Virtual Reality in Teaching Architecture.

Dr. Vassilis Bourdakis

Keywords architecture, teaching, software outline.

Aim

To help architects appreciate and utilise Computer Aided Architectural Design (CAAD) as an everyday tool for their design work and not only for presentation purposes. In order to achieve this aim, software designers have to be familiar with the particularities of architectural design.

Background

It has been acknowledged that architects (both students and practitioners) use computers as a drafting and presentation tool rather than for design. This is mainly due to the structure of the existing software and until recently to hardware limitations. The software available is, in its majority, designed, developed and marketed by computer scientists engineers and as such does not adhere/follow the way architects think, design, draw. Hardware limitations are mainly in processing power (rendering speed) and in video graphics technology.

Furthermore, the CAAD courses available in the UK and abroad are focused on providing the general computer software operation skills and as such are not addressing the actual problem.

Work carried out so far

The researcher has worked extensively with AutoCAD and 3Dstudio in the PC platform and SG as a practising architect for the last six years and more recently in teaching. Early in the process it was necessary to develop various tools aiding in the creation of 3D models and simple volumetrics; a quick way to produce a rough working model.

However visualisation of such models is always hindered by the need to set up perspective views (since all modelling is done in wireframe mode) and following render them. This way, potential problems are hidden, since it is not feasible to render a model from all possible views. Needless to say that the views the designer selects are the ones he has most thought off and as such are the least likely to create problems.

Real time rendered viewing help in quickly visualising designs, understanding how the elements and components are put together as well as their relationships in 3D space and realising errors in the earlier rather than the later stages of design. Such facilities are provided in a few high-end workstation platforms (Silicon Graphics being the main one). However what needs addressing is ways of editing architectural models interactively in full rendered views (preferably on personal computers). Furthermore such software should be priced within the reach of the users; solutions that cost 20,000 as is common in the workstation market are not going to be of much help, especially if we want to use them in HE.

An application that would be very beneficial to architectural teaching is a modeller both accurate and flexible enough in modifying geometry interactively as well as supporting Boolean operations for the creation of the complicated volumes architects are using. This is where the existing software is failing; very often real time editing on fully rendered perspective views is done using X, Y and Z transformation sliders that are both un-intuitive and in certain cases impossible to use.

Some important points

The following points are identified, they do range from practical implementations to theoretical / conceptual issues:

It is important to realise that I'm not developing s/w (although I have done a lot of scripting / programming in the past). I'm just identifying problems on the existing s/w available and propose new approaches on CAAD software design. However, it seems that I will soon have to work closely with software developers as it seems that no one is really providing software customised for architectural design. The work carried out in CASA, University of Bath has now reached a point that we cannot progress any further without the help of specialists.

Software developers are focusing on the construction industry looking from the project management, drafting, surveying point of view (which is important but not the only part of the building process that computers can/should be used and definitely not the approach that computer education in schools of architecture should adopt).