Development and Implementations of Virtual Reality for Decision-making in Urban Planning and Building Design

University dissertation from Chalmers University of Technology

Abstract: The use of Virtual Reality (VR) has been seen by many as holding great potential for increasing the effectiveness and improving communication in the decision making process in urban planning and building design. VR can facilitate processes so that participants can together better understand, identify and analyze problems to improve their decision making and thereby the future urban environment. However, VR has not had the impact and penetration that was predicted much due to often cited barriers to new technologies in the construction industry, e.g. human and cultural factors, lack of IT skills, lack of knowledge and awareness, and finally the lack of the technology itself including, for example, available tools and methods. This thesis contributes knowledge that enhances the usability and successful implementation of VR technology in the urban planning and building design process. The approach has been to investigate both the usability and technical aspects of VR. In the context of usability, this thesis deals with whether and how VR can be used in decision making in the urban planning and building design process. It examines how different stakeholders experience and are affected by the VR medium in different decision making situations in the urban planning and building design process. The technical part of this thesis aims to improve the usability and implementation of VR by presenting new tools and methods that suit the existing planning pipeline in the urban planning and building design process. Here it is important to create cost and time effective tools and methods for producing virtual worlds. The results show that VR was experienced to be useful by the participants in the investigated parts of the decision making process. The VR model imparted a broader understanding about the sizes and volumes of the new buildings and how these interact with the surrounding urban environment. The last study showed how the phenomena of reference points and anchoring points could cause biased judgment effects in decision making when the VR medium is used. This thesis also presents four technical methods that integrate VR efficiently into urban planning and building design by: 1. Enhancing the visual quality of ground material 2. Supporting collaboration and maintenance of 3D city modeling through a sub-version control system. 3. Integrating building proposals with its surrounding ground area into the 3D city model 4. Using the human body as an interactive navigation interface The methods have been integrated into the MrViz software that has been used at the City Planning Authorities of Göteborg and Kungsbacka.