With all the quickly-changing technologies entering the design world, it is essential here at the Workshop to figure out which new innovative ideas fit best into our toolbelt. This past summer, with the help of our invaluable intern Brian Lee, we began testing out Lumion – a 3D visualization software that produces high definition, VR compatible videos. As the software was used to produce videos for two cohousing projects – Adams Creek Cohousing, and Skagit Cohousing – the staff quickly saw how useful Lumion would be in our design process, and in communicating design ideas. These videos, which demonstrated the immersive, site-specific, detailed capabilities of VR, are showcased in Symbiosis, the 22nd Annual Seattle Architecture Foundation Model Exhibit, which will close on November 23.
A few members of the Schemata Workshop team sat down last week to discuss the pros and cons of the technology, what they learned during the process, and how they saw the future of video rendering at Schemata Workshop.
Jocelyn Beausire, Marketing
Emma Sutton, Designer
Drew Scharnitzke, Designer
Jocelyn Beausire: Could you explain how Schemata started using Lumion, and how the software was introduced?
Emma Sutton: We heard of the software because of Sarah, she’s on our innovation task force and has been keeping an eye on technology that we might implement in the office.
Drew Scharnitzke: I think one of the main reasons we veered toward a rendering visualization software as opposed to just rendering from Revit was to be able to create more live-design-analysis kind of situations, where we could very quickly try out different design options. With one project in particular, where our grade change was really significant and we had to be very meticulous, there was only so much that looking either at a 2D plan or even zooming through in Revit can really do.
JB: How much do you usually use three-dimensional visualizing techniques during your normal design process? How much of a change is this for you?
ES: It’s a pretty big change. One of the reasons that we use Revit is because it’s such a robust 3D modeling system. As architects we are really familiar with how it looks and what the output looks like, and what we’re drawing, and what plans mean in 3D. Sometimes we export 3D views, but they’re usually just little sketch views. The idea was that if we bring it into this program then we can have marketing-ready materials throughout the design process and not just at the end, and also that we can really get a sense of what it’s like to walk around the site. In 2D plans we get a sense of scale in that regard, but in 3D we have a sense of scale from the ground up and get a sense of the spaces that we are creating.
DS: I think we are also able to get a better sense without having to navigate through a series of static views. I think that the automation - being able to take a step back and kind of watch as you go in perspective views through the site or the building - it unlocks a different, expanded perspective. I work a lot in 3D space in Revit myself, while I’m putting a model together because it helps me to visualize. But in Lumion, rather than having to be the person trying to show somebody else or navigate through it, I can use my attention and focus on things I otherwise may not if I were simply scrolling through.
ES: This tool lets us offer the client an ability to really see things comprehensively, because Revit output isn’t very intuitive on its own.
JB: How did using the Lumion software, or seeing the video output for the two cohousing projects that Brian worked on, affect your understanding of the projects?
ES: I don’t know if it changed how I imagined the 3D space on the project, because Drew and I have been in those projects for so long so we have a pretty solid sense of the kind of spatial scales that exist. The thing it really did help was to understand and prioritize when working in Revit. The output we create when working in Lumion is a direct representation of the Revit model, and so the Revit model has to look the way you want it to look in Lumion. I think that has been really helpful in influencing our Revit drafting and modeling process because it means we do things really intentionally early on in the process, and we set different, abstract material standards, and it just makes it as simple as possible to work in later on.
DS: To build off what Emma is saying, even Brian’s earlier work, when he put the Lumion walk throughs together, he spent a lot of time on plantings and actual landscaping because otherwise the model felt barren. I think that is actually a great design tool that we can utilize as well, while we are focusing on the buildings, being able to integrate those things, and being able to designate different spaces, for a garden, for outdoor play, for terracing or a fountain or other plantings.
ES: I think that’s a really good point. Lumion offers views of things that Revit doesn’t do particularly easily. For example, you can work on lighting in Lumion to get a really good sense of where things need to fall in the space based on actual preferences and not just based on plan layouts. It is a lot nicer to be able to essentially sit in a space and experience it, as opposed to experiencing it from whatever view Revit is giving you.
JB: You both alluded to the possible application of Lumion in communicating with clients, which is really interesting. Do you think there is any place for this technology in the participatory design process, or in workshops, or what do you see as its limitations?
ES: I think that it could be applied at every stage of the participatory design process. Even showing people “this is what it feels like to walk through your site” without any building volumes on it, then slowly adding things, it really gives you the opportunity to offer comparisons that they wouldn’t be able to pick out from a plan or from a site view.
DS: I agree, I think it creates less of a vacuum. For example, you can use a mapping plug-in that basically allows you to place yourself on a street, and a kind of obelisk-form buildings appear, so you don’t have to actually spend time modeling those or integrating your own base-mapping software. In addition, if you have a 360-degree photo you can make what’s called a “skybox” and you can put the surroundings of your site on top of your site from a certain vantage point. Being able to do something like that provides a level of reality to a client. I think the danger that you can run into is because of how easy it is to switch out materials and all this stuff, may take you into the headspace of focusing on things that are not necessarily important in a certain phase of design. I think there might be the temptation to say, “Here, I’ll show you three different roof finishes with three different siding finishes,” and I think that could cause you to spin your wheels. But I do think there are enough opportunities to level the playing field in terms of how people understand site and how people understand the scaling of their building.
ES: Do you want to speak a little bit about putting in the view of Mt. Adams from ACC’s Common House?
DS: For Adams Creek Cohousing, there is a very compelling view of Mt. Adams from the site, and will be prominent seen from the Common House. There was actually some issue about where the mountain would be visible from, and how the massing was going to impact the views from certain units and certain points on the site. It was really valuable being able to utilize a site-based photograph and quickly generate what those actual viewpoints would be, in addition to showing the relationship between the landscape and Mt. Adams. I think it could have actually quickly helped design decisions be made because it would have made it clear that depending on what we do, the mountain either would or wouldn’t be visible.
JB: Any last comments about Lumion, the role of technology, and how you see these tools fitting into the practice?
ES: I think Lumion is really exciting because it will allow us perspectives and vantage points that we don’t normally get to touch on, and I think as architects, the more perspectives we have access to the better, and the more well-rounded, more thoughtful the design will be. That’s great for both the design team and client.
DS: I used Lumion to assist with a feasibility report for the Enumclaw aquatic center project. That design is very conceptual, and doesn’t have much detail at this time, but compared to our Revit model, the Lumion-generated views really helped provide a look and feel to the building. This was in addition to materiality and being able to modify weather and daylight settings. So even at a rough level, the Revit model can be made much more informative.
ES: I think that’s a really good point. Revit is accurate in its modeling to an exact science, and Lumion is really about being evocative.