Every year we see new tools and techniques for better, faster architectural visualization. The last few years have been a particularly exciting time because of advances in real-time rendering applications. When coupled with supporting technology like virtual reality headsets, projectors, and graphics cards, real-time photoreal rendering is putting stunning, dynamic visualization media within reach—mixed and augmented reality worlds, interactive configurators, game-like presentations—so architects and designers can truly tell their stories.
But real-time rendering does more than that. It solves a problem that architects and designers have faced since they started using CAD software: how to bring photoreal imagery and technical information to a single platform so stakeholders can fully explore and review design.
One of the biggest trends for 2019 is the migration to real-time rendering to not only produce and explore new types of media but also to bring together all aspects of design, from visuals to cost and building data to site plans, in a single medium for easy visual review by all stakeholders.
From multiple apps to a single platform
Over the years, CAD applications have evolved to serve the needs of the architectural community. CAD software itself has better tools than ever for modeling and rendering, storing BIM information, and designing infrastructure.
The problem comes when it’s time to share the information. To present the design to clients and investors, you need several items: renderings and videos, a cost breakdown, plans and elevations, site plans, studies, and technical specifications for building materials. The beauty of the design, and the story you want to tell with it can get lost in all these separate visuals and documents.
This is where real-time rendering comes in, as a single platform to deliver all these items and more to everyone, even non-technical stakeholders. When the design and its underlying information are imported into a real-time render engine like Unreal Engine, clients can review the design and all its accompanying information on a single interactive platform and explore, collaborate, and review at a level never before possible.
Inside an interactive, real-time CAVE
One company that has fully embraced real-time rendering as a means for stakeholder review is Reynaers Aluminium, a window frame company headquartered in Duffel, Belgium. Their clients are architects, investors, and builders who see windows at not just panes of glass but as design elements that provide a particular mood, style, or feel.
To help their clients explore options and get exactly what they want, Reynaers created a five-sided cave automatic virtual environment (CAVE) dedicated to architectural visualization. Inside the CAVE, any visitor, even non-technical personnel, can navigate and explore a design in complete detail, viewing it from any perspective. By wearing active see-through 3D glasses, stakeholders can see and interact with each other as well as the projected design.
The CAVE, dubbed AVALON, also provides a means for answering builders’ questions on installation and technical feasibility. “It’s not just about the aesthetics,” says Stefan Vandervelden, Head of Research Projects at Reynaers. “Any custom frame configuration has to consider the stresses of that environment and is designed to be assembled a certain way. Our systems often contain complicated technical concepts, which can be hard to explain on paper or computer screen but easy to show in 3D. In AVALON, we can educate building professionals visually on all these factors.”
Imagery in AVALON is provided by 25 Barco laser projectors, which are set up to project overlapping imagery on all five walls for a seamless rendition of the design. Unreal Engine running on 14 workstations with NVIDIA Quadro cards complete the setup, updating the scene in real time during navigation. “We had reached a time when the technology and software was all there,” says Damien Conroy, Visualization & VR Specialist at Reynaers Aluminium. “The only challenge left was putting it all together.”
The models displayed in AVALON can be imported from a variety of formats—SketchUp, Revit, ArchiCAD, and 3ds Max—giving architects the freedom to create in the application of their choice. The AVALON team uses the Datasmith plugin in Unreal Studio to import the files to Unreal Engine.
When a client is satisfied with the design in AVALON, they can visit Reynaers’ Technology Center to see first-hand the physical products they’ve selected, giving them a full picture of the design and construction of their project.
Real-time for better design
With Unreal Engine available as part of the free Unreal Studio beta and recent advances in hardware technology, the barriers to interactive media are finally falling away. In 2019, we expect to see more and more architecture professionals moving to these types of single-platform presentation tools and taking advantage of everything they have to offer. Whether for in-house collaboration or client presentation, these tools enable architects to illustrate their vision, engage stakeholders, store and review technical specifications, and most importantly, tell the stories they want to tell.