The correct presentation of our planning results has always been an important task for us. As a general planner for municipal sports and pool facilities, we try to present our client representatives, but also their political committees, their major municipal project as transparently as possible.
Consequently, we have been working with VR technologies for several years. VR glasses now make it possible to experience rendered 3D visualizations in an impressive way. We have already been able to use this technology in a number of projects, most recently in the Silvretta Therme construction project in Ischgl. However, this form of presentation has its limitations. You need VR glasses and those who put them on always appear isolated. In addition, we are tied to our planning software (Allplan) to be able to show the status of the planning or prepared rooms.
With the new web-based VR interaction space, these obstacles can be spectacularly dissolved. Several factors then came together for the development of the digital platform last year. Our digital partner COMKOM° approached us about testing out a new technology together.
We have trusted each other for almost 25 years. They had already produced 360° panoramic tours of bathrooms for us. With Covid, we had also become accustomed to remote presentation, but also learned about its weaknesses. Finally, there was a funding initiative with Mittelstand Innovativ & Digital that allowed us to cushion the investment risk somewhat.
How does the VR room work and what is special about it?
The new VR interaction room can be visited via all browsers and any newer digital device without having to download any software. This is already an enormous advantage. You follow a link and can enter the virtual KRIEGER room. With its own camera image and sound.
What's really extraordinary is that you move steplessly like in a gaming environment. There are no predetermined points that you have to jump to. There are also no VR glasses on the nose, which are extremely distracting during conversations and cover every emotion. The display quality is also surprisingly realistic. For those who have never "gamed" before - and that is surprisingly many, at least in our generation - it takes a few seconds to understand the controls. But then it's really fun to dash through the rooms.
As a result, we now have a virtual KRIEGER showroom, with different functions and room types. There we can hold workshops, share our screens on several walls at the same time or give a presentation in speaker mode.
What needs do you see covered by the virtual showroom?
The focus for us is of course on planning data and visualizations, which we actually have to and want to coordinate constantly and in many directions. Therefore, it was particularly important for us to be able to transfer our BIM-based planning data into the application without any major detours.
So now we have the possibility to load models into the KRIEGER room and put them there in the showroom, so to speak. This can be the complete building complex from Ischgl or the extracted representation of the bath water treatment of our partner company DTF Ingenieure.
The special thing now is that we can dive into the respective status of the model with builders, project managers or specialist planners. This means that the first project discussions already take place in the building, even though it has not yet been built. We are convinced that this allows us and the clients to get a feeling for the building, light and room dimensions, which saves us from unwanted surprises later on in the project.
What were the biggest challenges during development?
This is already an extremely exciting web technology that is being used. However, the fact that all the data is calculated in real time from the users' individual computers requires fairly small files. Our planning data, on the other hand, is quite large. We also have a high demand for textures, light, reflections, and so on. Therefore, in the first step it was important for us to find a good balance between visual quality and performance of the application.
In a development process like this, there are always real steps forward and also some perceived steps backward. However, this is commonplace in a digitization process. The results that we are already seeing and using are impressive. Now we have to figure out how to interpret these design opportunities well for us. After all, our core business is planning and its implementation. That's why it was also important for us to be able to adopt the models 1:1 and not have any additional effort to integrate them into the virtual showroom.
What are the advantages over the now established tools?
The established communication tools such as Teams or Zoom are certainly tried and tested for daily exchange and we can no longer imagine life without them. But we have all recognized that we are missing the spatial in the tools. We are always two-dimensional there. But the power of space is essential for us architects by nature. That's what we're missing.
We feel that having the opportunity to link remote and space is an important next step. The funding commitment from Jülich also proves us right. Individual dialog and interpersonal exchange are once again possible online in the virtual KRIEGER room.
It's not one person talking, and everyone has to be on mute. Rather, participants hear each other when they are near each other in the VR room; at a distance, their sound becomes quiet. Just like in real life. This allows informal conversations to occur simultaneously and between smaller groups of participants during a virtual walkthrough.
Does the development continue?
We will test various use cases and translate them into functions. With the virtual showroom, there are actually no conceptual limits, and we want to expand them together with COMKOM°. We can also imagine, for example, making final and approved planning statuses accessible to the citizens of a city or municipality. This is a wonderful communication platform in terms of citizen participation and transparency.
Thomas Kalman is an architect and managing director at KRIEGER Architkten . Engineers. Among other things, he is responsible there for the digitalization strategy of the architecture and engineering firm. In addition to BIM integration, it is primarily VR and AR applications that interest the company in optimizing its own processes.