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3-D, Virtual Reality and Modeling Technology Advancements Benefit Architects and Clients

December 16, 2015

When ICON Architectural Group of Grand Forks, N.D., works on a building design for a client, the company’s goal is for the client to be able to fully visualize the project from the very beginning. Thanks to a 3-D printer and virtual reality goggles, the client is able to hold a miniature version of the project and walk through the building before any construction work ever starts.

“It leaves our clients with fewer surprises because they know what they’re getting before they even walk up the steps of that finished building,” says Kyle Kvamme, business development director at ICON. At Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Architecture Inc., architect Catherine Dekkenga says these technologies take a 2-D drawing and bring it to life. “A lot of clients aren’t used to working with plans so it’s hard for them to visualize their building. The Oculus Rift virtual reality headset brings them into the space, and a 3-D model lets them physically see and feel the project.”

But both ICON and Architecture Inc., along with the majority of the largest architecture firms in the region, start designing a building first as a sketch by hand before turning to building information modeling (BIM) software, which provides all the data for the design, engineering and construction of the building. The software can also be used to develop 3-D renderings.

Building Information Modeling

The most popular BIM software is Revit, which ICON, Architecture Inc., Grand Forks-based JLG Architects, Sioux Falls, S.D.-based TSP Inc. and Fargo, N.D.-based LJA all use. The 3-D modeling software has skyrocketed in popularity in the Midwest in the past five to seven years, says Josh Kehrwald, project manager at JLG. “Our intent is to build the building accurately, so this software allows us to test various design and equipment solutions and make changes instantly. It also allows the client to make information-based decisions and leverage that information for long-term projects.”

Jason Nelson, associate and design technology leader at TSP Inc., says BIM software has made it easier for the firm’s architects and engineers to collaborate. “Being able to get into one model helps our staff to be able to collaborate better, and it really feels like you’re doing it together. It’s a lot more fun for our clients and staff to actually get their hands on something and see it sooner.”

The software allows design teams to show their clients what a building will look like from any vantage point and to make images that are easier for clients to understand. “We have an artist who is able to produce a high level of artist’s renderings, and all projects get the same level of graphic care, which we’ve found helps our clients fundraise for projects because those renderings help them convey their message and goal,” Kehrwald says. The software also allows designers to create animated flythroughs of buildings.

Other Technology

BIM software “opens up the realm of 3-D modeling and 3-D printing,” says Paul Boerboom, principal and senior architect at TSP Inc. “Previously, it would have taken hours to produce a model; now, a model can be used in numerous ways,” Boerboom says. Kvamme says the software allows ICON team members to easily export the design to a 3-D printer or virtual reality program. “That one model can be used in so many ways, which has really opened us up to these other technologies,” Kvamme says.

TSP does not own a 3-D printer but can have 3-D models printed if it would benefit a client. “Clients aren’t demanding it right now,” Nelson says. “We’re looking into virtual reality and 3-D printing, but they continue to change so much. We don’t want to put something in place and have no one use it, so we’ll keep testing and trying them out.”

LJA hasn’t seen a need to invest in 3-D printing yet either, says associate Joseph Lorsung. “It’s cool and has become more cost effective, but our clients haven’t demanded it. With 3-D rendering software, physical models aren’t as necessary anymore.”

JLG owns a couple small-scale 3-D printers, but they’re currently used mainly for marketing. “We’re interested in anything that helps clients understand their projects,” Kehrwald says. “We have looked at virtual reality, but we haven’t gone too far down that path yet. We are starting to see the 3-D printers used more on the design side. We try to stay on top of new technology, and we do a pretty good job regionally of pushing the envelope technologically. These technologies are there for a reason, so we’re going to use them. It’s an exciting time to see where the wave is taking us, and we want to be on the cutting edge of that technology to help direct where it’s going.”

Advantages for Firms

As these technologies continue to grow, Kehrwald says it has helped JLG become more efficient. “We’re able to move through projects a lot more quickly. The digital model has all the information the entire team needs in it, and we’re able to see all updates instantly, which, in turn, helps us produce results faster.”

ICON has seen numerous advantages from using Revit, 3-D printing and virtual reality, Kvamme says. “We’re able to tailor our design to people’s abilities to comprehend different visuals. We always try to have everything so everyone can understand, and these different options help us get buy-in and understanding. It’s so important to us, because these designs aren’t for us, they’re for the client.”

Architecture Inc. has internally reaped the benefits of adding the virtual reality software and headset. “Oculus Rift helps us internally because our interior designers, for example, can go into the space and figure out what will look best and what furniture will fit into the space best. It takes the guesswork out of their jobs and makes it easier to plan,” says Tara Twedt, marketing director.

But improving workflow and providing a better product aren’t the only benefits of technology advancements, Twedt says. “By adding new technology, it shows we’re staying ahead of the curve, which is important because technology is continuously advancing. If you don’t add the newest technology, you’re going to be missing out.”

Advantages for Clients

Perhaps the greatest advantage to having access to these technologies for clients is that they’re “able to make more confident decisions,” Kehrwald says. “They don’t need to go back and revisit parts of a project once construction starts.” Todd Jelinski, an architect with LJA, says it allows clients to be more confident in their investments. “Before they make that investment, they can see what they’re getting and can change things pre-construction.”

Jelinski says BIM software has “opened it up to allow a lot of people to be able to envision a finished project. We’re able to animate renderings, which brings a completely new energy to a project.”

Kvamme says modeling software, 3-D printing and virtual reality help clients understand their buildings in greater detail. “We could print out a whole school, and then break out the cafeteria to see what the flow and sight lines will be. Using virtual reality, an executive can visualize his office before it’s ever built. They know every little detail of the building before they ever walk up the steps for the first time.”

Kayla Prasek

Staff Writer, Prairie Business


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