Due to constraints introduced by COVID-19, remote learning has provided both students and professors with exciting and novel challenges. It allowed some innovation in the faculty of architecture’s department of interior design, which has introduced a new technology to supplement current class structures: an augmented reality framework where students’ digital models are converted into “virtual interior environments.”
Jason Shields, assistant professor of interior design and the studio head, described the program as a tool “to analyze 3D space without being able to enter 3D space with each other.”
The project is being developed with the help of the faculty of architecture’s fabrication lab FABLab, the VRLab (a joint venture between the faculty of architecture and Price faculty of engineering) and the Student Innovation and Enrichment Fund (SIEF).
“When students begin to ideate and create buildings, we no longer just do it in a two-dimensional drawing, like the typical drafting that you would see for architectural drawings of the past,” Shields said.
“What we do is we create a fully almost immersive model, in a sense. So, there’s software which you use to create and produce the drawings and the 3D model, but that’s usually somewhat static in a sense — it’s used to kind of produce the drawings so that you can get the building built.
“It’s not as much used for exploration and examination.”
Shields explained students already had to make 3D models for their classes prior to the pandemic, but reviewing them was more difficult due to remote learning.
“We have now moved into this digital framework now for a year, in a sense, where we are no longer able to go over to the student’s computer and help them,” he said.
Pandemic constraints prevented Shields and his students from using the VRLab, since it would require sharing public devices. Instead, Shields was able to figure out a distance-friendly approach that could run on devices students are more likely to have, like tablets and laptops.
“It’s almost like jumping into a video game,” Shields said.
“You are that first-person view, and you have control over […] the avatar, and you can walk and traverse all throughout the model. Additionally, you can chat and talk to other people who are in the model.”
This focus on accessibility allowed students who aren’t able to visit the university or who have vertigo issues with VR to engage with the studio. It also means Shields can invite visitors.
“If I was wanting to, say, have some students come into the model, and I wanted some professionals to also assist and be able to look at what the student’s work is, collaborate with other fields, all I simply do is I send them a URL, and they’re able to download some software and just jump right into that model,” Shields said.
He went on to discuss the benefits this technology has for teaching theory in the classroom.
“Imagine it as we all take a field trip to whatever we’re building, and we are all inside the building pointing things out and talking about it, rather than postulating and theorizing about what it could look like,” Shields said.
“The term I often say is, ‘Don’t tell me how it works, show me how it works,’ and I think this really allows you to be able to see where the connections, architecturally, are occurring.”
Further, Shields talked about how this approach can be used for architecture in the future.
“I think this now allows for even better cross-collaboration and discussion,” he said.
“Now, if the person who’s constructing the building or contractors want to see exactly what it is, the engineer or the architect can begin to invite them into the model. They can have the discussion right in the model — they don’t have to drive halfway across the city [or] things of that nature.”
However, Shields said internet equity is a concern.
“If you’re connecting to Zoom all day, and you’re connecting the 3D models and such, it may have an effect if your internet is not strong or if you have data caps,” he said.
“We have to look to solutions. There’s kind of an inequitable approach to that, where if everyone’s in the same space at one time in person, we don’t have to worry about their connection falling out because they’re in person with you […] We have these technological hurdles that we have to encounter now and often, because class times are quite short, we don’t have much turnaround time if there are any issues.”
Still, every piece of technology comes with drawbacks, and on the whole Shields is very pleased with what his studio has been able to accomplish with the format.
“I see it as a really great tool for analysis, for evaluation and especially for individuals that have issues with accessibility,” Shields said.
“I think by creating this digital 3D framework, it allows for many different people, from many different fields, from many different locations, to be able to engage in it.”