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Emerging Technologies

With Pokémon Go being one of the biggest stories of the summer, it's no surprise more and more people are talking about the rise of augmented reality and virtual reality. And, as I was putting the final touches on this month's Special Feature, "Bringing Buildings to Life," which discusses the use of augmented and virtual reality technologies in the architecture field, I kept coming across more articles that reiterate how the advances of this technology benefits the architectural and construction industries.

In an August 16 blog post on the SmithGroupJJR website called "Blurring Boundaries with Emerging Technologies and Traditional Design Methods," Stephen Conschafter notes that new digital tools and technological innovations are helping designers and architects build better. "Both old and new design tools exhibit a scale of complexity and each helps us illuminate unique insights into the design process," he says.

Conschafter goes on to say that new technologies help miniaturize and digitize design ideas, with building information modeling (BIM) helping teams analyze concepts by providing data and metrics that can inform design decisions, and 3-D models of existing conditions can be generated with aerial photogrammetry or by using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), which overlays data analysis on top of spatial forms. "During the conceptual design phase, designers can share 3-D visualizations and animations with clients and stakeholders through screens and more recently through augmented reality and virtual reality headsets," he adds.

"Tools like virtual reality or photorealistic renderings start to eliminate the gaps in the abstractions produced in the human mind, and provide a 'real' picture that clients can immediately understand," Conschafter continues. "While elaborate physical models and drawings can still be created to express design solutions, clients now have the option to virtually step inside the building and experience the space. There's potential here for a deeper exploration of a concept earlier in a project's development-and that can help speed up the process."

During each stage of the design process, decisions are made that further the concept and move it towards completion. Even as technology continues to improve, Conschafter says that while these new tools allow clients to experience the development of a project in new and exciting ways, it is still the responsibility of the designer to ensure their visualizations help facilitate decisions that ultimately advance the design process.

These technologies can extend past the architecture office and onto the actual job site. In an August 10 article on the MIT Technology Review website, Elizabeth Woyke writes in "Augmented Reality Could Speed Up Construction Projects," how employees at Gilbane Building Co. in Rhode Island are using Microsoft's augmented reality computer, HoloLens, to view mockups of a project right on-site. By seeing holographic images in a physical environment, this technology has the ability to save a company money by catching issues with the materials before they're shipped, helping projects to stay on time and in budget.

In the article, Gilbane vice president Sue Klawans is quoted as saying the HoloLens could also be used before a building is constructed to detect flaws in the way ducts and pipes are laid out in office ceilings-a complicated process that often takes up more room than anticipated-and in building designs that feature glass curtainwalls, which sometimes require more than 10 different contractors to fabricate.

While the technology involved in bringing buildings to life is still in its growing stages, software companies are making advancements all of the time. These advancements will go a long way to advancing both the architecture and construction fields, and making the building process even better.


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