Epic Games Inc. Supports Architecture Faculty Research in VR for Design

Two people using virtual reality technology in a room
Students in the spring Gaming Architecture class experimented with virtual reality as a design tool. photo / provided
a group of people looking at an on-screen VR demonstration in a room
Students and faculty used a darkened room referred to as "the cave" to compare different VR programs, including Epic Games Inc.'s Unreal Engine 4. photo / provided
A person wearing a VR headset
Students interested in the Virtual Places project took the Gaming Architecture seminar in the spring and many will have the option to take a fall architecture studio utilizing the new VR design tools. photo / provided
Students in the spring Gaming Architecture class experimented with virtual reality as a design tool. photo / provided Students and faculty used a darkened room referred to as "the cave" to compare different VR programs, including Epic Games Inc.'s Unreal Engine 4. photo / provided Students interested in the Virtual Places project took the Gaming Architecture seminar in the spring and many will have the option to take a fall architecture studio utilizing the new VR design tools. photo / provided
News
June 25, 2019

Faculty in 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. Professor Henry Richardson, Assistant Professor Timur Dogan, and Assistant Professor of the Practice Martin Miller comprised the research team selected for the gift from a group of seven invited finalists in an international competition.

"Virtual Places was launched this spring with a research seminar called Gaming Architecture," explains Richardson, who cotaught the class with Dogan and Miller. "Both upper-class undergraduates and graduate students 'stress tested' several VR programs, including UE4, to match their 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 such as Mindesk.

"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," says Miller. "As architects, we rely on a wealth and understanding of codified placeholders or stand-ins. 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 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 are both phases in testing emergent VR technology for its design capability as well as in the development of the first virtual reality design studio to be offered at any school of architecture, planned for fall 2019 in the Department of Architecture at AAP.

By Edith Fikes