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Using Virtual Reality in the Design Process
by Braden T. Meadows, University of Georgia, College of Environment and Design

Using Virtual Reality in the Design Process

Augmented reality, depicted here with the viewers using Microsoft HoloLens gear, superimposes virtual elements onto the real world. Virtual reality integrates the user in an artificial world through immersion of the senses, including sight, sound and more.
Photo: Microsoft

As designers, landscape architects are always striving for the most efficient, effective, and engaging options for showcasing their work. As an undergraduate student, the same motives exist and that is what prompted me, with the assistance of PhD student Micah Taylor, to explore the applications of Augmented and Virtual Reality to landscape architectural design. These constantly evolving tools are gradually becoming more user-friendly and easier to incorporate into the regular workflow of design projects.

For the project featured in this article, some of the most simplistic technologies that exist in the realm of augmented and virtual reality were used during the presentation process. However, more advanced technology is available to assist throughout the entire design cycle.

Using Virtual Reality in the Design Process

Because nighttime lighting was a significant element to this project's design, the entire plan was scanned in and rendered in Adobe Photoshop to illustrate selective illumination.

It started with a group project for a design studio at the University of Georgia, College of Environment and Design. It involved the hypothetical redesign of UGA's south campus. After conceptualizing the plan and coming up with a physical study model, the existing buildings, circulation, and contours were drawn in AutoCAD. Utilizing a mixed media graphics approach, the simplified base plan was plotted from AutoCAD and hand graphics were used to add proposed plant materials and outdoor structures.

Using Virtual Reality in the Design Process

Using Lumion, a 3D-rendering software tool, photorealistic renderings of site features were added including: trees, shrubs, groundcovers, benches, light standards, surface materials, and lighting accents to complete the 3D rendering.

To further communicate the design, our group embarked on a 3D SketchUp and Lumion workflow. We geo-located our site using the "Location" feature of SketchUp and draped our AutoCAD base plan onto the existing topography. 3D Buildings and outdoor structures were added in SketchUp. The file was exported as a 3D file (.DAE) and imported into Lumion, an extremely powerful 3D-rendering software tool, which allows users to apply photorealistic effects to three dimensional objects and space.

This software has the additional capability to quickly and easily represent changes in time of day and weather conditions. Using this capability, we assigned the lighting features to create a nighttime 3D model of our design. This digital rendering alongside images of our hand-rendered master plan resulted in the ability to present both conventional, widely accepted graphic communications with cutting-edge rendering tools.

Using Virtual Reality in the Design Process

Google Cardboard, a device that uses engineered lenses, was integrated into the workflow to translate a panorama of the design into an immersive, yet inexpensive and readily accessible, 360-degree experience.

As mentioned, the final touch to our first-year's capstone project was to provide viewers with a virtual reality experience. Lumion has a feature that allows the user to render a 360-degree panorama that captures the entirety of a space. The software then lets the user export this panorama as a .JPEG to an application called IrisVR. This program allows users to upload a 360-degree image to their server and then view it on any mobile device that has an Internet connection. We were already aware of the complexity and disorientation that accompanies many users' experiences with virtual reality, so we sought a medium that could deliver a useful, immersive experience that was inexpensive and readily accessible: a simple device called Google Cardboard, which uses engineered lenses to translate a panorama into an immersive 360-degree experience.

Using the IrisVR app on our phones, we used five Google Cardboards to showcase five unique scenes in our design. The absence of movement tracking in Google Cardboard's simple virtual reality experience we viewed as an advantage-minimizing the amount of disorientation that the user experienced while still providing an immersive and effective presentation.

Though a simplistic use of augmented and virtual reality; for many landscape architects this method could provide an additional graphic technique to their professional repertoire and that "pop" to a critically important design presentation. There are more interactive virtual reality applications that allow the user to not only view a surrogate of a real place, but also to collaborate on design ideas by interacting with the scene. Furthermore, augmented reality technology is improving the ability to represent design scenarios on-site or onto hard-copy plans in a client presentation. These more advanced applications are emerging and are sure to play a major role in the future of design.

Studio Design Team: Braden T. Meadows, Rory C. Granros, Jonathan D. Diaddigo, Cole B. Allison, and Macon R. Chapman, B.L.A. students, College of Environment and Design, UGA

Technical Support: Micah Taylor, PhD student, College of Environment and Design, UGA

Using Virtual Reality in the Design Process

A phone app, IrisVR, combined five unique scenes of the design to provide an effective presentation with a minimal amount of disorientation to the viewer.

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As seen in LASN magazine, December 2018.

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November 13, 2019, 7:53 pm PDT

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