Virtually reality is not just for gamers. Almost every professional industry has a use for this technology, which is becoming more widely available. In the architecture and engineering field, we currently use 3-D tech in about 80 percent of our projects, not only to provide advanced flexibility and virtual problem solving in design, but also to more realistically showcase the vision for a project and secure client buy-in (and enthusiasm) early in the development process.
Making changes in the 3-D model is much more efficient than by traditional pen and paper. We have the flexibility to show comparisons and make aesthetic alterations, and it’s always better to solve problems in the virtual world than in the real world where actual dollars are being spent. Customers appreciate that as much as they appreciate the ability to view the “finished project” before it has physically begun, not only for their own interests, but often for the interests of their investors and other key stakeholders.
This technology incorporates actual ground models, surveying data, existing utility plans, construction documents and landscaping plans to create a 3-D model that allows stakeholders to visualize development, expedite planning and evaluate alternatives. These 3-D models create an interactive environment that communicates the impact of the project in the context of the surrounding area and offers stakeholders, both technical and nontechnical, a better understanding of the development plans.
Clients often request visuals for their own meetings to better explain the vision and process to their internal audiences. This is most often requested if there is stated or probable opposition to a project. In cases where there is potential for scrutiny from stakeholders, we suggest that the 3-D model be created before public opinion can be set so that the public can better understand the full scope of project before formulating any challenging conclusions.
Interestingly, my introduction to 3-D technology happened more than three years ago when I was in a public meeting with my son. The material presented was confusing, even for me as an industry professional with 20+ years of experience. On the way home my son said, “I could build that for you in Minecraft if that helps”. That’s when a light bulb went off in my head. (It’s fascinating what parents can learn from their kids, sometimes.) While our kids are experiencing 3-D technology through today’s virtual video gaming world, we (adults) still operate fairly two-dimensionally. However, with the potential this technology had for helping clients and stakeholders better understand an engineering or architecture project, I knew I had to quickly familiarize myself with the technology.
In the future, I see our industry using complete virtual models. I would love for the client to be able to lead themselves through the tour, make decisions about which way to turn and have freedom of movement in augmented reality. While the software isn’t brand new to the industry, at Allen & Hoshall, we have spent the past several years streamlining the process and using the technology with the complete site in mind. And as the technology continues to advance, we can only imagine the innovative solutions that architects and engineers will be able to offer the world.
Robert Cochran is a senior vice president and civil engineer at Allen and Hoshall.