Virtual Reality as Architectural Design Tool

As an architect exploring the meaning and design of fluid spaces, I have been curious about the potential of VR for representing and creating ambiances—not only visualizing but also feeling and testing spatial variations/spaces of affect. In 2017 and 2018 at l’Ecole des Ponts ParisTech, I have supervised the VR-related work of two wonderful students enrolled in the Advanced Master in Design by Data:  Keerthana Govindarazan (2016-17) and Bonny Nichol (2017-18). Both have been investigating how VR can be used as a design tool.

On one hand, Govindarazan developed a “rudimentary web VR system” to “user-test architectural design for behavioral patterns”. To conduct her experiment and test if behavior in VR environments were similar to expected behaviors in real life, she started by modeling a space based on an architectural principle devised by design theorist and practitioner Christopher Alexander (author of A Pattern Language, 1977):

Figure above: The time spent by the same user in each clicked location is visualized in this image for scene 1. The more time spent, the bigger the radius of the circle and the warmer the color. [Keerthana’s edited caption]

On the other hand, Nichol focuses on the concept of “attention”. She is aims at translating eye-tracking and EEG inputs captured during VR spatial experience as design data.

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Design by Data Advanced Master

I have been involved in the Design by Data Advanced Master (directed by Francesco Cingolani) as a lecturer investigating with students the meaning and implication of designing “fluid spaces” and guiding them to conduct research for their computational project. I am also heading the “Art, design and knowledge” area of the advanced master.

To me, it has always been important to reflect on the ways in which technologies affect spaces and transform not only production processes but also the ways in which we relate to space and the world around us. As William J. Mitchell wrote in ME++: The cyborg self and the networked city, space has the same characteristics as the onion—“My natural skin is just layer zero of a nested boundary structure.” (Mitchell, 2003: p. 7). Every layer also connects to others and can change properties.

So it is not enough to learn how to use a software or other tool and technology, one also needs to understand which software to use and to which end, and what does it exactly do. And questions of “optimization” should not be the only ones to be taken into account when building for future generations !

I am happy I have joined the conversation with the team at l’Ecole des Ponts, the best engineering school in France, Francesco Cingolani, also co-founder of the Parisian coworking space / makerspace / food lab Volumes (Subscribe to their mailing list!) and Minh Man Nguyen, co-founder of the Woma, co-working and co-making space in Paris.

If you have any question about the advanced master, join us for breakfast March 14, 2017 :-)

Also very useful.. Twitter handle: @byDataDesign