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Students in the spring Gaming Architecture research seminar experiment with virtual reality as a design tool.

Architecture team wins design funding from Epic Games

Faculty members from the Department of Architecture have received a cash gift from Epic Games Inc. in support of their work on Virtual Places, a project that is adapting the company’s virtual reality (VR) gaming engine, Unreal Engine 4 (UE4), for architectural and urban design. 

A student uses a VR tool during the Gaming Architecture seminar in the spring.

The project team includes professor Henry Richardson, assistant professor Timur Dogan and assistant professor of the practice Martin Miller. The team was selected for the gift from seven invited finalists in an international competition.

“Virtual Places was launched this spring with a research seminar called Gaming Architecture,” said Richardson, who co-taught the class with Dogan and Miller. “Both upperclass undergraduates and graduate students ‘stress tested’ several VR programs, including UE4, to match [the programs’] capabilities with desired real-time design workflows.”

In addition to their gift, Epic Games Inc. conducted a weekend workshop with the class to guide students and field questions around the software. And because the primary goal of the seminar was to compare emerging VR technologies as they open possibilities for architectural and urban design, students also took free webinars provided by other software developers.

“VR is an exceedingly powerful tool – being able to jump in and out of the environment from the onset of a design project to test and specify materials continuously with immediate feedback is a game changer,” Miller said. “Where traditionally a poché, or fill, in a drawing would be a representation of a particular material, VR and the physically based renderings available in Unreal make the material highly accurate. 

“VR makes it possible,” he said, “to understand the implications of different material selections and refine choices based on the quality of space before specifying and ultimately constructing something.”

This summer, the Virtual Places research team will finalize software builds and resulting virtual architectural and urban design assets with the support of software development consultants at Epic Games Inc. and architecture industry participants who have shown interest in the project, including FXCollaborative; Kohn, Pedersen, Fox Architects; and SHoP Architects.

The Gaming Architecture seminar and Virtual Places research project represent steps in the testing of emergent VR technology for its design capability, and in the development of the first virtual reality design studio to be offered at any school of architecture. That is planned for fall 2019 in the Department of Architecture at the College of Architecture, Art and Planning.

Edith Fikes is a design and communications assistant at the College of Architecture, Art and Planning.

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