Seeing is Believing: How Real-Time Visualization Affects the Design Process

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Architects transform ideas into reality. Through the iterative process of design, we mold ideas into physical solutions. Generally, the average person is not technically trained at understanding architectural drawings and would not get the full story of a design through 2-dimensional drawings. Even with the onset of computer-aided design (CAD) technology, graphic communication through the design process was often disjointed.

Not so today. The emerging tools at the architect’s disposal – BIM and real-time visualization software have revolutionized the way architects work.

What is BIM?

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is the foundational tool that architects today use to develop a design concept into a fully articulated and detailed set of plans for construction. It has superseded CAD. BIM is a three-dimensional digital model where architects collaborate closely with their design partners so that each discipline can see how their part fits together. In essence, the architect and

their team can construct an entire building from foundation and structure to finishes and systems in the virtual world before it ever exists.

What is real-time visualization?

In addition to the power of BIM, further developments in computer visualization technology allow architects to generate photo-realistic images of a building design very quickly. Visualization software plugs in to a BIM model and uses the information stored within to create realistic representations of the building in the virtual realm. In this virtual world architects can walk or fly around inside their designs, taking clients on a tour of their building before they ever break ground. This ability has changed the game for the way architects design and how they communicate their work. It has quickly become the must-have tool for today’s architecture and design professionals.

BIM and real-time visualization software have revolutionized the way architects work.

Real-time visualization allows us to see realistic visuals of our projects throughout the design phases. Frame 1: Revit (BIM) model geometry; Frame 2: Enscape rendering; Frame 3: Photograph of finished building

How Real-Time Visualization Has Revolutionized the Field of Architecture & Design

Thanks to modern technology for real-time rendering the architect’s workflow has been revolutionized, allowing architects to design better, faster and to communicate their work more effectively to the public.

“Now Try This” – a Valuable Design Tool

The highly efficient way real-time visualization technology can produce a photorealistic image allows architects to “see” their work product like never before. Similar to the way architects quickly test ideas by layering trace paper over a plan to compare options, architects can now quickly test design options or make modifications and see them update from a real-world perspective.

The insight gained from this ability means architects are able not only able to create more compelling visuals but design buildings that perform better too.


Enhances our understanding of real-world sites and building conditions based on projects specific location

Tests how solar orientation and lighting affects a project at different times

Tests different materials

Helps explore and determine the best views

Measures scale and proportion using virtual reality in first person perspective

(Top) Through the design process, architects use rough sketches to explore design options. (Bottom) BIM and real-time visualization enhance this process by giving a real-world perspective.

“Can You Move That Wall Here” –Communicating Design and Engaging Clients

The way our clients see and understand our design work is ultimately what determines success. With real-time rendering our work can be communicated in a more impactful way. This technology now gives our clients the ability to experience their projects. What better way than to place your client “within” the project in 3 dimensions? The results:

• Better understanding of the project during the design process.

• More valuable feedback from the client during project development.

• Decisions are made faster, and projects can progress more seamlessly with less surprises.

“That’s Not Supposed to be There” –Identify & Solve Issues

The architect’s ability to virtually walk around in their work can result in revealing flaws not easily seen in other forms of graphic representation. Issues that once may have been hidden are now visible and they can be addressed sooner.

So, what may be in store for the future? Stay tuned for Part II where we will learn how emerging technologies are further shaking up the world of architecture. ■

H/S EXPERIENCE As human beings, we spend our personal and professional time within the built environment. As Architects, we are privileged to create spaces where people can gather, live, learn, work, eat, sleep, and worship. Therefore, it is incumbent that we design spaces that enhance the quality of life and nurture a greater passion for living. Our design approach is influenced by the environment, culture, and community in which architecture exists. To take it further... We Design for Life.

Brendan J. Boudreau is an architect at Holly & Smith Architects who spearheads the design of a vast array of building types and scales. Instilled with a love of sketching and designing by hand, Brendan appreciates the enhanced abilities that emerging technologies allow and utilizes them daily to improve his process.

As we have seen, the benefits to real-time visualization are many.
But as we all know, the world is changing at a more rapid pace than ever before.
Providing the future user with the ability to preview the work before it is built takes surprises out of the equation.
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