Smart Buildings

The Game-Changing Potential of Game Engines for Building Design

What would it mean for the real estate industry if we could visit our facilities before they’re built? If we could walk around a virtual building to better understand the space and test how various systems work in real-time, before making adjustments. If we could take owners and investors on a tour of their future facility to help them engage with the design, and better appreciate the limitations and opportunities. That is what is being promised by the introduction of game engines to the built environment sector. Game engines are software frameworks developed to create video games. They are the foundation upon which video games are built. While some major game engines are kept in-house (id Software and Electronic Arts), others are open (Epic/Unreal and Unity) to game developers and others, like a new generation of building designers. These architects and engineers want to use game engines to immerse themselves and their clients into their […]

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What would it mean for the real estate industry if we could visit our facilities before they’re built? If we could walk around a virtual building to better understand the space and test how various systems work in real-time, before making adjustments.

If we could take owners and investors on a tour of their future facility to help them engage with the design, and better appreciate the limitations and opportunities. That is what is being promised by the introduction of game engines to the built environment sector.

Game engines are software frameworks developed to create video games. They are the foundation upon which video games are built. While some major game engines are kept in-house (id Software and Electronic Arts), others are open (Epic/Unreal and Unity) to game developers and others, like a new generation of building designers.

These architects and engineers want to use game engines to immerse themselves and their clients into their projects for a range of benefits across the building lifecycle.

“Much like the initial appeal of BIM was 3D geometry, the initial appeal of utilizing a gaming environment was to easily look at a 3D-rendered environment. Being able to show clients how pretty their new lobby will be, or the view from the CEO’s office in a 3D, immersive manner goes a long way,” says Marcello Sgambelluri, Director of Advanced Technology at John A. Martin & Associates.

“But this doesn’t have to only apply to the artistic aspects of a building. It can be useful to visualize structure and MEP systems in such an environment as well.”

Game Engines for Building Design & Construction

In principle, game engines are a framework in which multiple elements of space, design, and function can be simulated and interacted in ways other digital technologies do not allow.

This means that designers not only have the ability to walk through building designs but also see how efficiently various mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) systems work, and how they could be improved. Creating a real game-changer for building design.

Game engine-based tools are now being developed specifically for architectural/construction visualizations, such as Twinmotion (based on Epic’s Unreal Engine), Lumion, and Enscape. These applications can generate images instantly with incredibly accurate visual fidelity, and while they might not produce “photo-realistic” renders, the images or videos are produced in a fraction of the time spent with traditional rendering tools, allowing higher volume.

Game engines can also present models directly in virtual reality (VR). While VR is typically marketed as a gaming solution, design professionals have been utilizing this technology to create immersive presentations for clients and/or experience design spaces within collaborative virtual environments.

Modern online games are highly collaborative and the use of game engines provides a platform for new levels of collaboration in the building design process.

Zaha Hadid Twinmotion Game Engines
Image courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects

Game Engines for Building Stakeholder Walkthroughs

Presenting blueprints and design files to non-technical stakeholders has never been a strong strategy for engagement, instead, artist drawings and digital renders were used. BIM improved the situation with 3D visualizations which allowed various stakeholders to see the structure in its various layers. Now game engines take that another step by providing stakeholders with the possibility to enter an immersive digital representation of the building and interact with it.

“The way in which this technology can bring projects to life is impressive. It is so much more engaging to see and experience something interactive,‘ says Erik Narhi, computational design lead at Buro Happold. “And it is explorative; when you tap into something in the game engine space you are able to fly around it, able to go in and walk around, able to query its underlying data. The ability to move around the space and see what it is going to feel like is hugely valuable.”

Game Engines for Building Virtual Futures

The parallel evolution of remote working platforms, VR, and game engine tools for building design could bring about a shift to virtual offices.

By wearing VR headsets, remote workers can enter an immersive digital space where they can interact with colleagues within a virtual office that offers a sense of shared environmental realism that video calls cannot. As more companies go hybrid or fully remote, virtual offices built on game engines provide the obvious next step in the trend.

“A virtual office could adapt to the needs of the company and the employees with an unlimited supply of meeting rooms, chairs, and tables. A virtual office can be one thing in the morning and something else in the afternoon, it can look one way to one person and completely different to another. It can morph into whatever the company wants and allows it to be,” reads our 2016 article on the topic.

“A virtual office can also be much less. Nothing to clean, nothing to maintain, no commute times, no parking problems, no energy systems to optimize nor light bulbs to change,” the article continues. “Whether it still doesn’t satisfy that intrinsic need for a real physical presence remains to be seen, but the technology will likely advance to overcome that and we humans are also capable of adapting to a new way of working.”

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