How to Set Up a Virtual Project Space for your Architecture or AEC-Related Projects
April 23, 2009, 3:33 am
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Cross-post from The ARCH Network (subscribe already, will ya? ;-))

Virtual Project Spaces enable you to explore design on a whole new level. These multi-user, online, collaborative environments offer a unique blend of features that cannot be found in any other application. Just like websites, Project Spaces are hosted on servers, and you (and anyone you invite to join you!) can access these worlds by using a free browser, or ‘viewer’ designed specifically for running 3D environments on your computer.

Project Space hosting works just like web hosting, but there are 3 main decisions to make. What size? Which platform, and Public of Private?

Public or Private?

  • Private: You can choose to host a full-size Project Space and have it remain totally private, accessible only by you and people you provide passwords to.
  • Public: Or, you can rent a smaller parcel within the public AEC Project Spaces community, where you will have neighbors working on their own AEC-related projects.

Which Platform?

We currently offer 2 primary kinds of Virtual Project Spaces – one is powered by Second Life, the other is powered by Visibuild. On the surface, the two platforms look and function very similarly, but there are key differences to consider before ordering your Project Space. Here’s how they compare:

Project Spaces powered by Visibuild:

  • Import full 3D models from external apps like Revit, 3DS, ArchiCAD – any industry-standard application.
  • Primarily AEC community. While wider diversity will soon be accessible to Visibuild users, it will primarily be a place where you can network with other AEC professionals. For example, if you’re a student, you will soon be able to network with professionals. If you’re a professional, you’ll be able to network with potential clients, product vendors and more. As the community grows, so too will the opportunities for networking and collaboration.
  • Ability to backup your work to your own hard drive.
  • Privacy – if you need to keep your project top secret, your Project Space can be hosted in a private and secure region.
  • No prim size restrictions (objects can be stretched and built as large as needed)
  • More prims per square meter rented. Visibuild offers the ability to have many more prims installed on a site.
  • Cost considerably less.

Project Spaces powered by Second Life:

  • Diversity and size of the community. These spaces will work well for you if you want to share your work with lots of people from a wide variety of disciplines.
  • Thorough documentation and support. Because it has been around longer, there is a larger pool of resources available both in-world and on the web.
  • Does not allow import of full models from external 3D apps like Revit, 3DS, ArchiCAD, etc.
  • Less control over your content. It cannot easily be exported, and your content remains under the control/ownership of Second Life servers.
  • Primitive object (prim) size limitation. When using the in-world modeling tools, objects cannot be stretched larger than 10 meters in any direction. To make larger objects, multiple prims are required.
  • Fewer prims per square meter of space rented. This is a limitation Second Life places on the number of objects you can have installed on a site at one time.

After you’ve chosen the size, platform and placed your order, you will be given a landmark to your Project Space location. Assuming you already have an account, and have downloaded and installed the platform of your choice, you can log in and visit your new Project Space. You can either use the simple in-world building tools within the ‘edit’ menu, or if you’ve chosen to work on the Visibuild platform, you can learn how to import your 3D models (tutorials coming soon!).

If you need some training, or would like to attend a workshop, visit this page to learn more. Here are some images to give you a sense of the Project Space sizes.


4,000 square meter parcel:

  • Project Space powered by Second Life = $25/month
  • Project Space powered by Visibuild = $19/month


8,100 square meter parcel:

  • Project Space powered by Second Life = $50/month
  • Project Space powered by Visibuild = $37/month


16,300 square meter parcel:

  • Project Space powered by Second Life = $100/month
  • Project Space powered by Visibuild = $75/month


32,768 square meter parcel:

  • Project Space powered by Second Life = $200/month
  • Project Space powered by Visibuild = $150/month

65,537 square meter parcel (full region):

  • Architecture Island powered by Second Life = $400/month
  • Architecture Island powered by Visibuild = $300/month

To get started, click HERE or send an e-mail to describing the parcel size and platform you wish to secure, and we will get back to you within 24 hours. If you’re not sure, please don’t hesitate to call or e-mail, and we will guide you through the decisions to be sure you’re set up with just the right parcel size and platform.

  • SL: Keystone Bouchard
  • 608-219-9318
  • Skype: keystone1111
  • Twitter: ARCHNetwork
  • LinkedIn: Jon Brouchoud

Worlds merging: A video response from X3D

A few weeks ago, I posted a video showing how my Revit model was imported into realxtend by Visibuild.  It generated lots of interest and traffic, suggesting to me that model interoperability is an important priority for lots of us.

Shortly after posting that my friend Damon Hernandez, always a spirited supporter of X3D, asked if I would send him that same Revit model so he could demonstrate the capabilities of X3D.  The closest I had ever come to seeing some of the more current X3D applications in action is while exploring Vivaty or ExitReality, and I was excited to see what he could do with it.  24 hours later, he sent me this video showing that same model in several X3D based environments.  What an impressive and entirely convincing demonstration!  I had no idea X3D had come so far.

This is by no means an exhaustive demonstration of everything X3D can do, and is only intended to serve as an introduction.  But what I find most compelling is the fact that this model can retain its metadata, and theoretically retain its BIM data.  If we were to develop a fully interactive model of a building, visitors could drill through this metadata, clicking any material or product in the home and discovering specific information about each building component.  I’m told it could even be useful as a CAM model, whereby manufacturers could interpret this data and use robots to assemble the home in real life.

So, here I have a seemingly limitless range of opportunities at my fingertips, yet this model – even if it were fully textured and polished – would not be useful to me in real-life practice.  The design is far from final, and we are still ironing out several key features such as the living room ceiling, the front entry, and the fireplace/hearth.  If I’m working with X3D, I have the option of either 1.) waiting until the model is final before sending it to be imported  2.)  send several batches of different design ideas and have them all imported  3.) become an X3D geek, and figure out how to import it myself, so I can do so on-the-fly as we develop new ideas.

No matter how I approach it, it isn’t useful to me as a schematic design tool – nor is it necessarily intended, or ready to be used that way (yet).  So, we really are comparing apples to oranges.  It isn’t that one platform is necessarily better than another, but that they each hold value in different phases of the design process.  As you could see in the realxtend demo included in my first post, I was able to simply exclude parts of the design weren’t finalized yet, then use the in-world modeling tools to mock up several options to share with our clients.  Those elements can be edited in realtime, while the client is present – and we can cycle through lots of different material and color options.

When my model was first imported into Visibuild, it looked exactly like it does on this video – raw and unedited.  But the difference is that with Visibuild, I was personally able to log in and continue designing and testing new ideas.  Using prims to build really does feel like sketching to me, only better, and within the context of my Revit model that contained room sizes and plan layout that had already been approved.  I can also build the entourage myself, exactly the way I want it.  I can import 3D Warehouse models if I want, or from any range of stock 3D entourage resources available.  The key is that I can easily do it myself, and the learning curve is nowhere as steep as it would be if I wanted to do the same in X3D.

That doesn’t take anything away from X3D as an incredibly powerful technology.  In fact, it could be that it’s far too powerful for what I primarily use virtual worlds for.  As an open standard  ‘simulation level’ technology, its actually reaching down to enable multi-user and simple representation of geometry.  Its power lies in the ability to eventually attain things like simulation-level physics, and retention of  metadata.  This is surely the new frontier for architecture and virtual environments.  Once we achieve seamless interoperability of geometry, our next major priority will be seamless data interoperability so our ‘smart’ BIM models don’t have to become ‘dumb’ each time they enter or leave a virtual environment.

Until then, it seems there might be an opportunity for collaboration here.  I know nothing about the core technology at work behind all of this, but I do know that one of these world is currently best for pre-design and design development, and the other is better for final design visualization and post-design.  Could they ever meet half way?  Will X3D eventually include in-world modeling and collaboration tools?  Will realxtend models someday become simulation level technology and retain metadata?  If geometry and data become fluidly interoperable, will it even matter?

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: