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December 1, 2016
by Casey Samulski
LA Gensler office, sample rendering from within the Gensler VR app.

On 11.16.16, students and professionals gathered at the Center for Architecture to hear from three designers at Gensler – Regional Director Mark Pollock, AIA, LEED AP, and Specialists Chang-Yeon Cho, AIA, LEED AP, and Seth Waldman – who talked about an interesting new addition to their workflows: virtual reality (VR).

Pollock talked about the nature of the evolving medium of VR (and its cousin, augmented reality), as well as its ongoing use at Gensler, technical and hardware limitations, and the potential for new modes of expression and coordination within teams. He began by noting that, while the industry typically designs and models in 3D, the communication of these designs within firms and to clients is still, for the most, part 2D – rendered images and blueprints. And while these are sufficient for those with training to interpret them, they can be difficult for clients to understand a design. By contrast, he said, ““VR just lets them explore the place.”

to the panel outlined Genler’s strategy for aggressively experimenting with VR, and seeing under what circumstances its expense is justified. During the Q&A session, Waldman noted an instance where they were able to use Microsoft’s Hololens to immediately detect discrepancies between their original model and a contractor’s work. And in another, Pollock noted how a client using a self-purchased, $20 cardboard headset and his own iPhone was immediately able to get a sense of the design he had contracted. “As soon as he put on the headset, he was completely satisfied and we had no further explaining to do,” Pollock said.

These and other benefits have led Gensler to begin developing its own VR application, which uses gaze tracking to let users navigate from space to space for quick movement between points of interest. Other emerging technologies, like Google’s Project Tango, hold additional promise. If it comes to fruition, a Tango tablet would allow you to virtually stage a space or redecorate it on the fly by placing virtual furniture that is geolocated to the site – the tablet’s camera then becomes a kind of viewfinder to see these objects. Gensler was also able to demonstrate that it had already used similar features on the Hololens to superimpose a finished building onto an active construction site, and walk around within the projected design. Even designer workflows may come to reap benefits: there are already working demonstrations for creating and designing models within VR using companion handheld devices.

Many of these possibilities, Pollock reiterated, are limited by a technology still in its infancy. There are factors of hardware power and portability that will hold VR back from being a no- brainer until they are overcome – clunky headsets, ubiquitous cables, power sourcing, and the complexity of transporting powerful hardware from site to site for higher fidelity projections.

Still, in the end, it may not be the economic factors of virtual reality that makes the most compelling pitch, but the qualitative ones. Toward the end of the program, Cho framed the technology as “shortening the gap between what we understand and what the client understands. A single VR image,” he said, “can do the work of 10 still ones.”

Event: Virtual Reality in the Real World
Location: Center for Architecture, 11.15.16
Speakers: Mark Pollock, AIA, LEED AP, Regional Digital Design Director, Gensler; Chang-Yeon Cho, AIA, LEED AP, Digital Design Specialist, Gensler; Seth Waldman, Digital Design Specialist, Gensler
Organized by: AIANY Technology Committee
Sponsored by: ABC Imaging

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