We invited David Calas, architect, lecturer at the Technical University of Vienna and owner of Studio Calas, to give us an interview. We want to know how he, as an architect, assesses the impact of developments in VR and AR technologies for his Profession.
Finest Interior Award. Buildings and spaces can be planned, constructed and viewed using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies, well before there have been any production or realisation costs. What other advantages do you see in the application of VR and AR to architecture?
David Calas: VR and AR technologies bring a fresh, new and enlightening approach to architectural visualisation. Architecture can be viewed and ‘experienced’ in three dimensions, which is why VR and AR approaches come close to the heart of architectural representation. In virtual perception, deeper insight into the finished structure can be achieved, as can a better sense of scale, proportion and distance.
In addition, new visualisation technologies provide a broader sense of content and detail, one that is no longer restricted to an audience of experts. Whilst, for instance, blueprints can only be interpreted by experts, projects that can be viewed in virtual reality are intelligible to everyone. That means that spaces designed in a virtual world reach out to a broad central swathe of society. They contribute to a general understanding of architecture and will, hopefully, raise the profile of the profession.
And what are the disadvantages?
Architectural visualisations only reflect reality to a limited extent. Simple renderings can sometimes be deceptive and a far cry from actual reality. With VR and AR technologies, these images can be over-intensified. Atmospheric effects can be over-emphasised and awaken false hopes with regard to the architecture. Digital technologies will, in principle, always lack a very important emotional component, which evolves as one looks at a physical space or model. And, when all is said and done, a number of scientific studies have demonstrated that the human eye processes computer-generated images differently. As a result, the virtual experience falls short of replicating true sensory perceptions and, at the end of the day, the awareness of space, too.
Using AR, we can theoretically get our reality to appear however we want it to. How real can virtual reality become, in your view?
It is difficult to imagine virtual representation ever achieving a level of true reality. AR remains a technology that offers a lot of help when it comes to visualisation and perception of space. If, however, it’s about emotional space, together with smells, temperature and the natural sound corridor, then virtual reality soon comes up against its limits.
Innovative developments such as VR and AR offer the possibility of a whole new standard for day-to-day working practices. To what extent has digitalisation changed – and will continue to change – your day-to-day working practices, as an architect?
We work a lot with digital tools in our office, for the purposes of strategic communication of content and details. Our aim is to use digitalisation as a technical tool, so as to achieve a broader understanding of specific planning decisions. So, these are regularly used in participation procedures and recently also in an architectural travel book ‘Architectural showpieces in South Tyrol – experiencing culture in stone’. (with free app for AR).
Using VR apps, clients can become architects themselves, in the comfort of their own home. Is digitalisation shaking the foundations on which the architectural sector is based?
There is, in my view, no reason for architectural practitioners to feel that their livelihoods are in any way threatened by digital tools. Creative design decisions are cognitive processes, and these are difficult to imitate digitally.
What opportunities do new technologies like VR and AR bring with them for architects?
The opportunities are strongly related to communicating architectural issues and testing the decisions made during the design and planning process.
What do you advise architects, who have so far had relatively little contact with digital Tools?
Basically, you should draw inspiration from digital tools and try out for yourself possible ways in which you might use them. To those with a blinding fascination for the new technology, I should caution discretion, so as to make sensible use of the equipment.
According to a recent study, one in three Germans will soon own some VR glasses and will, as a result, be constantly filtering reality through them. As a result, they will also perceive architecture in a different way. Do we need to rethink the role of the architect and his or her profession?
The architect’s profession needs to adapt and re-examine itself constantly. It is important to learn from examples in the past, to understand them and skilfully combine them to meet today’s requirements and challenges. Only that way can architecture be re-interpreted or interpreted in fresh new ways. These are important elements, which architecture itself employs to create a filter for social necessities.
David Calas, architect, urbanist, curator and lecturer in the Faculty of Architecture and Spatial Design at the Technical University of Vienna. Has his own practice, the STUDIO CALAS, in Vienna. Works at the interface between architecture, town planning, communication and art. Is involved in teaching and research relating to participatory design work in the digital Age.
Studio Calas (Link: http://www.studio-calas.net) operate in the fields of urban development, socio-cultural involvement and digitalisation. Their focus is on the interaction of design and social development. Their motto ‘build social cultural sustain’ stands for high levels of expertise and describes the scope of the studio’s activities.
The project office consists of a dynamic, interdisciplinary team, that is re-constituted afresh for each Project.
Architects need to prepare themselves, so that they still have a role to play in the future.
Photo: Sven Wuttej