Architecture and Virtual Reality

- - The original note follows - -

From: [email protected] (Frederick Clifford Gibson)
Subject: Architecture and Virtual Reality
Date: Sun, 16 Jan 1994 20:50:14 GMT

Architecture and Virtual Reality - Is a convergence near?

Fake Space Labs - Menlo Park, CA

My co-worker John Young and I recently experienced Architectural
V.R. at FSL via the Fake Space Boom3C (used by NASA among
others) connected to an SGI Crimson Reality Engine. (about
$200,000 in hardware alone).

The virtual environment was of a single-family residence
modeled/textured by Chris Gruel (Formally employed at Production
City in Mill Valley - our animation-to-video shop of choice)

The interface uses opto-mechanical tracking with a high resolution
(Stereoscopic 1280x960 24 bit color) viewing display connected via a
universal joint to a flexible boom. Handles with thumb buttons are
mounted on both sides of the suspended display unit. In this
simulation, one button engaged forward motion, and the other reverse
motion. The direction of motion is based on the physical
location/rotation of the viewing unit in space; i.e. you move in the
direction you are looking. For example, if you look up and press the
forward motion button, you move up (in the z axis). If you look down
and press the reverse motion button, the ground plane moves away
as you move up.

As a tool for understanding spatial relationships and kinetic
experiences during the design process, V.R. is unparalleled.
The ability to "hover" in space, to "zoom" through the design, to
approach details slowly and move around them; this is a designer's
dream come true. In this particular simulation, no constraints were
placed on speed/direction of motion, and no collision detection was
active. You could literally fly through walls. On one occasion, I stood
in the living room, looked down, and pressed the reverse motion
button. I "lifted off" and watched the living room recede away during
my ascent until I "broke" through the roof, and watched the house
recede as I ascended into the Virtual atmosphere.

Missing from this simulation was direct interaction with the Virtual
environment. Also missing was "reality" limitation modules to allow
"human-like" movement through the space when desired. Also
missing was "object-kinetics" such as doors opening when
approached, or faucets turning to get a virtual drink. (Yes, even the
faucets were modeled in the bathroom sinks.) These are all software
issues which Chris is currently working on.

But the most important addition is Interaction. We were shown a
video from NASA's wind tunnel simulations where the boom is used
in conjuction with a glove input device. The glove was used to
position emitters around the Space Shuttle to model the wind
currents around the Shuttle from the emitter's position in space.
Apparantly, the NASA programmers also created a "pull-down"
window interface that allowed model manipulation from menus
appearing within the virtual environment. The Architectural analogy to
this would include AutoCAD "pull-down" menus to aid in environment

The ideal V.R. interface for designers will include not only
visualization and interaction, but the ability to create designs while
immersed in the Virtual Environment at a reasonable cost.

Fred Gibson

[email protected]
Designer, KMD Architects - San Francisco
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