview of 4 of the many emerging platforms or related services to watch, and some thoughts about how they fit into the bigger picture of virtual worlds and architecture.

I’ll start with MellaniuM.  I’ve been following MellaniuM’s work with the Unreal platform for quite a while now, and continue to be impressed,  especially with some of their newest demos using Nortel’s web.alive platform.    In addition to architectural visualization, they offer many additional application areas including GIS, education, medicine, entertainment, archeology, film making and more.

MellaniuM can take CAD models, and import them into the Unreal game engine where they tweak and refine the build to satisfaction.  Unreal includes a built-in editor (I found a video of that editor here), but it isn’t anything like SL’s building tools and probably not very useful as a modeling environment.  After they’ve situated the build properly inside of Unreal, they turn it over to Nortel – who then enables browser-based realtime access to the model.  Here is a case study of an apartment building imported by MellaniuM:

I was very impressed with my first experience inside the web.alive platform after visiting one of their first builds.  It was eLounge for Lenovo (accessed here).  Before my visit, I had to install a plug-in, and download the environment (totaling over 80 mb – not exactly ‘thin’), but found the installation process to be relatively seamless.  It did freeze my browser twice before I got it to work, and I had to close my other apps so it would run faster, but it wasn’t a show stopper by any means.

Soon I was standing inside the eLounge, and a sales person walked over to me and asked if I needed any help – in crystal clear voice!  I had yet to go through any voice setup, so I doubted my own voice would be heard, but it came through very clearly – with no hassle whatsoever.  I probed around the build, asking the sales staff about the architecture of the space (which was quite interesting, actually!).  There were at least 6 others there with me, and more were dropping in every few minutes.  This was the day after they launched, so it may not be typical of daily traffic.  Here is a video showing a preview of the space – though I strongly recommend checking it out in person:

Here is another example from MellaniuM – this one showing the Theatre of Pompey and the Titanic:

There are some questions around whether or not the web.alive team can survive the rounds of Nortel layoffs, after they filed for bankruptcy protection last month.   But industry confidence in this platform is strong, so perhaps there is reason to believe it will remain a viable (although you never can tell).

The experience offered by web.alive is comparable to what 3Dxplorer offers, which uses Java (already installed on many computers) to enable a virtual experience inside a browser.  I had similar experiences in both platforms, with a few browser crashes and a plug-in to download (I didn’t have the most current version of Java installed)- but the experiences were equally impressive.  I have also been following the work of Dave Elchoness with great interest for the past few years – since meeting him in Second Life at his impressive VRWorkplace build, and subsequently on to his work with GoWeb3D using 3Dxplorer.  Here is a brief demo of 3Dxplorer:

Unity3D is another player in this arena, offering what might be the most stunning graphics and easiest loading.  It has yet to crash my browser, and only took a few minutes to load.  They do seem focused almost exclusively on games, and game-like environments – but some of the demos like the one seen HERE certainly makes it seem viable as a tool for architectural visualization.  This short video describes a few of the additional features built into the Unity3D platform.

Then there is ExitReality, that claims to bring “the entire web to 3D” by transforming any existing 2D website into 3D.    It appears as though they are focused primarily on offering this 3D website as their core service set, and those environments (to the best of my knowledge) can only be ‘edited’ by everyday users insofar as you can drag and drop content – essentially decorating the space with found or pre-established libraries of objects.  The other part of their offering appears to be customized, developer-driven spaces – like the now famous Carl’s Jr. 3D website.  Here is an example of ExitReality in action:

It doesn’t appear as though they are specifically interested in offering this platform for architectural visualization, but I understand the standards upon which it is built could certainly be applied toward that end.  For example, applications built using the X3D standard can certainly be custom generated, but I still don’t fully understand the workflow, costs or interface between my CAD file and an X3D-based environment.  The good news is that I’ve been told there is an exciting new project coming soon – specifically related to architectural visualization – built on open standards, which I hope to be writing about soon.

So what can we conclude from these examples?

First off, working with platforms like this requires a certain disconnect between the architect and the virtual model.  There are, in almost every case, at least 1 or 2 parties between you and your model, and they each charge some kind of fee for portability beyond hosting.  In many cases, there remains a kind of mystery around the cost and process involved and each project usually requires a new estimate, similar to the way an architectural illustrator works.

This is quite a bit different than the Second Life or openSim based use-cases for architects and designers.  Though it may be far clunkier and more time consuming, the SL environment functions in a way that architects are familiar with – such as sketches, or cardboard study models, where the designer works on it for a while -takes a step back – works on it some more – gets some feedback – modifies it again, rinse repeat.   You can’t ‘sketch’ with these platforms, and you can’t design as you build.

There also isn’t any strong, central, cross-disciplinary and diverse community to speak of.   Not the way we know it in Second Life and in some of the emerging OpenSim-based grids anyway.  Second Life isn’t just a tool – its a place.  In that place, there are hundreds of thousands of real people – from every conceivable profession.  Gathering quality feedback around design ideas, and being able to explore other people’s ideas and share your own has significant value.  Again, I’m not talking about a perfected and polished final model – but a schematic design, or a design concept.  On a moment’s notice, you can teleport in a dozen colleagues from around the world for an on-the-spot critique of an idea – and you can work out criticism and feedback using realtime modeling tools.  You still can’t easily do that anywhere else.

For similar reasons, these platforms aren’t suited as well for the many facets of architectural education either, other than to explore design precedents and existing architectural masterpieces (which I think has huge potential).  But as far as teaching design itself, the elegance of the simple in-world building tools you find in Second Life are ideal for architectural education – requiring a careful examination of the fundamentals of form, space and order.  Realtime modification and collaboration are key to education as well – which you understandably won’t find in these platforms (yet).

There is also something to be said for the browser crashes I experienced in almost every one of these platforms.  They were definitely insignificant, and I got past it quickly – but I tried almost all of them on 2 different computers, and had pretty much the same experience each time.  Please trust that I’ve grown accustomed to crashes and client challenges over the years – but its one thing to have a separate application crash, and another to have your browser crash.  After all these years of wishing SL could run inside a web browser, I’m starting to realize that – unless it can be razor thin and super stable, I don’t want anything tampering with my browser experience!  That’s where my e-mail and blogs are – and a few other tabs I’ve left open for later reading but haven’t bookmarked yet.  Its somehow a lot more disturbing when my browser crashes rather than another application.  Another nice thing is that when SL gets laggy or crashy I can flip back to my browser for a while and read e-mails, etc. while I wait for things to clear up.  When your browser crashes, you’re left with nothing.  Then you restart and realize the same 3D-world tab was auto-saved and trying to restart itself again – bogging down everything else while you wait even longer. This is a petty complaint, I know – but if I have to download 90 mb worth of content and a proprietary plug-in anyway – is it really necessary that it live inside my browser?

I still think there will be certain types of architectural visualization that will be perfectly suited to this kind of technology, but I think it will remain feasible only for more polished presentations of architectural designs – after the design has been finalized and ready for public consumption (for the time being anyway).  As such, this is not necessarily something an architecture firm would want to be continuously porting to as a design development tool.

I also don’t think we can expect to see mass adoption of this technology by the AEC industry, especially architects, given that they tend to be notoriously conservative.  In this tough economic climate that has left the profession gasping for air, with architects being laid off in droves, the profession doesn’t need better visualization tools – it needs to be re-invented.  Architects and designers who are privy to this generation’s new and increasingly open way of practicing are already sharing ideas and collaborating in new and unprecedented ways.   There is a community network within SL and spreading throughout the whole of web 2.0 that is re-molding and re-shaping the future of their profession – whether the profession knows it yet or not.  They aren’t just looking for ways to prototype the buildings they create, they are prototyping the profession itself.

That said, I see browser-based platforms like web.alive, 3Dxplorer, Unity3D and ExitReality as exciting and unprecedented opportunities for visualizing architectural designs from within an easy-to-access web browser application.  However, I don’t really see any of these as as an all-out replacement or competitor to the way architects and designers use Second Life, since it isn’t a valid comparison.   The offerings fit into entirely different phases in the design development timeline.  In its current state, this kind of technology lives at the very end of the design development cycle – at the point where architects must choose the most effective means of unveiling a design concept to their clients – and for clients to unveil a design to the public.  This is generally the province of illustration artists, who would otherwise offer prescriptive 3D illustrations or animations.

Second Life was never designed or intended to be useful as a professional visualization tool for architects, and attempts to shoehorn designs into that platform (one prim at a time) continue to come up short.  Its value becomes most apparent in other facets of professional practice – not just in final design visualization.   We can’t forget that, until now, there were no other options for multi-user, realtime virtual experience of a design concept.  That seems like more of a cause to be grateful than disappointed, imho.  Those who attempted it within SL, did so as a proof of concept when no other option existed – and enjoyed the many benefits it afforded.  Consider Virtual Palomar West as one example:

Like Caleb Booker pointed out in a recent post:

“the hospitals and hotels built in Second Life as proofs of concepts were great and worthwhile. Tangible return on investment in the form of fast prototyping, where designers could solicit large amounts of feedback from a wide range of users, definitely served to improve those projects.”

In sum, I think browser-based visualization platforms have opened 2 exciting new lanes of travel on the bridge between virtual worlds and architecture:  3D model import from CAD, and easy multi-user realtime access to those models within a browser.  However, they did so with a trade-off.  I think architects and designers would do best to leverage the full spectrum of opportunity afforded by virtual environments of all types, and avoid abandoning one set of limitations for another.



Announcing Architecture Days on Orange Island

“In our discovery of the aspects that influence the most the residents life, we decided to focus on a topic that is at heart of the our experience in Second Life: Architecture.

From Monday 17th to Wednesday 21st, join us on the Orange Island for the Architecture Days. We will have promising panels dotted with talk-show, show&tell, class and demo.”

Count me in!  Learn more here: http://www.orange-island.com/?p=1114



Be2Camp Starting Soon! Exploring Web 2.0 and the Built Environment
Exploring Web 2.0 and the Built Enviornment

Exploring Web 2.0 and the Built Enviornment

Be2camp is free to register and free to attend , and will be starting in just a few hours!  This will be a BarCamp style ‘Unconference’ to promote the use of Web 2.0 technologies in the Built Environment (eg Architecture, Construction, Engineering, Facilities Management industries.  More info here: http://be2camp.ning.com/

If all goes well, we will have a live stream on both Architecture Island and Public Works Island.  If not, you can watch it on the web live at: http://be2camp.ning.com/page/page/show?id=2236538%3APage%3A2388