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architectural simulations

Architects, engineers and planners have a variety of tools in current use to model “the built environment”. Both buildings and city-scapes. The goal of the model is to get buy-in from various stake holders before beginning the actual project. The tools being used include:
(1) actual physical scale models,
(2) high end video ‘fly-throughs” and
(3) computer generated 3d graphic models.
We are offering a 4th option - immersive virtual reality simulations.

Virtual Reality as an Alternative Model

A virtual simulation is a computer generated scale model located on a server. Individual users connect over the internet to control an avatar which they can move around in the model while communicating in real time with any other user avatars in the build. What this approach offers is different from the 3 technologies mentioned above in several important ways that make for greater impact and a more effective presentation.

The model is multi-user so individuals that are not physically in the same place can experience the model together in real time. This creates a similar sort of “social setting “ that a physical model allows. Users can talk to each other as they notice various details of the build and can listen to, and question, an “on site” representative of the project’s planing group.

Each viewer can explore the model on their own terms and “personally” interact with different parts of the build. The fact that the model is experienced at the same scale as the user’s avatar increases the feeling of “being in” the proposed environment. You can get a real sense of how large or small a room or a hallway is. This is contrasted to 2 ½ 3d technology such as the video fly throughts or the Google SketchUp modle which relies on the viewer manipulating a camera rather then an avatar..

A simulation model can have details that are animated and respond to the actions of an avatar. The elevator door will open and close and then it will raise up and down to the floor that the avatar has requested. This ability to manipulate the build gives that user a heightened sense of agency and thus of presence.

The virtual model does not have to be static: because of the way the model is generated and streamed from a central server, modifications or alternative details can be almost instantly displayed, for example to allow final decisions to depend on feed back from those viewing the model as in a design charrette situation.

The cost of using virtual simulation technology for this type of use has come down greatly in the last several years due to the open-source “Open Simulation” project. opensimulator org

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