Category Archives: Technology

Notes from The Cube: VR is an R

Senior Associate David O’Connor takes a turn in the VR model.

Virtual Reality has become a reality at Centerbrook Architects & Planners.

Today, during our “Friday Dessert” presentation in The Cube, staff demoed our newest tool of the trade.

We’ve been keeping tabs on VR and its applications to the architecture industry for a while now; considering all of the hardware and software options, and just how it could be integrated into our practice.

With digital design coordinator Mike Hart and architectural intern Ben Mayne on the case, we decided the time was right to take the leap. Mike and Ben procured an Oculus Rift headset and controllers, which is fed by graphics from software programs Revit and Unreal Engine 4.

Mike and Ben liked that the Oculus Rift is light, so the virtual experience isn’t hampered by headset weight. Ben recommended pairing our modeling program Revit with Unreal 4 based on his experience using it as a student in Cornell University’s School of Architecture & Planning program.

A staple in video gaming and movie animation, Unreal is finding its way into our industry due to its efficient, photorealistic renderings and lifelike animations. Other users of Unreal Engine include Adidas, Chevrolet, McDonald’s, Mountain Dew and even NASA, who implemented it to prepare astronauts for missions to the International Space Station.

So with this setup we’re ready to involve our clients in the design process in a whole new way.

Associate Principal Justin Hedde recalled that while our recently-completed residence in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, was carefully detailed and rendered, the client only grasped what they were getting when they stood on-site and saw it with their own eyes. He believes VR can facilitate greater client involvement in the design process.

“We are in a world where we’re designing duplicate environments – the virtual environment before the real environment,” said Hedde, who helped steer our VR effort. “The more we understand and experience in the virtual, the smoother things are going to be during construction.”

As to Friday’s test run in The Cube with one of our latest residence designs as the subject, the reaction was nearly universal from architects and staff alike: “This is so cool.”

A “wicked cool” may have also been uttered. That was me.

The Antisocial Guide to Twitter

Part 1 in our series on How to use the Internet

As the resident technology junkie here @centerbrook, I’m going to use my next few posts to take those of you who might be a little scared of the internet on a whirlwind tour of the tools I use every day to manage the onslaught of noise. If you’re feeling adventurous, jump right in and try out some of the services shown in the diagram above. They won’t bite.

I’m going to break this series into 3 parts:
1. Discovering cool stuff
2. Saving cool stuff to read later
3. Archiving cool stuff for future reference

Why Twitter?
Even if you don’t want to tell the world what you had for breakfast (Pop-Tarts & Wheat Thins), you don’t have to be scared of “social media.” Here’s a little secret about some of the biggest social media sites on the web: They’re not very social.

Continue reading The Antisocial Guide to Twitter

App Design Captivates Curmudgeon

I consider myself a technological curmudgeon. I didn’t used to be. Back in the day I was quite the audiophile, with an auto-reverse cassette deck and one of the first CD players in the neighborhood. But all that changed with kids, bills, and the general press of life’s business. Well, as the oft-repeated adage goes, “What goes around comes around.”

It was bound to happen. I am surrounded by technologically adroit architects who have such wonderful digital toys to help them ply their craft, to make virtual, 3-D buildings appear full-blown from the ether before nary hammer contacts a single nail. And they can make that digital house dance the Hokey Poky, if they want to. Continue reading App Design Captivates Curmudgeon

What I Learned from Video Games

I take a lot of heat around here for being in my 30s and still playing video games. An interest in gaming carries little to no cultural cachet amongst architects and designers. I don’t mind, though. My interests tend to run a little bit askew from those around me. In college, I resisted the black clothes and ironic eyeglasses popular in architecture school. While my peers were debating high culture, I was “modding” my computers and reading science fiction. Continue reading What I Learned from Video Games

Designing on the Fly

Center for Community "Working Wall"

Editor’s Note: Architect Scott Allen was a member of the Centerbrook design team led by partner Jim Childress for the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Center for Community. Revit is the 3D modeling software that, along with other new technologies, has revolutionized how and where architectural design and planning can be conducted. Below, Scott recounts three days in the life of modern design, a frenetic hi-tech road trip that was preceded by three months of preliminary research and collaboration with the client and members of the widely dispersed design team. It would take several more months to finalize the planning for the 320,000-square-foot building, which opened last fall to critical acclaim both on and off campus.

CENTERBROOK, CT – March 4, 2008, 9:04 AM EST: Design charette with Jim. We (OK, mostly Jim) have sketched out about a dozen different ideas; thankfully, he settles on five. Peter and I have the rest of the day to lay them out floor by floor in Revit to confirm we’re in the client’s programmatic ballpark.

1:00 PM – Transcontinental GoTo Meeting with the Davis Partnership design team, our collaborators in Colorado, to discuss schedule, presentation materials, and evaluate various schemes – also to confirm we will have time in Denver to print drawings and construct massing models for the five building concepts. No way airport security will let us walk on board armed to the teeth with drawing tubes.

March 5, 4:15 AM – Leaving house to make flight to Denver

5:33 AM – Bradley Airport: Peter’s new pants still have price tags on them. I have an internal debate over whether to tell him. Continue reading Designing on the Fly

Cell Phone Sellout a Faustian Bargain

Base station church tower Maasland, Holland

They have been with us for less than two decades and they are now a relentless necessity.  We’d sooner do without flush toilets than our cell phones.  If we can’t reach everyone from everywhere, or get the latest stock quotes while we’re on the treadmill, our business and personal lives are deeply compromised.

You’re in the Pet Food Aisle and you’re drawing a blank: does Whiskers distain Meow Mix or Little Friskies?  No problem, just pull your trusty cell out of its holster and call home.

To keep Whiskers purring, of course, the call HAS to go through.  And there’s the rub.  What we gave little thought to as our addiction grew was that total connectivity implied infrastructure, which isn’t always pretty – especially when it is given precious little forethought.  You can’t miss the sprawl: cell towers towering over pine forests, littering highways, atop pristine hills and ridges, sometimes “disguised” as trees-not-found-in-nature.  These fake trees are graphic testimony to the problem, but they are a sorry charade.  You stare at them longer than you do the silver blighters. Continue reading Cell Phone Sellout a Faustian Bargain