Last week we received some lovely photos of the outdoor play space at the Renown Park Children’s Centre, completed last year for DECD. The plants are flourishing and it’s wonderful to see the children playing in the space. As the trees mature it will be even better, with more shade and variation in height across the landscape. We used predominately local native plants as well as some fruits and veggies and deciduous trees.
Beautiful renders can really capture the atmosphere of a project and help show the client not only what their project will look like but also how the virtual space can become a useable one. But for many of our projects, spending hours on competition style rendering or the cost of outsourcing is just unrealistic.
In times past, smaller projects have been left with flat elevations and renders that can make it difficult to convey our true design intent to the client. It’s easy for us to imagine and trust in our vision for a building, but the process of client consultation can really benefit from the client sharing in this.
Over the past year we’ve found plug-in programs to be immensely useful for quick and easy render production. Creating convincing images and walk-throughs without the need to spend hours on settings, materials and editing, our plug-ins create rendered images in real-time using graphics from your BIM material library.
From fast white card models, to realistic rendering; this tool allows the client to gain a greater understanding of our designs – what they see is what they’ll actually get. The panoramas and whole model walk-throughs allow for a far more immersive experience and can be used to easily and accessibly bring VR into small projects. It also means the rendered images are always easily updated as the BIM model changes.
At Russell and Yelland we have been working with Virtual Reality for a year now. We would like to share some of our experiences and lessons from this journey which we see as the early days of VR.
The term Virtual Reality is an oxymoron; it is the combination of unreal ‘virtual’ and real ‘reality’. Virtual in this context is the computer simulation of what our senses perceive to be the world around us: that is, Reality. From its beginning VR hardware has looked like a bulky, cumbersome set of goggles. While the technology is evolving it’s appearance has not changed much.
VR is not a new thing but recently there has been renewed interest and big name technology companies are jumping on board.
There are two key factors which recently arrived and made Virtual Reality accessible for architectural firms such as Russell and Yelland. We already had the first piece of the puzzle, the virtual 3D model, because this is part of our regular architectural design workflow.
The recent innovations which have been able to plug into our architectural practice are;
- VR hardware, now accessible, user friendly and at a level of quality able to provide an immersive experience.
- Real-time rendering software, aka a ‘gaming engine’ that runs in our regular design environment.
A life-like experience where one can move around the environment requires a powerful computer to perform the real-time graphics processing to update the view corresponding to every movement the user makes. The hardware providing the best experience right now is a ‘head tracking virtual reality headset’; the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are the two products which have created the recent VR sensation. These headsets both launched consumer products in 2016. Both plug into a desktop computer and require additional sensors placed around the user to translate real world movement into the virtual environment. The VR hardware acts as both the screen and the input (keyboard/mouse), movements of the users head are translated to input commands for the virtual environment.
The virtual environment must respond instantaneously to the actions of the viewer to create a convincing reality. Without the recent development of graphics technology and ‘gaming engines’ we would have to wait hours for CAD software to render a single realistic image. While not a super realistic representation, what the gaming engines lack in detail they make up for with speed. Real-time speed. Using our regular design software we are now able to plug-in a gaming engine and see our digital models in a life-like view while; moving through them, working on a design or trying different options.
The graphic output required to present an immersive VR experience is beyond anything we require regular video to provide and it all comes down to the frame rate. Typically a video can look seamless at 24 frames per second but when you introduce head tracking (the ability for the viewpoint of the scene to move in relation to the users movements) the frame rate demand skyrockets. A typical video feed at 24 frames per second, strobes as you turn your head, leaving gaps of darkness in the path of your glance. This is referred to as ‘latency’, not only does latency disrupt the immersion of the scene it is also a cause of motion sickness. The output recommended for a realistic experience with a motion tracking VR headset is 90 frames per second (FPS) and that is per eye, as there is a unique image sent to each eye. Comparing that to the movie industry standard of 24, a quality VR experience is asking the PC to output a total of 180 FPS which is 7.5 times more images than a movie presents its viewers with. Even The Hobbit movie which created fanfare with its “High Frame Rate” of 48 FPS is not even a third of this frequency. With that perspective it is not surprising you need a very powerful PC to produce this graphic output.
Such a setup is not very portable, though we did take the whole kit to Brompton Primary School for a media event (as pictured), it is not something you would want to assemble every meeting. At a minimum it required; 5 power outlets, the desktop PC, the PC monitor, two independent sensors plugged in and on tripods and the headset link box. We also set up a projector so the students not wearing the headset could see what was happening in the virtual environment.
With all of the setup, bulk and cables between everything including from the users headset to the PC we have still found the experience and comprehension of a design to be unequalled by any other presentation method. There have also been a spectrum of ways we can share these experiences with varying dependence on technology.
Stay tuned for part two to hear what else we have been up to!
This project recently won an IESANZ SA/NT lighting Award of Excellence.
The judges stated:
“It was evident from the street as soon as we arrived at the site that this was going to be something special. An excellent example of project coordination between all design partners – architect, interior designer, engineer, lighting designer and client. The integration of architecture and lighting is exceptional. The attention to detail by all involved (including the electrical contractor is first-rate. All involved in this project should be commended on an excellent result.”
Project Architects: Emily Chalk & Craig Buckberry, Russell & Yelland
Lighting Designers: Robert Bartosik & Anthony Davidson, Secon Consulting Engineers
The new Administration Building at Galilee Catholic School at Aldinga received a Commendation in the recent inaugural Learning Environments Australasia SA Regional Awards.
The Building includes reception, staff, parish and community facilities.
As architects we interpret the brief into a built form for our clients.
What we miss sometimes is how our buildings interface with their surroundings and community. The idea of the perfect home in suburbia does not necessarily provide opportunities for social interaction and congregation, as they may be far from businesses, public spaces and services.
This interesting short talk is food for thought on how social interaction and life style contributes to people’s longevity in life.
This talk sparked my interest on how we, as designers, can help to contribute to people’s social life through our buildings.
I am particularly keen to see how in our current aged care projects we can better provide social interaction to reduce the feeling of loneliness for residents.
How can we activate shared spaces?
How can we make spaces more inclusive?
How can we encourage social interaction?
How can our design make people happier?
These are just a few of the questions we need to consider and incorporate in our work.
At this years South Australian Institute of Architects Awards, Director of Russell and Yelland Architects John Held was awarded the 2017 Sir James Irwin President’s Medal.
The Sir James Irwin President’s Medal is the highest accolade offered by the Australian Institute of Architects within South Australia.
When delivering the award current SA chapter president Mario Dreosti’s noted John’s contribution to industry “which has demonstrated core professional values of innovation in technologies, collaboration in our thinking, and in a willingness to lead and deliver vast amounts of voluntary contribution to the benefit of our whole industry”
The Sir James Irwin President’s Medal is awarded each year to a member or industry collaborative considered by the President to have made a significant contribution to architecture. It was established in 1992 through the generosity of the Irwin family in memory and in recognition of the services to architecture of Sir James Irwin. Previous recipients include Francesco Bonato, John Morhphett AM, OBE, LFRAI, John Schenk LFRAIA, Susan Phillips and Michael Pilkington.
A copy of the full citation can be found here
Is stepping up to the small stuff also the path to improving the profession’s wider role in society?
In recent weeks I’ve heard some horror stories of projects going wrong. I don’t know all the details (and thankfully they are not our own projects) but there seems to be a common thread in many of them of architects simply not stepping up.
At the same time I’ve been reading about the architect’s role in society. Indy Johar, for example, states that for architects to have relevance “we must realign to focus on all citizens and all their needs; not the construction and real estate industry who are only a means for making our environment”. He talks about both social and spatial justice to allow all citizens to flourish.
How are these connected? Is it because, in both cases, architects don’t step up?
John Held reflects on conjunctions of research and practice in a talk presented at the Australian Institute of Architects Flipped Forum, which asked ‘Can practice lead research?’
What does it mean to ‘flip’? In the strict pedagogical definition, it denotes swapping the roles of classroom and homework – reviewing and gathering content out of session, and using face-to-face time for discussion and exploration of the topic. But in the context of this discussion more likely it refers to the idea of practice-led or practice-based research. What forms could that take?
I have a bit of a problem with the definition of ‘practice’ as an activity divorced from academia, and the related idea of practice being just about business, profitability and technical capability.
How not to do it
Our firm was approached by a university a few years ago for seed funding for an interesting project related to sustainability. We considered it carefully but they didn’t want us involved in the research – ‘please hand us your money and we’ll give you a report at the end’. Any chance of learning went out the window, as did we.
How it informs design
If you are to be good at what you do, you have to keep up with research. If you are going to be involved in design for education, know what the research is saying.
As an example, the research of Carla Rinaldi and her influence on early childhood education in South Australia continues as architects participate in joint research on pedagogy and architecture as part of the South Australian Collaborative Childhood Project.
Keeping abreast of research on environments for aged people with memory loss is critical if your buildings are going to be calmer, happier places in which to live.
Our work with Guida Moseley Brown on Mawson Institute Building V was informed by research on research – the concept of placing disparate science and engineering disciplines together; with offices and labs directly connected, and making those researchers bump into each other and help solve each other’s problems.
So perhaps the concept of practitioners and researchers ‘bumping into each other’ is an inspiration for how we should approach practice and research.
How does it happen in practices?
In the midst of project deadlines and dramas and worrying about not having enough work or too much work, the importance of both reflective practice and internal research is really important.
Access to your own data for decision-making doesn’t sound like high-end research, but it’s surprising the stories you hear of architects who have no idea about the detail of their own practices.
In our case, as an example, we’ve spent a great deal of time and reflection on how to change workflows, project processes and outputs to suit truly collaborative BIM workflows.
It may not sound grand but it involves the same methodologies as academic research. We are also researching ways of integrating Virtual Reality into those workflows – not just for clients, but as part of our design review processes.
Finally, we realise the important links between the universities and practice, which is why we have three of our staff teaching and always have students working for us to keep those links alive.
Few small practices have the resources to fund academic research – but as a profession we should be doing this.
How does it happen as a profession?
We really dropped the ball in the last 15 years as a profession in terms of research about architects. There’s been no significant work done on the effect of documentation quality on construction costs for 17 years. It’s even longer since the CSIRO did research on fees.
We don’t know how many architects there are in Australia, how many work in alternative roles, what happens to graduates after university, and why starting salaries are below most other professions.
Susan Shannon’s work was the first I’d seen tracking graduates – and should be the basis of a much bigger longitudinal survey over many years to get a better understanding of what we actually do as architects – and as graduates who don’t get registered but do other equally important things.
The Parlour survey was the first time we’d seen the scope of the many different ways you can practice architecture.
Locally, the SA State of the Profession survey highlighted a number of issues that need to be addressed – pay, gender equity, career paths, the unexplained dropout of mid-career architects and, most importantly, the future of the profession. But tellingly, we couldn’t get the required outcomes from universities – at least not for the budget we had available. We ended up going to people who bridge academia and other non-traditional forms or practice – in this case, Justine Clark and Gillian Matthewson. And trying to get a national version of the survey up finding the funding is proving very difficult.
The spinoff – a great series of reflective pieces under the theme “Where to From Here” – again highlight a diversity of practice and a belief in the future of our profession.
Our next try at research is to get access to the large amounts of data held by government clients – in this case DPTI – to actually find out relationships between fees, hours, and building outcomes.
How does it happen as a policy instrument?
If you are going to lobby on behalf of architects to government or clients you had better have some facts to back it up – even in this world of alternative facts.
You want to change the type of procurement? Here’s some facts about what happens when you do.
Want us to work for free? Here’s some facts about what happens when you do.
Want to cut our fees again? Here’s some facts about what happens when you do.
Want to push us downstream, rather than as a trusted advisor? Here’s the evidence.
But it’s hard to find good evidence, because the research isn’t there.
We don’t have a group whose sole purpose is to produce solid research: even if the answers are not quite what you hoped.
How does it happen as an industry?
It doesn’t – at least not enough. The lack of investment in R&D in the industry is well known, and because so much of it is fragmented and comprised of very small organisations it’s not likely to improve without external funding sources.
This is too big a topic for today – suffice to say that if architects don’t help lead the push for more research, other groups will, to our detriment.
Firstly, we need to see practice and academia as a continuum, as opposed to polar opposites, because that is how it is in the real world. At the same time, we need to understand who is doing the big picture thinking about the future of practice. This can only happen if you treat “practice” (in all its forms) as a subject worthy of academic discourse and research.
Our main task, therefore, is to strengthen links between academia and practice – and understand that all the different and alternative futures of the profession are reliant on this.
2016 has been a good year for Russell & Yelland. Significant projects included the new Science and Administration facilities under construction at Concordia College, with the administration building and the St. Johns Canopy complete; work commencing on the new Caritas Building at Nazareth Catholic College, Flinders Park, and the Boarding House at St Josephs School Port Lincoln nearing completion. We undertook a number of projects in Whyalla, including completion of the Cedar Wing at Yeltana Nursing Home, a major feasibility study for future secondary schooling in Whyalla (in association with Phillips Pilkington Architects), and planning studies for STEM facilities for four Whyalla primary schools. We are working on another three of these STEM projects, with the Minister for Education, Dr Susan Close, celebrating the commencement of construction of the Brompton Primary project with a Virtual Reality tour of the new facility. This VR technology is changing the way we can experience design – we are very excited about future opportunities in this area!Other projects included completion of school projects at Galilee and St John Bosco Catholic schools; a number of projects in country hospitals including a new renal & dialysis facility at the Gawler Hospital, and a large number of public housing schemes. The new Renown Park Preschool is under construction, and we undertook master planning for Nazareth and Woodcroft College campuses. Our UniSA Mt. Gambier Learning Centre (in association with GMB Architects) won awards from Learning Environments Australasia and the MBA.
In June we farewelled Alex Clothier, who has moved to Sydney, and Dan Schumann who returned to Flightpath Architects. We welcomed Rhiana Bell and Anthea Marshall in November following their graduation from Adelaide University – both have previously worked with us as students. We also have Jess Weiland, a fourth year student, working with us at present.
We’ve also welcomed Tara, a daughter to Jeremy and Vouch, and Connor, a son for Stewart and Mia. We’ve kept our cooking skills sharp with a “how to make gnocchi” night at Craig’s house. Alistair and Stewart are both still building their houses, Craig and Pippa bought a barn in Mt Barker and Will and Kim a renovator’s special– whilst John’s happy for a couple of weeks overseas in January instead.
As is usual, we have made a donation to the Australian Refugee Association in lieu of sending cards.
Our office will be closed from noon on Thursday 22nd December and will reopen on Monday 9th January. You can contact John Held on 0417 840 337 until the 3rd January and Craig Buckberry on 0401 393 706 for the remainder of the break if required.
We’d like to thank our team, clients, and colleagues for the opportunity to make great places and we wish you all a blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year!