Often, clients have difficulties visualizing a design element within a space, even when provided with a physical model, 3D renderings, and additional mock-ups. For the recently completed LEED Platinum US headquarters for the Institute of Systems Biology (ISB), the general contractor, BNBuilders, employed a technology called Augmented Reality (AR), which was originally developed in part at the Human Interface Technology Lab (HITLab) at the University of Washington. Primarily, this technology helps the client better understand un-built design elements at the physical project site in real time. It brings the design to life.
“In the last decade, AR has become popular in gaming and media entertainment and on mobile devices, but has rarely been applied to practical applications in the design and construction industry,” explains a spokesperson from BNBuilders. “However, AR does have direct application to building design and construction.”
While it may initially seem complex, the AR workflow for ISB was extremely manageable. With the Building Information Model (BIM) provided by Perkins+Will, BNBuilders translated the design into Google SketchUp format. The construction area was then set up with markers to aid in registration of key building surfaces and locations of the major design elements. Special software plug-ins were used to assist in tracking these markers, and an overlay of the 3D digital model was then aligned with the construction area via an iPad or similar tablet. As the viewer moves through the space with the tablet and AR technology in hand, the overlay of the 3D model can be viewed from multiple full-scale perspectives. For ISB, this meant that every party on the project, from the architect to the general contractor to the client to the part manufacturers, were able to more quickly reach a fully shared understanding of the design, related expectations, quality control, and construction sequence.
“At ISB, the project team used BIM in all facets of the project to increase understanding, communication, and confidence in the design. Of course the team applied BIM in design and coordination, but BNBuilders also used it on the project site to leverage the team’s investment in modeling, for the benefit of detailers and trade laborers assembling and installing the work,” says Dace Campbell, former Director of Innovation for BNBuilders. The team also identified opportunities for BIM and AR to help with “layout and installation, illustrating the location of concealed work, and facilities operations and maintenance.”
Dan Belcher, a former AR developer at the HITLab (now with LMNts at LMN Architects), sees the future of AR as a major part of the design and construction industry, particularly since it so dramatically impacts how we can experience the built environment. “The ability to seamlessly merge virtual and physical objects in situ allows builders, designers, and occupants to experience the digital in a fundamentally new way. Augmented Reality interactions form a much more natural and intuitive relationship to the 3D world than your keyboard, mouse, and monitor ever will. Augmented Reality technology is progressing at a rapid pace, so expect to see more and more mainstream applications in the AEC industry in the coming years.” Our own firm’s design applications group couldn’t agree more.
Developing technologies, such as AR, have empowered the construction industry to go beyond the rim of BIM and to further improve the design and construction processes. The ISB team was especially enthusiastic about how AR is improving the communication exchange amongst the architect, building owners, clients, consultants, and all parties of the design and construction process, making these processes more inclusive than ever before.