In an illuminating discussion, Professor Roland Greule (Dr.-Ing.), from the University of Applied Sciences, Hamburg, describes for us the progress that has been made towards a digital future. What advantages are there to be had for architects in particular from the influence of visual reality and how does virtual light help us?
Finest Interior Award: the trend for VR and AR applications continues apace.
From 2018 onwards, you are even offering a Masters in Digital Reality at the University of Applied Sciences in Hamburg. What is this course going to cover?
ROLAND GREULE: The Digital Reality course leads to a Masters in Media IT, with particular emphasis on Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR). In the first year of study, the focus will be on the technical mathematical foundations and on exploring a range of issues that arise with different types of digital reality. The second year allows the students to specialise in a particular area and to find a topic for a Master’s Thesis within the framework of a major project and research seminar, then to build on that for their Master’s thesis itself. First and foremost, the projects and the research seminar are about taking on a problem somewhere in the broad area of AR/VR/MR and then solving it using scientific methods. That means that architecture is an area of great interest for research, particularly with regard to the whole field of Building Information Modelling (BIM), whereby it is possible to visualise entire buildings, including the work of all the different trades involved.
In which areas are immersive technologies likely to still have surprises in store for us in the near future?
We now have the possibility of a realistic representation of a building – and, indeed, not only a photo-realistic one, but one that is correct in all its physical attributes and in real time, too. Add to that, the opportunity to work with tactile impressions and gestures, and to combine the whole experience with real 3D sound. Moreover, a special feature of the course will be meeting a number of users (often in different parts of the world) in a virtual space, in order to discuss issues and take decisions. This will not be entirely easy, because it will require meeting the other people with an avatar that is to be as realistic as possible, one that can imitate and, if possible, show emotions, so that one really does get the feeling of an actual presence in VR or AR.
Careers – and architecture is a case in point – are changing because of the trend towards digitalisation. In what areas do you see the greatest opportunities?
The planning, in advance, of whole buildings, in all their detail, will become a huge and extensive field of activity in the world of architecture. As will, of course, the use of VR/AR and MR techniques, together with very, very large amounts of data. For this, we shall, over the next few years, require specialists who can hold all this together. These systems are exceptionally good for being able to look at changes and details in real time and modify them – and this has hitherto been the big problem in the pre-visualisation of large, complex buildings. At the same time, problem areas can be called up directly, discussed and / or resolved. You can identify problems both before and during the construction phase itself, discuss these issues with others and find solutions together. What is more, the client can take a look at the individual areas both before and during the construction phase, move around the rooms in the virtual model and, hopefully, select or reject materials etc. Although it is fair to say that the representation of materials in a virtual world is likely to pose a few problems for some time yet, because virtual representations cannot yet perfectly simulate specific material surfaces.
Today, for instance, it is possible, by means of VR technology, to reproduce true-to-life lighting environments, which change dynamically throughout the day. That means that a cellar can be turned into a conservatory flooded with light. What else is going to be possible in this respect?
In future, we shall not only be able to alter, or completely change, the virtual light in relevant HMDs (Head Mounted Displays such as the Oculus Rift of the HTC Vive), we shall also be able to adjust the colour of the light (relatively warm or relatively cold light – defined technically as colour temperature and expressed in degrees Kelvin), so as to create a virtual environment, which either tends to encourage people to relax or tends to stimulate them to activity. And there is also the possibility not only of adjusting the composition of the light, but also of switching in coloured light. And all this can be done in a virtual environment without disturbing anyone else and specifically to fit in with one’s own mood or aesthetic taste.
In what borderline areas will we be operating in future, as far as virtual and augmented reality are concerned?
The future is heading in the direction of “smart glasses”. That means that the smartphone will find its way into a pair of glasses. As a result, we shall, in future, be able to combine the information that we have hitherto ‘read’ or ‘read out’ from our smartphones with Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality. Google Glasses opened up the field, the Microsoft Hololens is the logical next step in this direction, and there are going to be lot of new products available. The advantage of “smart glasses” is that we shall no longer have to stand more or less stock still and stare at our mobile screens with our heads bowed, as we have hitherto had to do. Instead, information will be presented to us at eye level, in the same plane in which we also view our surroundings. As far as control over the content is concerned, there will also be a whole raft of new developments with regard to tactile controls, which is a key issue in the area of the Human Computer Interface (HCI).
Roland Greule is Professor of Light and Lighting Technology in the DMI (Design, Media Information) Faculty, Dept. of Media Technology and Head of the Light Laboratory at the University of Applied Sciences in Hamburg (HAW).
Architects must prepare themselves, so that they still have a role to play in the future.
PHOTO courtesy of: T. Fischer, Hamburg