Heong Kheng Boon
Thet Naung Oo
Lee Hsien Toong
Chin Kee Ting
Kyaw Htet Paing
About The Project
Augmenting the Creative Intellect
Meet a life-sized lion up close.
In August 2019, Google introduced a functionality allowing you to do just that. Try searching for the term lion using Google on your mobile phone1 and an option to view it in your space may appear. Select it and the phone prompts you to move it around, allowing it to build a spatial model of the environment2. As your surroundings are captured onscreen through the camera, a hologram of a lion eventually appears. Walk around to see it from different perspectives on your phone. The virtual lion remains even when you turn the screen away, occasionally reminding you of its presence when it roars.
Augmented Reality (AR) technology has crossed a significant threshold in its development in recent years, making experiences like the Google lion accessible today, and likely, ubiquitous in future as it continues to be incorporated into upcoming computing devices. The moment is ripe for architects to explore the potential of such technology. Can it be a valuable addition to our increasingly digital design toolkits?
Before discussing Augmented Reality (AR) further though, we should distinguish it from Virtual Reality (VR). The two are often conflated in the public imagination and indeed both are forms of interactive technologies with often overlapping hardware and software platforms.3 A key distinction is that VR immerses the user in a virtually generated world, while AR allows users to experience both virtual holograms—created out of light and sound—and real objects in a blended experience.4 The former divorces users from their immediate physical context, while the latter preserves and even enhances their ability to interact with it.
In 2019, we introduced a course to the Architecture Sustainable Design (A+SD) curriculum called Augmented Design at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). This was part of a university-wide agenda to expose students to emerging technology and prepare them for an increasingly fluid technological future. We wanted to investigate the use of AR at various stages of the design to production process by developing apps5 targeting mobile devices (Figure 1) and the Microsoft Hololens headset6, and by testing them in different scenarios.
In the first half of the course, students had to analyse their current studio design workflows and propose ways of enhancing routine processes using AR. They were later required to perform a live demonstration of the augmented process using their custom apps on mobile phones and tablets. One student group was taking a studio7 exploring woven structures and chose to address a shortcoming of their current physical modelling methods, which limited them to small scale prototypes. Instead, the students wanted to be able to model their structures directly on site and immediately evaluate the results at 1:1 scale. They developed an app allowing them to record points in space with a tablet and then generate a woven surface from these coordinates. Meanwhile, team-mates could view a hologram of the structure on their phones concurrently from different vantage points during its creation process (Figure 2).
Another student group was exploring drone-ports in studio8, which involved designing structures that these flying machines could land and take off easily from. Flightpaths were a critical design constraint and students had to avoid creating obstructions with their forms. The group wanted to make these important constraints more explicit by representing flightpaths spatially and dynamically through an AR experience. Using their phones like paintbrushes, they drew flightpaths around a physical model of their structure, and then viewed how simulated drones would fly in this airspace Figure 3). The visualisation of these spatially complex paths helped inform the shape of their subsequent structures.
In the second half of the course, we focused on using AR for fabrication. Students were asked to design and assemble a spatial lattice structure, which was based on a constructive system developed earlier for the 2018 Venice Biennale Singapore Pavilion. During the staging (and re-staging) of the pavilion, contractors had difficulties reading the construction documentation (plans and elevations), which did not adequately convey how such an intricate non-orthogonal structure should be assembled. Considering this experience, students were challenged to not only design a structure based on the system, but more importantly, develop an interactive AR app to capture assembly instructions as an alternative to conventional construction documents.
Students were split into two groups of eight. Each group had to assemble a lattice structure designed by the other team. They were equipped with a Hololens device (Figure 4) alongside an AR app (Figure 5) developed by the other group and were given no further instructions. Students used the AR apps to display holograms of the structures in incremental states on both the Hololens and their phones, then assembled physical modules to match the virtual reference (Figure 6, Figure 7 & Figure 8). Each team completed the structure successfully (Figure 9 & Figure 10) using this approach with minimal, if any, assistance from the other group.
These case studies demonstrate how AR can be applied in design conception and fabrication stages. Yet the use of AR is not limited to an academic context and has started to extend into the professional domain. Recently, SHoP architects in New York have been using AR to show clients proposed designs directly on site.9 The winning proposal for last year’s Tallinn Architecture Biennale installation competition was a curvaceous wooden and steel Pavilion10 fabricated with the aid of the Hololens device. Back home, Surbana Jurong is researching new construction paradigms involving AR11.
Nearly 60 years ago, Douglas Englebart started research into systems to augment the human intellect12; 30 years later, Claudell and Mizell13 prototyped a head-mounted HUD set that was a precursor to modern devices. Today, AR technology has finally developed to a stage, whereby it is ready for widespread adoption. The results of the Augmented Design course hint at some possibilities of AR: enabling us to produce more interactive and information-laden design representations; and fabricate structures directly using fewer notations. Further exciting possibilities lie ahead as we continue to explore ways of augmenting our creative processes using this technology.
- This feature is only enabled on Android phones with ARCore and Iphones with ARkit.
- The phone builds an understanding of the space by detecting features in the environment with your camera using an underlying algorithm called SLAM.
- For example, software environments like Unreal and Unity can be used to author both VR and AR apps. Mobile phones can be used for both AR and VR.
- Gwyllim Jahn, Nick van den Berg, and Cameron Newham, “Making in Mixed Reality,” in Recalibration On Imprecision and Infidelity Proceedings of 38th ACADIA conference, ed. Phillip Anzalone, Marcella Del Signore and Andrew Wit (Mexico: ACADIA, 2018), 88-97
- The apps were developed using Fologram, a plugin for the Grasshopper/Rhino software environment, which students were familiar with. “Fologram,” Fologram, accessed 3st January 2020, https://fologram.com/
- The Hololens is a wearable goggle like headset developed by Microsoft, It can track the environment more accurately than mobile phones, as well as hand gestures to provide another level of interactivity. “Hololens 2,” Microsoft, accessed 31st January 2020, https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/hololens
- The Craft and Topology of Woven Forms was a design studio was led by Ar. Kenneth Koh.
- Drones on the Beach: A Coastal Droneport for Singapore was a design studio led by Dr. Peter Ortner.
- Stefanos Chen, “How Virtual Reality is Augmenting Reality,” New York Times, November 8, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/08/realestate/how-virtual-reality-is-augmenting-realty.html
- The Steampunk pavilion was a collaboration between SoomeenHahm Design, Igor Pantic and Fologram.“Case Studies,” Fologram, accessed 31st January 2020, https://fologram.com/#case-studies
- Cheng Tai Fatt et al., Translating Research and Innovation in the Built Environment (Singapore: Building and Construction Authority, 2019), 49.
- In 1962, Douglas Engelbart—an engineer/inventor—wrote ““Augmenting Human Intellect”, establishing a conceptual framework for future research into systems that enhance our capability to handle complexity.
- Caudell, Thomas and David Mizell, “Augmented reality: an application of heads-up display technology to manual manufacturing processes,” in Proceedings of the twenty-fifth Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences Vol.2, (Hawaii: 1992), 659-669.