Building the impossible

Virtual construction

Translating potentially inaccurate 2D drawings to our 3D world has been a problematic area ever since the human race starting building structures. The introduction of virtual architecture has overcome this obstacle.

Any issues that the construction company highlight can be resolved with detailed 3D modelling of that aspect of the building: a kind of virtual construction. The practical upshot is that financial savings can be massive, because the potential for costly onsite mistakes is vastly reduced.

A recent example of virtual construction is the One Island East project in Hong Kong. At the centre of the design is a single 3D model that acts as a foundation onto which all the other design and construction disciplines base their work. This means that the entire team has a common 3D model to work from. Any changes made by one team instantly filter through to other departments, and workstations highlight any potential conflicts between design and construction.

So what kind of hardware are the people involved with these projects using? A recent survey revealed the hardware platforms that the architectural market currently favours. Not surprisingly, Intel-based workstations continue to dominate this space. Dual-core processors are gaining market share, but many architectural practices are still using single-processor machines. It seems that even with processor-intensive applications on the rise, 64-bit processor-based PCs are still few and far between.

Looking at the hardware generally, most practices favour custom building their own workstations, with Dell leading the charge in this market. And for image rendering, Nvidia's graphics cards are the favourite among today's designers.

Design concepts

Building maintenance is also seeing the application of new technologies. One leading development is Cospaces. This project is being partly developed by COWI, a leading construction management organisation.

Using heads-up display technology linked to 3D-visualisation software, they have developed 3D glasses through which you can look at the 3D model and the real-life building at the same time. From an engineer's or architect's standpoint, these new technologies are a godsend. They move 2D and 3D images from the flat plane of the computer monitor and into the tactile world that we're all intimately familiar with.

One example is the CAVE, a fully immersive space that can be used for a wide range of visualisations. It allows designers to walk around in buildings that they have only previously imagined or at best modelled on a computer's flat screen.

With VR system on the horizon and the development of 3D-rendering applications looking set to continue, the buildings and structures around us will become even more stunning over the next few years.

Many architects have lamented the arrival of the desktop computer to the field, complaining that architectural students now seem to be symbiotically joined to their PCs. However, the fact remains that without the capabilities of the humble desktop PC, many of the most exciting buildings in existence around the world today would not have been possible to conceive or construct.

With Moore's Law continuing to deliver annual increases in computing power, architects and designers will be able to push the envelop of design even further in the future.


First published in PC Plus, Issue 278

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