October 1, 2011
Digitally Enhanced | Magic Box
A simulation lab at Duke allows architects and interior designers to walk through their projects—long before they’re built.
Helping clients visualize a new space is often crucial to moving a project forward, so most architects and interior designers will pull out all the stops when it comes to drawings, renderings, and BIM models. But what if all of those fall short? An entrepreneur based in Raleigh, North Carolina, might have the answer.
Since 2008, David Fuller’s company, FullCon Solutions, has been offering designers an immersive virtual experience. He calls it “full-scale analysis.” Architects bring clients into a ten-foot cube, and the design is projected onto all six of the cube’s surfaces—the four walls, the ceiling, and the fioor—providing a 360-degree view. Using a handheld wand, designers then simulate a walk-through of the model. It’s the closest you can get to being inside a space before it is actually built.
The technology itself isn’t new. The facility that Fuller uses—the Duke Immersive Virtual Environment, housed at Duke University in nearby Durham—was built six years ago, and it’s one of only eight labs that can do this kind of six-sided projection. But the cube was primarily used for scientific visualizations—medical students explored the minutiae of the human brain, for instance. Fuller saw how useful it could be for complex design projects. “I was looking for a technology that could simplify how we communicate 3-D CAD or BIM data,” he says.
Designers have to budget around $2,000 an hour to use the tool, but that figure can vary significantly from project to project. Andy King, the design lead at the Raleigh-based firm BBH Design, used it for modeling a cancer center and an energy plant. “After the clients had experienced it once,” he says, “they were more than willing to pay for it two more times.” Key decisions were made quickly. For the energy plant, workers could check that controls and mechanical parts were easily accessible. “The real value is that it expedites the process,” he says. “Clients give better feed-back, because they can fully grasp the scale of a project.”