In October 2001, the ITS/SALA Immersive Environments Lab (IEL) was built to demonstrate and experiment with the use of low-cost immersive visualization technology solutions for design education. The IEL has provided a facility for introductory experiential and immersive exploration of design solutions by undergraduate students in the Architecture and Landscape Architecture Departments. Initial results and feedback from the Architecture students have been very positive. Results from preliminary questionnaires have shown that students value the added spatial understanding and the walk-through capabilities of models in the IEL. Preliminary observations indicate that within the architectural context, virtual reality techniques involving depth perception can convey relevant information to students more efficiently and with less misrepresentation than traditional techniques. This research suggests that full field of view, motion, stereoscopic vision, and interactivity are possible components of the 3D visualization techniques that are necessary to enhance architectural education. Several students specifically commented on psychological dimensions, such as "you can envision being in your project" or the "ability to show others what you see in your imagination." It would seem that initially, at least, the utility of the key VR ingredients of wide field of view, stereoscopic projection, and interactivity have been validated by the students. These results are consistent with recent studies in the SEALab immersive projection display at the Applied Research Lab at Penn State where students identified increased understanding of construction methods for a nuclear power plant through the use of the immersive virtual environment.
While early results documenting benefits of the IEL are important, much additional work remains to define the most appropriate uses of immersive virtual reality technology for design and construction education and practice. This proposed project will seek to define methods and techniques to illustrate the use of this technology in the Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Architectural Engineering Departments (Departments) along with the related practices. It will also seek to illustrate the importance of collaboration between all participants in the design and construction process through the development of a comprehensive immersive model of the new School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (SALA) Building.
Recent upgrades in the IEL include the addition of a third projection screen to increase overall display area, resolution and the sense of peripheral surround afforded to viewers; as well as the addition of a multi-CPU (4 system) Linux rendering cluster to improve graphics performance when the system is used in three-screen VR mode. Together these upgrades will allow more students to visualize and interact more effectively with 3D models of greater size and visual complexity than could be handled by the previous two-screen, single system setup. A project to simplify the work-flow issues related to the efficient use of the IEL by undergraduate students has begun this spring. This will provide better definition to methods for students to effectively develop large 3D immersive models to display in the IEL, including directions for using various CAD and graphics applications along with efficient conversion techniques. This is an important task to define simple procedures to achieve the objectives defined within this proposal.
As we continue to define more efficient methods for developing immersive 3D models, it is critical that we investigate the most appropriate applications for this technology, both in education and industry. This study will focus on the development of an immersive 3D model of a building design and construction project along with the surrounding environment of the building. This will provide an educational model that can be used by the faculty and students in the Departments to graphically illustrate the roles of the various professionals in the design and construction of the built environment. The development of the model will be performed by a collaborative team of students and faculty in the Departments.