PLP Architecture

The Next Generation Virtual Environment and Interaction Engineering

Industrial Supervisor: Lars Hesselgren, Director of Research, PLP Architecture

As somebody who has been involved in the digital industry on the architectural side from the 1980’s it gives me great pleasure to contribute to the discussion of what might happen in the future. Clearly a new generation of designers – both of systems and system users – need educating and allowed exploration into the only technology that offers a survival strategy for mankind.

Virtual environments have grown from one-off rendering shots with ray-tracing in the 80’s (I used one of the first commercially available systems then) to total environment immersion in today’s computer games. The focus has been to replicate reality, but increasingly the virtual world is acquiring its own ‘mores and morals’, some with unexpected consequences – the Arab spring comes to mind. Social media has brought its own successes and startling dangers.

The virtual environment mimicking the world is now expanding into simulating proper physics – from environmental control to structural analysis. Many animation tools and techniques exist to map this data to the ‘dumb’ 2D screen of your PC or tablet. New techniques and interaction media will need to be developed and shared to make better communication between man and machine.

Steve Jobs did the world a huge favour by moving the interaction paradigm from the mouse to the swipe. The new gestural interfaces are coming on, and clearly have a long way to go. Ever tighter integration to the personal sphere will come with systems such as Google glasses, predictive system responses, and direct mind reading.

However, it is worth reflecting that much of the success of the modern world is based not on direct interaction but by abstraction – particularly mathematics as a tool which also underlies all digital systems. Easier access into this abstract world and its manipulative tools underlies the resurgence of interest in parametric and generative systems.

Many other systems will adapt to the wide and cheap availability of computing power. We will move easily digitisable systems such as books, music, TV, movies to systems with intelligent behaviour. Cars are currently developing into new transport systems potentially allying the strengths of public systems into those hitherto regarded as private systems. One implication of this is regaining urban space back from the car to the humans; increasingly cities compete in human attractiveness as much as in location (location being irrelevant in a digital world).

Tall buildings are immensely successful, increasing numbers are being built. They are an essential tool in building dense and sustainable cities and megacities. The design tools available to the construction industry professions leverage the vastly greater computational resources available in the cloud and elsewhere. Traditional design approaches will examine a range of alternatives – typically in the hundreds. New technologies such as parametric and generative design tools allow orders of magnitude (millions rather than hundreds) larger solution sets to be both generated and assessed. Evaluations are also being automated (using tools such as generic algorithms) – the fitness criteria of any optimisation are crucial to the success of such an approach.

The role of education is vital in the area both of forming young minds and allowing research into the future. The EngD Centre in VEIV is such an institution and I await the future with bated breath.