The ARCH


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.

Advertisements


Customer-Created Design: Virtual reality and realtime design enables seniors to design their own community spaces

There’s a fantastic snippet in this video, about 2 minutes and 58 seconds in, that does a great job of capturing the spirit of this project.  This is a group of senior citizens looking at the virtual world of Second Life projected on a wall in front of them, and you can hear the almost visceral reaction the group has to watching their suggested design changes to a new senior living community take shape before their eyes.

Read the rest of this post and view the machinima at our new site, HERE.

A single window was turned into a glass wall, which suddenly lets in more light, and opened up more views to the outside.  The impact of this design change was immediately evident to everyone in this session, which was held simultaneously in a conference room in Madison, Wisconsin as well as a platform in the sky above Architecture Island in Second Life.

My long-time friend and colleague, Derrick Van Mell, of Van Mell Associates, had recently introduced me to Rita Giovannoni, CEO of Independent Living, and we sat down at a coffee shop for a quick demo of Second Life. Derrick had been following my interest in virtual worlds since the very beginning, and knew Rita was interested in a fresh perspective on the design process for her next project.  Having led construction of 3 previous senior living facilities, and entering the early design planning for a 4th facility, she was eager to find a unique approach to design.

Read the rest of this post and view the machinima at our new site, HERE.

I opened Second Life on my laptop, and walked my avatar into an empty virtual room. So far, so good, but Rita looks hesitant. Inside, my avatar reaches up and slowly starts lowering the ceiling down until it’s hovering just above his head. “That’s way too enclosed and claustrophobic! We don’t want that.” Rita immediately reacts.  I then slowly raised the ceiling up higher. “That’s too high – it looks too institutional.” I lowered it half-way down, until it was “just right.” We went through other parts of the building, and similarly modified the design in realtime, until it was all “just right.” Rita immediately recognized that this was not only a truly unique way to visualize design ideas, but also an opportunity to actively engage others in the design process itself.  We started brainstorming ways Independent Living might be able to invite prospective residents to participate in designing their new facility.

We decided to work with focus groups of prospective residents who were considering a move into a facility like the one Independent Living would soon be building. We invited Jim Gersich, Partner-in-Charge at Dimension IV Madison Design Group, which has a lot of experience with designing senior living facilities, and he offered to host the session in his studio’s conference room.  We projected Second Life onto a wall, and invited the group to imagine how they would like the new facility to feel and function. I had been concerned that the virtual modeling might cause some motion sickness, or may even be just too silly to take seriously as a design medium, but there was no hesitation with this group, they got it immediately.

Read the rest of this post and view the machinima at our new site, HERE.

The movable ceiling trick was all it took to get their attention.  It never ceases to amaze me how strong of a reaction people have to watching my avatar slowly being enclosed by a lower and lower ceiling.  They can literally feel the difference it’s making to the way the space feels.  Therein lies the whole idea behind this endeavor – to use virtual reality to immerse people in a simulated environment, where they can immediately see and feel the impact of design ideas in 3D as the discussion unfolds, in realtime.  What’s more is that they can actually suggest design ideas, and watch their ideas take shape before their eyes.

All of the residents did a great job providing invaluable feedback on the design of the new facility, and I think they each left with a sense of ownership in the project, having contributed to this early ideation phase.  As we prepared for this session, it was tempting to assume we knew certain things about how the design would layout, and to start preparing design solutions ahead of the focus groups.  But as we quickly learned, many of those assumptions turned out to be wrong, and this group had a lot of great ideas we would never have thought of.

Not every project is right for bringing end-users into the design conversation this way, but there are always numerous project stakeholders with a vested interest in being sure the building feels and functions exactly as they need it to.  Working within a virtual environment not only helps everyone visualize the design more holistically, but it opens up the opportunity to take steps toward getting it “just right,” and ensuring the project more closely reflects the goals of the organization.

I think one of the participants concluded the session well when she said,  “I just so appreciate that you’re willing to listen, and to get that input. Because, you could just slap up a building, and say ‘it’s for rent, take it or leave it, that’s the way it is’ – and people would do that. They do it all the time.”

If you’re interested in using virtual reality in your next design project, send us a note at info (at) archvirtual.com.

Read the rest of this post and view the machinima at our new site, HERE.



The Architecture of Healing: The Making of the Veteran-Civilian Dialogue Space in Second Life

Read the full post here: http://www.archvirtual.com/?p=3230

If only I had a Linden for every time a client asked for a meeting space or auditorium in their new sim…  The grid is saturated with auditoriums, and these vast, elaborate and often prim-intensive spaces could almost always be put to better use.  So when the ‘cats’ (founders of Startled Cat) originally described their need for a conversation space, I quietly took notes, listening carefully as they articulated their needs – waiting for a pause in the conversation to push back a little.

But as they described the project in greater detail, I realized this one was different.  This space would soon be hosting some of the deepest and potentially life-changing conversations on the grid, and the architecture of this space would need to play an integral role in organizing, nurturing and encouraging a variety of emotionally powerful experiences.   The space would be used by Intersections International to host a Second Life version of their Veteran-Civilian Dialogues (VCD), which brings together veterans and civilians in facilitated conversations around the impact of war upon both groups.  The dialogues are designed to help bridge the gap to civilian life for returning soldiers, and have proven to be life altering for those who attend.


I had just attended a presentation by the Dalai Lama here in Madison, which was hosted by The Center for Investigating Healthy Minds.  Part of the discussion, and one of the recent interests of the Center itself as it completed a new research space, involved the role and science of architecture in shaping experience, so I was especially excited to explore ways in which some of these principles might also apply to virtual modalities.  This project would be a perfect place to start.

The initial design briefing called for a central gathering space, with smaller break-out spaces surrounding it, and the first round of design concepts proposed a wide variety of styles and configurations in mini-model format.  I often find it beneficial to propose even the most far-fetched concepts, which can sometimes lead to surprising or unexpected directions (some of the really ‘out there’ concepts aren’t shown here).  In this case, the team unanimously gravitated toward the circular scheme – feeling that it was probably the most apt metaphor, concentrating the energy toward a central space with translucent spires ascending above it.

During our initial design reviews with the client and end-users of the space, a fascinating and somewhat surprising bit of feedback was brought up.  It was suggested that many veterans prefer secure spaces, and the openness of this design might actually be quite unsettling and uncomfortable for them.

One example someone shared was the fact that many veterans prefer to sit with their backs to the wall so they can more easily survey their environment.  While it might be easy to dismiss the idea that such a strong physical reaction to architectural space might also apply in a virtual environment, it has long been known that people really do experience a strong connection, or sense of ’embodiment’ in their avatar to a certain extent.  One example often cited is the fact that if a virtual object is thrown at your avatar, many people will physically flinch in the real world – even though the virtual object could obviously do them no harm.  This mind-avatar connection is precisely what gives the virtual experience a significant advantage over other online meeting tools and social media, by providing a strong sense of presence and immersion within a space.  This is exactly why a  VCD in Second Life could become a truly meaningful experience to those who participate – the virtual world captures the sense of community and togetherness within a space that no other online medium could come close to replicating.

As developers working with virtual worlds, we’re constantly touting the importance of the design and architecture of virtual spaces, and how it can be used to shape and encourage meaningful experiences and achieving functional goals.  Yet, in this case, I had completely underestimated just how important the virtual space could really be, and with their feedback in mind, we re-examined the design concepts.

We revised and modified the design to make it feel more secure by enclosing some spaces, first by raising concrete walls around the outer circle but we soon realized that we had actually gone too far and had created an environment that was too confining and enclosed – to the extent that it could actually make the civilians participating in the dialogue uncomfortable.  We continued to fine-tune the design until we arrived at a concept that seemed to work well, then started massing it out at full scale.

As the space took shape, the clients and end-users visited and provided feedback along the way.  At times, we were able to transform the space on-the-fly to test various ideas as we brainstormed together.  It was an incredible experience to be able to literally prototype the client’s ideas at the very moment they were describing it – translating ideas into form in realtime.   This is one of the most potent advantages of the virtual design process that trumps traditional architectural design development, but I digress.

One of the VCD facilitators mentioned the importance of orchestrating procession, where participants would walk together on a path leading to the conversation space, and how important this can be for framing and setting the stage for the dialogue.   As he spoke, we opened one of the sides of the central space and prototyped a meandering pathway and walked along it together to try it out.  With some additional tweaks, we had the processional pathway complete.

As brainstorming continued, Jenaia Morane (one of the ‘cats’), wondered what it would be like if we elevated the entire conversation space so that it would look out over the water.  Within seconds we tested the idea, and immediately agreed that it worked really well and also enabled us to frame views of the surrounding landscape.  The processional path now ascended to the central space, giving it a sense of hierarchy and subtle grandeur.

Jenaia and the rest of the team at Startled Cat polished up, landscaped, textured and detailed the build in time for the first Veteran-Civilian Dialogue.  The event was captured incredibly well in the following machinima, including the procession to the conversation space, and the role of the virtual architecture in helping to choreograph and reinforce that experience.

“You are about to enter a sacred space, where the conversations will be focused on one of the most difficult and disturbing of human creations – war.”

The Second Life version of the Veteran-Civilian Dialogue was mentioned in this New York Times article, which also describes the VCD  experience.  I think this photo, featured later the same week in the New York Times ‘Week in Pictures’ captures the spirit of the VCD quite well.

Robert Chase, the Executive Director of Intersections International recently wrote about the Second Life experience:

“The implications for our Veteran-Civilian Dialogue Project are profound. In Second Life, traumatic brain injury and horrific disfigurement caused by war can be eclipsed by exchanges between young, strong, attractive avatars in the metaverse. Skills of engagement and confidence in one’s core strengths can be kindled in Second Life and transferred back into “first life.” Introverts can become part of the conversation; extroverts can seek solace in the silence of observation.”

To learn more about the project, check out this Monday’s Metanomics broadcast, where host Dusan Writer welcomes Intersections International to Metanomics for a discussion of virtual dialogues, spirituality and human connection in the ‘age of the machine’.



Casting Shadows

These past few months have brought about a rather exciting surge of announcements and renewed energy around the OpenSIM project, the open source virtual world platform. Though it is still alpha level code, the future potential is obvious, especially for those of us anxiously awaiting the ability to import 3D models created, textured and rendered in external applications like 3D studio, Blender, etc. This ability brings with it the promise of several game-changing opportunities, not the least of which is establishing a dynamic link between Building Information Models (BIM) and virtual environments.

Some of the most visible and promising new features cooperating with OpenSIM are coming from a Finnish group called realxtend. The actual look and feel of OpenSIM is very similar to the Second Life environment, but the realxtend client/server combo includes several enticing new items. For one thing, the File menu now contains an ‘Import 3D model’ option – and it works!  Also, under the prim-editing menu, you’ll find the ‘cast shadows’ option. Yeah, seriously… ‘cast shadows’… can you imagine?

What’s more, even a technical newbie such as myself can download their server code, and open your very own sim running on your own home computer. Better still, you can invite others into your sim to see what you’ve been up to. If you want to go beyond basic exploration, you can host the environment on a more powerful server for less lag and a smoother experience. Visitors to your personal sim can even teleport to and from the Second Life grid, and to other OpenSIM grids as well.

Within just a few hours, I had my own little world running on my computer. Shortly thereafter, I had imported my first 3D models created in 3DStudio. I suddenly had that same sense of urgency and excitement I experienced when I first started working in Second Life. My imagination ran wild!

You might think this experience would lead me away form Second Life itself, but I actually feel quite the opposite. I’ve never felt so confident and comfortable with the time and energy I’ve spent learning and promoting Second Life. It isn’t just OpenSIM either, but none of the new emerging platforms I’ve tried so far show anywhere near the same promise, in my humble opinion, as the combination of Second Life and OpenSIM.

Speaking purely in terms of professional/business applications, or as a platform for architectural practice and collaboration, I’m not convinced that Linden Lab shares the same vectors of interest as the more ‘platformist’ professionals who often think of it as a tool instead of a place, nor should they. The community, and the economy are vital, yet incredibly fragile components of Second Life – a combination that doesn’t lend itself well to liberal new-feature testing. Just like Philip Rosedale emphasized at SLCC last year, Linden Lab can only operate like a ‘lab’ for so long before they have to pull back a bit on experimentation and turn more attention to the ongoing challenges of performance and stability.

But when you combine the vital core elements of community and commerce with the features possible in OpenSIM-based grids, it seems a win-win combination. Despite the never-ending flow of criticism and complaints, I think Linden Lab is doing an outstanding job with Second Life, and I think they’ll be very hard to catch. But I’m excited and glad that the more specialized interests can now have their freedom, their privacy, their security, and any new feature they have the wherewithal to invent. I think Giff Constable said it best, “if something needs to be fixed, you can roll up your sleeves and fix it rather than crossing your fingers and waiting for someone else.”

Cory Ondrejka suggested in a great post today that “Attempts to strongly separate “play” and “work” virtual worlds will stunt the growth of both. Communities that play together work together better. And vice versa.” I think that statement reinforces the notion that the combined effort of SL and specialized OpenSIM places is a healthy mix. I might “work” in my Crescendo Design OpenSIM island, meeting with clients and bask in the greatness of prims that can ‘cast shadows,’ but it will surely get lonely in there. I’d be constantly checking my mini-map for green dots, and missing out on all the great stuff Second Life has to offer as a place, and not just a tool. When its time for a break, I can teleport back to SL, and enjoy the best of both worlds.

The combination of features I think are requisite for a virtual world explosion in professional practice are a tricky, yet inseparable kit of parts. For this reason, I don’t have a lot of faith in the other platforms aimed at surpassing Second Life. Just importing 3D models, or better graphics alone are nothing without a rich and diverse community.

Even if you include model-imports and community, what about object permissions? For 3D collaboration to work, you need a fairly robust permissions strategy, and a lot of the new platforms currently overlook this feature completely. I think most of us completely underestimate the genius and power of the prim system and in-world building tools. In fact, by the time you carefully prepare a 3D model with enough detail to look passable up-close in a virtual environment, you end up spending a comparable amount of time on it as you would if you had built it with prims in the first place. Furthermore, once you import it – its essentially frozen, since you can’t modify any part of it without re-rendering it and re-importing it. It would be a disaster for virtual collaboration if we lost that ability.

The community is equally critical. Even if, for example, Autodesk were to introduce avatars into Revit, they couldn’t possibly deliver as diverse of a community of non-architects. If you aren’t convinced that a public, global and diverse community is important in the future of architectural practice, keep an eye on Studio Wikitecture. That’s just the beginning.

I could be wrong, but when I add it all up, I still haven’t seen another emerging platform that includes both in-world building tools (with permissions system) as well as 3D importing, alongside an incredibly robust community and economy. Even if there were a potential competitor, they are nowhere near as far along as Second Life at solving the plethora of challenges and nuances of successfully running a virtual world (which happens to be yet another area I think many of us totally misunderstand and underestimate). By the time a competitor catches up with where SL is now, SL will be that much farther ahead.

In conclusion, I’m confident that Second Life is still a very safe and smart investment of time and money. I’ll admit to knowing very little about the back-end underlying this technology, which is why this post could be all full of baloney. But from what I can tell, the combined trajectories of Second Life and OpenSIM are a winning combination, and hold the underpinnings of what I think will be the next major technological evolution in the design and creation of the real-life built-environment.

Keep an eye on Ugotrade for further reviews of OpenSIM (including this post), and be sure to check out realxtend’s site for a description of their upcoming event in Second Life where you can learn more about the current technology, and their plans for the future.