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How interactive real-time tools can enable design, collaboration and communication

Ken Pimentel

Gaming technologies enable all stakeholders in a building to influence its future, in real time

Digital twin of the Centre Block, Canadian Parliament building, Ottowa.
Digital twin of the Centre Block, Canadian Parliament building, Ottowa. Credit: Courtesy of CENTRUS

The digital transformation of architecture, engineering and construction is accelerating. Firms large and small are experimenting and deploying interactive real-time tools for design, collaboration and communication with stakeholders. A recent survey from Forrester revealed that 77% of AEC respondents were adopting real-time technology to manage increasingly complex visual design workloads and that 75% were pursuing it to visually communicate designs with stakeholders. Projects are only getting larger and more detailed – putting a lot of stress on design tools. Real-time solutions can help address these challenges.

Once you have a 3D expression of your design, the real-time rendering power of today’s game engines and graphics processing units make it a small step to turn that into a virtual time machine, where you can visit the future and learn about the impact of your design, or meet stakeholders – from fellow designers to investors, planners, and the public (to explain how their needs will be met or their problems addressed). Those same real-time assets can then be brought into a range of interactive applications depending on the need; digital twins, configurators, custom design and engineering tools and even the metaverse beckons. Once inside the digital room, building or city, they will be able to make design changes together in real-time, and experience different versions of the future. But they will be doing so in the present, when changing a design is much cheaper than during construction.

Once inside the digital room, building or city, they will be able to make design changes together in real-time

As the digitisation of the built environment progresses, these digital spaces have the potential to evolve along with the project, turning design itself from a phase, into a continuous process. What starts as a visualisation of a proposed development could become a VR component in a community engagement programme. The same model can then be used to steer decisions as elements of a project come together – whether plots on a masterplan, or furniture pieces in an interior concept. On delivery, procurement and construction can be tracked and streamlined through digitised processes, before the space becomes a digital twin. While occupied, the twin can track and deliver energy, services and operations and then, upon disassembly, be a passport helping to manage and audit an increasingly circular material economy. Rather than a replacement of the physical world, digital will facilitate new opportunities for us to sustainably enhance it. 

There is an opportunity here for a truly collaborative experience across the spectrum of stakeholders involved in a project lifecycle, while connecting people to create a more holistic ecosystem. At Epic Games, we follow an open standards philosophy, and create software that enables stakeholders from designers to planners to occupants to come together and have a stake in building future spaces. It is imperative that the skills and access required to build and experience digital spaces are made available to as many people as possible - because we don’t yet know what the true possibilities of this interconnectivity will be. The future awaits, it’s just a download away.

Ken Pimentel is architecture industry manager at Epic Games


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