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From the Design Quarterly: Why should design firms leverage gaming engines?

September 26, 2018

By Sarah Dreger

The Digital Practice group borrows tech from the video game world to solve design challenges

As the global leader of Digital Practice for Stantec Buildings, Sarah ensures Stantec’s practitioners are working with the latest and greatest in technology, turning their experience into wise approaches to technological integration across the Buildings group.

Today, we’re discussing why her group would borrow tech from the video game world and how they apply it to solve design challenges.

[Adapted from the Stantec Design Quarterly, Issue 03 – Technology Driving Change.]

What’s driving us to look at new technology in the visualization realm?

Sarah: Globalization. We have design stakeholders from all over the world. So, we ask ourselves how best to enable these conversations, to make sure everybody understands what’s going on relative to a project, and then how best to share current status and decisions for those who aren’t present. That’s where we see the advantage of taking a technology that was developed for gaming and bringing it into our industry for the benefit of our clients and our design teams.

Why should design firms leverage gaming engines?

Sarah: If you stop and think about it, it really makes sense. If you look at the realistic quality of games or brief rendered animations today, they’re photorealistic. It’s amazing.

One of the challenges we have as a design firm, is bringing that experience to our clients to help drive critical informed decision-making earlier in the design process. Clients often think they know what they want, but in the complex world of building design, sometimes things get lost in translation between initial concept and opening day. It’s up to us, as design professionals, to try and make that a more fluid, seamless process. In the case of gaming technology, it already exists; we don’t need to reinvent the wheel, we just need to apply that powerful technology to a new realm—design.

We’re also working with the internal and external teams designing the project. It’s important to get everybody on the same page. It can help a person envision what the layout of the room is going to be, where services are going to be placed, door swings, things like that. Add to this the ability to simulate the lighting conditions throughout the day of the space and it allows them to make quicker, more informed decisions. Not only can technology help that process, but the visual simulations help support marketing activities—not only for us but for our clients, too.

But, I think the most compelling aspect of visualization is that it creates a common space where people, regardless of geography or location or expertise, can go into a single virtual location and have a shared experience. Imagine everyone—client, architect, interior designer, engineer—are all looking at exactly the same thing, from the same perspective. It enables intelligent conversation, integrative thinking, and rapid problem-solving.

How can we apply this?

Sarah: The portable, accessible nature of this gaming technology makes it appealing and powerful. For example, I’ve used it with a surgical team. Any architect working in the health sector understands how difficult and expensive it is to take a surgical team out of their natural habitat—the operating room. And, they’re surgical specialists, not architects! So, it’s sometimes difficult to get them to understand the space that they’re helping design. A two-dimensional drawing or paper mock-up is not going to communicate if the door swing will impede workflow within an active operating room, for example.

Not only can technology help that process, but the visual simulations help support marketing activities—not only for us but for our clients, too.

We use virtual reality in concert with the gaming engine to create the desired experience. We can take one or two people on-site and set up a virtual space in a manner of minutes, at a location that’s convenient for them. Surgeons can come in and experience the whole space—the whole site—in minutes versus hours. They can see what the lighting looks like. They can tell where their equipment is at physical scale and can interact with objects and equipment within that space.

Simulating the real-life experience of their future operating room allows them to comment in a meaningful way. That one review of the OR suite saved us a ton of time and energy because we got the first one right and then simply replicated that design throughout the rest of the department.

Is this emblematic of how we’re approaching new technology?

Sarah: The design industry is historically behind in technological advancement when compared with others. Consequently, we often create our own technology to advance the building design industry and meet the growing needs of the practice, but we always look at other industries such as manufacturing or gaming, for ideas and innovation. That’s where we see some of the biggest opportunities. We’re not just looking for something new and shiny, we’re looking to leverage technology from other industries and all sources to advance and support our practice.

There are so many opportunities for innovation if we just look to the future. Not only will we benefit as an industry, but our clients will benefit as well.

When I look to the future, I see technology as the great equalizer. It’s going to narrow the gap between the theoretical and the actual, between design and fabrication, it will change our role and how we engage. To me, that’s pretty cool.

  • Sarah Dreger

    Sarah supports the Buildings practice infrastructure and operations by seeking and implementing the best digital practice technology available.

    Contact Sarah
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