The ARCH


Real life construction completed on innovative homes prototyped in Second Life

Read the whole story, and more about architecture in virtual worlds at The ARCH Network http://www.archvirtual.com

The Alley Flat Initiative - prototype real life design in Second Life virtual world

If you have any interest or curiosity whatsoever about using Second Life or any other online, 3D, collaborative virtual environment for architectural prototyping or education, this is a must read success story.

Construction has completed on designs first prototyped in Second Life by students at the University of Austin School of Architecture.  The prototypes were the result of a collaboration between Professor Sergio Palleroni’s students and the students of Dr. Leslie Jarmon’s “Communicating Across the Disciplines” graduate course.   Sadly, Dr. Jarmon, who was responsible for orchestrating the virtual presence for the entire University of Texas system, passed away last year.

Second Life prototype of real world design

Professor Palleroni first described his vision for using Second Life in architectural education during a talk with Autodesk VP Phil Bernstein in an event held in Second Life in late 2007. He had this to say to his students,

“I want ideas (from my students) on how we’re going to use this new Second Life to actually expand our exchange in our community.  Becuase, I thought, ‘my God, what a tool – I was so ignorant.’   I was thinking, if I can get people connected,  there might be opportunities for these clients that we’re serving, to actually participate in forums here, where I could get some world class people here, and in Second Life we would all be inhabiting the same realm, I think its fantastic.”

Construction completed on homes prototyped in virtual reality

2 years later, the project became a virtual reality in Second Life, with several Alley Flats homes prototyped.  Upon launching the project, and using it to engage community members, students were equally enthusiastic,

“There’s something extremely ‘right’ about having Alley Flats in Second Life, since Alley Flats is about building community through great design, and the clever use of technology, and that’s what Second Life is all about.  I think we’ve achieved something special, and I really hope that it will live long beyond today, and be useful for many communities all around the world.”

“This will bring people together from from different disciplines, and one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from this project was how relevant Second Life is in both commercial and non-profit markets, and I think its going to be the next huge thing in the industry.”

A Phd student in molecular biology added this,

“Working with this class was a wonderful experience, very different from working in a lab.  It was enjoyable to work across disciplines, and working on this project has provided many opportunities to engage and adapt my communication skills, and because of this, I have gained new perspectives on diversity and teamwork.”

During the launch, Sergio added some insightful remarks,

“I never thought that I would be building in a virtual world, and though I was skeptical, I’m now beginning to become a believer.  I think that at the heart of this, and what unites the real and the virtual world, is the idea that we all share aspirations and ideals that we cannot make possible within any other construct, and so the fact that we are able to, here in Second Life, see how  a city can begin go change, and we can actually show people.. and its fantastic, because we can begin to let people understand what the future might look like.  So I would almost propose that Second Life is not some unreal realm, but in some ways is the future, or a projection of where we’re heading, and a way to dream about the future.”

Dr. Jarmon said,

“Since we started working on this project, so many people have said ‘can we get one, can you build this for us?

Someone asked the students what it was like working in a virtual world.  Here’s what they had to say about it:

“We didn’t know what the possibilities of Second Life were, but now we’re standing here, its just amazing – its not something anyone in the group could have imagined, so I think working in a virtual world like this shows us that the possibilities are endless.”

“I thought Second Life, at first, was going to be difficult, but I learned to use it as an adjunct to our ‘normal’ communication.  You can’t just show up in a virtual world and expect to get work done.  You need to have an agenda and things to do, just like in the real world.”

“I’m a much better salsa dancer in Second Life than I am in the real world – which counts for something. (laughter)”

Sergio added to the student’s comments by saying,

“I can imagine in Second Life we’re going to be able to push this all much more, and actually model, what kind of city can we get form this.  I actually see this as a tremendous opportunity, and the kind of space that we all share – so I think we’re going to start using (Second Life) right away.”

Dr. Jarmon concluded with a wish for an ongoing collaboration,

“You know, you teach a class, and your grad students want to keep working after the semester is over – c’mon, that just doesn’t happen very often, so we hope this will continue, Sergio, because this is just a marvelous team.”

Read the whole story, and more about architecture in virtual worlds at The ARCH Network http://www.archvirtual.com



Welcome to my home: first attempts at using Unity3D for architectural visualization

Cross posted from The ARCH Network main site!  http://www.archvirtual.com

unity2
Chez Keystone! Come on in…(plugin required).

This isn’t multi-user (yet), and navigation might take some getting used to, but this is an Autodesk Revit ‘as-built’ model of my home, imported into the Unity game development platform I wrote about last week.  If I make a change in Revit and save it, the Unity build dynamically updates. With the exception of the trees, this is pretty much a raw output from Revit without any optimization (which is why it looks so crude). If I spent a few hours on it, I could add dynamic lighting and even import lightmaps to really enhance the model.   I can also export it to Nintendo Wii, iPhone or a variety of other platforms if I really wanted to, but at this point, I don’t have the necessity or resources to do so.

I should add a disclaimer that we didn’t design this house, but we are planning a green make-over in several stages in the months and years ahead, so we’ve been using this model to test master plan ideas.  I haven’t built or enabled access to the interior spaces, but I will soon.   This is just a starting point for design exploration, so even though I don’t have much to demo yet, I wanted to share some of my initial progress and publish updates with more thoughts on what I’ve learned about using Unity in professional practice.

unity1

What I like most about Unity so far is the ability to quickly and easily embed the virtual model on a web browser, or to a stand-alone .exe application if need be.  This makes it much easier to share design ideas with long distance clients that might not have the time or patience to deal with a registration process, large client downloads and orientation of larger virtual worlds.  Once they get the hang of using their mouse and arrow keys, just about anyone, even on lower end machines, can be walking around inside of a design concept within a few seconds.

When the time comes to add additional details and entourage, I simply save most raw file-types in their native format to the Assets folder of the project.  Unity then automatically finds updates if I change the model in its native application (Maya, 3DS Max, Photoshop, etc.).   What I find doubly enticing about this work-flow is that I can transition my assets into any platform I choose without being locked into a proprietary format.  For example, if/when Second Life enables mesh imports, I should be able to take these same raw assets and use them in SL, or Blue Mars, or on whichever platform I wish – without having to rebuild everything from scratch.  I will then be able to choose which virtual platform is most appropriate for the project’s requirements.

I also like the fact that the indie version of Unity is free to download and use.  Plus, its relatively easy to learn – much easier than any other 3D app I’ve worked with.  Also, there is a rapidly growing community of Unity users and support forums to find answers to just about any question you have, and lots of in-depth tutorials to help you get started.

With several companies building MMO’s or virtual worlds on Unity, it probably won’t be long before I can drop this model into a virtual world for multi-user, and avatar-based experiences.  However, I don’t think we will see realtime, in-world building tools in Unity the way we have in Second Life, or OpenSim.  Unity wasn’t designed or intended to be used that way.  I also think that any Unity worlds that do surface will likely be smaller, niche communities.  For those reasons and more,  I really don’t see Unity as any threat or comparison to Second Life or OpenSim.  However, for online, realtime, virtual architectural visualization, Unity is definitely a platform worth exploring.

Be sure to check out this thread in the Unity forum about architectural visualization in Unity: http://forum.unity3d.com/viewtopic.php?t=33684&highlight=architectural

Also, check out a recent post by epredator on his Life at the Feeding Edge blog regarding the combined application of Unity, OpenSim, Evolver and Smartfox to create the next generation of virtual worlds.



$900 million facility prototyped in Second Life now under construction

Cross posted from The ARCH Network main site!

These are the latest construction progress photos I could find of new Palomar West Medical Campus in San Diego, which is currently under construction – scheduled to open in 2011.  When the virtual architectural simulation was completed in early 2008, it attracted the attention of The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Forbes, as the largest and most comprehensive architectural prototypes of a construction-bound project ever built in Second Life (aLoft and Dedato’s build were big too, but Palomar is much bigger- weighing in at 775,000 square feet).  The virtual prototype was used by Cisco to showcase the facility’s communications features through immersive simulations in Second Life, and was built by Millions of Us.

If you know of any more recent construction photos, please let me know!



Steelcase in Second Life
July 1, 2009, 2:51 am
Filed under: architecture | Tags: , , ,

For more information, visit the ARCH Network.

I will be posting more soon, but wanted to share a slideshow from today’s tour of Steelcase in Second Life.  Fascinating stuff!

steelcase3



Dispatches from Egypt: David Denton, AIA
April 29, 2009, 5:12 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , ,

David Denton, AIA – an architect from Marina Del Rey, California has been spending the past several weeks working on a project in Egypt.  He has found virtual world modeling to be far more effective than traditional CAD or BIM applications in sharing ideas with the client, and promises to share some of his observatins and experiences with us in future posts.  For the time being, I have included a series of screenshots showing some of his early progress on this exciting project.

To see some of David’s purely virtual design exploration, visit his LOCUS sim – more information and a landmark can be found HERE.

Cross posted from the ARCH Network.



Congratulations to the Winners & Future Plans for Studio Wikitecture

Cross post from the Studio Wikitecture blog:

A Big Congratulations goes out to the following contributors to the University of Alabama’s Virtual Classroom Project.  After two rounds of voting the following spreadsheet illustrates the breakdown down in winnings.  As mentioned earlier, as not to present any conflict of interest, Keystone and Theory bowed out of the winning proceeds.

Community Assessment

We also have some exciting news to share!  As many of you know, the ‘Wiki-Tree’ or 3D-Wiki tool we used during the last 2 Wikitecture projects was designed to serve as a temporary prototype, or proof-of-concept.  It served its purpose well, and gave us a chance to test some ideas, observe what works, and what doesn’t work, and listen to the Wikitecture community’s concerns and ideas for improving this technology.

We have spent the past several months carefully weighing several options for carrying this idea forward, and improving both the technology and the methodology at work behind the Wikitecture concept.  We assembled a long list of improvements we want to make, and have consulted with some key players in the virtual world industry to solicit their input and advice about how best to achieve these goals.

In the end, it was clear that our best chance of successfully improving these tools in the most time and cost-effective manner, was to formalize our partnership with i3D, the team we have been working with since the beginning.  Toward that end, we have entered into a joint development agreement with them, and will be working together in the months ahead to develop ‘version 2’ of the Wiki-Tree.

Not only have we have been working together on this project successfully for almost 2 years now, but each team brings a complimentary skill-set.  Anyone who joined us in these projects knows how central the Wiki-tree is to organizing these collaborative design projects.  Without it, the Wikitecture concept simply would not work.  Since i3D is in the business of developing internet and virtual world based services and products, their skills are exactly what we need in order to successfully implement the next phase of development on the Wiki-tree.

We will keep you posted on our progress in the weeks and months ahead, and look forward to launching our next project!



ARCHviews: Kirsten Kiser, Editor-in-Chief of arcspace.com

Welcome to ARCHviews, a new podcast format where I take to the streets of the metaverse and talk with architects and designers exploring architecture of all forms – real or virtual.  Today I talk to Kirsten Kiser, editor-in-chief of arcspace.com about her experience bringing her online publication into the metaverse.  She celebrates her second year of virtual exploration this week, and has a lot of great insight to share.  If the embedded video doesn’t show up, you can find it HERE.  Enjoy!



The prim is mightier than the pen: The emergence of living sketchbooks

I had a professor in architecture school who taught a ‘Drawing in Architecture’ class, and talked a lot about the importance of sketching.  The basis of his argument was that the process of sketching an architectural form results in the shortest possible conduit from what the eye sees, through the brain, into your hand, onto the paper and back.  The argument follows that this connection is especially important while designing, given that your ideas can be transferred directly to paper without any abstraction impeding its flow.

I’m sure this concept of hand/eye connection has been around for centuries, but it was an especially hot topic during my college years, which happened to land directly in the middle of the tension zone between hand-drafting and the newly emerging world of CAD.  When I was a freshman at SARUP, there were maybe 6 macs in a makeshift lab, used mainly by urban planning students who got to play ‘Sim City’ as part of their curriculum (slackers! ;-)).  By the time I graduated, there were three large dedicated computer labs with hundreds of computers (and 2 new plotters that only the PhD students could figure out how to use…).   I remember some pretty rowdy debates around this time, where professors and students alike battled over the merits of CAD drafting versus hand-drawing.

Here’s my point.  The debate settled around a middle ground; CAD was acceptable for generating final presentations, and for drafting blueprints, but should never be used for design.  The reason being, the interface was too much of an abstraction, and the hand/eye connection was too disjointed.  You had to build in abstract 2D views, and then change viewports, create a camera, and take a look at how that idea turned out.  CAD design resulted in an added barrier between your hand and your eye. For the most part, this hasn’t changed.  Even in professional design software, and even if you’re an expert user, it really isn’t as free-flowing as sketching.  Most architects I know still hand-sketch ideas first, then use computers for more refined design development, when dimensional accuracy becomes more important.  Those models then carry on into illustrations and blueprints.

I was chatting with KK Jewell (Kirsten Kiser) from arcspace.com, who recently opened a new gallery on Architect David Denton’s (DB Baily in SL) new ”Locus’ sim (more on DB’s project in a later post).  KK’s current exhibit, called ‘4 Architects, 4 Artistic Thoughts’ juxtaposes the process of real life conceptual design by Frank Gehry and Santiago Calatrava with the same design phase Second Life by myself and Scope Cleaver (though I have argued that I’m nowhere near qualified to hold such a place in the exhibit!).  You have to see the exhibit for yourself (here’s a SLurl), but what I find most interesting is the implied comparison of where and when technology fits into the design process in each camp.  Even though the built work of both Gehry and Calatrava require highly complex and cutting edge use of technology (Gehry even started a company toward this end, Gehry Technologies), they themselves prefer to work with hand-drawn sketches to start with.  A quotation in the gallery from Christopher Knight, an Art Critic for the Los Angeles Times reads:

“Drawing is the medium most capable of closely recording the evolution of artistic thought – from brain to hand to pencil to paper and back to brain.”

A familiar and appropriate quote in this context, I think.

The other element of sketching is the social side of it.  A popular technique in architecture schools is to have students sketch ideas, then have everyone lay their sketchbooks open on a table in the center of the studio.  Students then walk slowly around the table reviewing and critiquing each other’s sketches.  As such, even programs like SketchUp that might enable a more ‘sketch-like’ modeling interface can’t really duplicate this social element of hand-drawn sketching.  SketchUp is lonely.

I was recently chatting with my friend JudyArx Scribe, who teaches architecture at the University of Auckland.  She is just getting started with some very exciting new uses of Second Life in her curriculum, and part of the way she introduces Second Life to her students is by describing it as a ‘living sketchbook.’  As students are sketching ideas, they can all be immersed in the same virtual space and can easily see the progress of the entire class at a glance.  They can wander around the emerging prim-sketches, providing their feedback, and soliciting input from others.  Instead of walking desk to desk looking over the shoulder of students busily sketching on trace or in sketchbooks, the entire class is all working together inside the same place.  Not only can the course instructor see everyone’s progress developing in realtime, but in theory, any professor or visiting critic from anywhere in the world could log in at any time to review their progress.

Then there are prims.  I used to sketch everything with pen or pencil and paper, but I now find myself logging into Second Life or my new Visibuild sim when I’m trying to translate a design idea from my imagination into ‘reality’.. (you might say it isn’t real, but is a sketch any more real?)   I know there are some who would claim they can just as easily sketch in 3DS or CAD, but if you watch that process, and watch how they work, you will see that the extra step between your brain and the 3D ‘sketch’ remains evident.  Look up any YouTube tutorial and see the process experts use to model in any of these apps, and you’ll see what I mean.

Primitive modeling keeps you in 3D throughout the design process, showing the results of your actions in realtime as you draw.  There is no more of a disconnect between holding a button down on my mouse and stretching a prim than there is holding my pencil to a paper and dragging it across the surface.  But there is added value with prims.  I can much more easily test textures and colors, and copy an idea to test a new direction – similar to using layers of trace paper, but without having to re-draw everything each time you trace.  That’s just the beginning.

I also place a lot of credence in the benefits of using avatars.  Walking through a space with an avatar gets so much closer to the way we actually experience architecture in real life.  There is a kind of spontaneity and magic to the experience that static illustration just can’t replicate.  It has always seemed strange to me when architects describe how they think people will flow through their buildings, and how they believe the space will be experienced.  They employ all manner of flowery and descriptive language, but why not actually let people walk through the space, and test how well that carefully crafted architectural choreography of yours will actually work?  Nothing can beat the experience of guiding a group of brutally honest avatars through a design idea you just built, and hearing what they think.  You might even test new ideas on the fly.  This wall is too tall?  Let me shorten it..  there, much better.  This space is too big?  Let me make it smaller.. nope too small… ok how about now.  Perfect.  This is simply a better way to learn architecture, and test ideas than any other method available.

We all know how important it is for architects and professional designers to be able to import their professionally-built models, and I’m sincerely glad realxtend and Visibuild have taken that bull by the horns.  But there is still something incredibly rich and important about modeling with primitive objects that I hope we never lose.  Of course, I’ll never stop sketching by hand, but its more recreational now, and much more about the nostalgia of the technique than anything else.   If I’m serious about designing something, and sharing it with others, I would sooner rez a prim than pick up a pencil.  The benefits outweigh the limitations 10 to 1.

Is your sketchbook alive?



Shared Intelligent Spaces

Check out this intriguing trailer for SHASPA – another exciting project from Oliver Goh (see also Eolus) and the island connected directly to the north of Architecture Island in Second Life.

“SHASPA is an innovative platform and set of services that a blend of emerging technologies such as
wireless sensors, social networks, virtual worlds and electronic games can plug into to create
applications which integrate, visualise, monitor and manage the physical and virtual environment.”

http://www.shaspa.com/



The Future is Here: Full-Scale Architectural Model from Revit Imported into a Virtual World

For more information, visit the ARCH Network.

It happened exactly 1 year, to the day I first contacted Jani Pirkola former project manager of the Realxtend team. I heard rumors late in 2007 that they had goals to accelerate the development of the ‘opensim‘ platform, and one of their priorities was 3D model imports. The conversation continued until a few weeks ago, when I received an e-mail from Jules Vos, founder of Visibuild, a company he founded aimed at leveraging and improving the capabilities of Realxtend, specifically targeting his efforts at architecture and the built environment.

He asked for an exported file from one of my Revit models, and the next day he sent me a log-in and password to the Visibuild sim where the model was hosted.  Needless to say, after all these years of waiting, I was skeptical, yet hopeful. I logged in, and there I was – standing on the front porch of our client’s soon-to-be new home we had designed!  It was exactly as I had left it during my last Save As!  This was a dream come true, that had been 10 years in the making.  I was absolutely blown away.  My Revit model was virtual!  Here it is shortly after import:

Before long I had the model populated with tables, chairs, sofa, stove, a Jenn-Air appliances, Kohler fixtures and more – all imported from Google’s 3D Warehouse, most of which are exact or near-perfect matches to the ones specified.  Google’s 3d warehouse is very extensive, and carries one of the largest collection of free 3d models available.  Thanks to Peter Quirk for the Sketchup import tutorial!



I left parts of the design out of the imported mesh that we were still designing, and was able to enjoy the best of both worlds by building those pieces with primitive objects using the in-world building tools.  This way, I could make immediate use of the model as a collaboration tool with our clients by testing, for example, ceiling options in the living room, and trying out an alternate arrangement of the porch and entry area.  There is no limitation to the size of primitive objects here (the limit is 10 meters in Second Life), so it becomes much easier to model without always having to bandage the model to work around size limitations.

The client’s first reaction after seeing a teaser was “I want more!” so I think we can safely say the value of a virtual model was immediately evident.

Even a quick proof-of-concept study of imported buildings that surrounded a project site in Manhattan was fruitful.  When almost any model format can be imported, it feels like the whole world has opened up – and the possibilities are truly without limit.

The combined 3-part effect of being able to import contextual structures shared by others and import professionally built CAD or BIM-derived models and model bits and pieces using the familiar in-world building tools is a pretty astonishing new opportunity.  Of course there are still kinks to be ironed out, and some parts of the work-flow that would benefit from further optimization, but that’s where Visibuild’s value becomes most apparent.  They have the capability of streamlining that process for you, and serving as a one-stop service and hosting environment  for architects, urban planners, realtors, city governments and anyone else with a vested interest interest in architecture and the built environment.

 

Another key feature of this environment is the dynamic shade and shadows.  You need a decent graphics card to experience it, but its nice to know that the feature is available when you’re ready for it.  One common complaint for architects exploring the use of Second Life in professional practice was the plasticness of the builds, and the inability to convey the way light and shadow will effect the architecture.  The code for dynamic shadows has been available for some time now, but has yet to be implemented in any of the newest viewer releases. This is surely a key fundamental to an architect’s concern in design development, and experiencing a building without light and shade doesn’t as accurately reflect the experience you will get in real life.

Since most modern architectural software automatically generates 3D models anyway, the gap between your model and a virtual environment is no longer treacherous or time consuming – but relatively simple (or cost effective if you’d rather have someone else import it for you).  If you already model in SketchUp, for example – you’re only a few clicks away from enjoying the benefits of experiencing the model virtually and inviting others to experience it with you in realtime.  The bottom line is, most architects utilize 3D models at some point in the design development process anyway.  With Visibuild, you’re just one ‘save as’ away from leveraging the value of that model, and enjoying all of the many benefits a virtual environment affords.

These are some of the qualities of this environment I find most powerful:

  • The capacity to import 3D Models from just about any industry standard 3D package
  • Its accessible – there is very little mystery around how this works, and it isn’t terribly complicated or expensive.
  • It is built on an open source platform, and with a little experimentation you can roll up your sleeves and tinker with it.  You still have the option of hiring others to get everything set up for you.  The choice is yours.
  • User-generated content.  I can’t modify the imported mesh in-world, but I can leave off parts of the build that aren’t finalized and use the simple in-world building tools to test ideas on the fly.
  • Multi-user.  I can create an account for each of my clients and project stakeholders (builders, subs, etc.)  We can all occupy the building at the same time, from our own computers, wherever we happen to be in the world.  I can also customize their accounts ahead of time – so their avatars look good, and they appear right at the front door.
  • Realtime.  Unlike an prescriptive illustration or animation, you get to choose how, when and where your avatar moves.  This is much closer to the way people actually experience architecture.
  • Collaborative.  Multiple users can work together on a single group of objects to explore ideas – this capability is at the heart of what Studio Wikitecture is exploring.
  • Shade and Shadows, and the ability to cycle through any day/night setting and customize the sky to whatever settings you like
  • The incorporation of avatars.  I think this provides an enhanced sense of immersion and a feeling of actually being in the space.

This is truly a defining moment in the story of virtual worlds and architecture!

I’ll be working with Jules and the Visibuild team in the months ahead to help out with some exciting new projects, so if you’re interested in being an early adopter and want to be a part of the private beta, you can find contact information on the Visibuild website here: http://visibuild3d.com