Towards a Framework for Efficient Use of Virtual Reality in Urban Planning and Building Design

University dissertation from Chalmers University of Technology

Abstract: This thesis mainly deals with the question on how Virtual Reality (VR) simulations can become a communication tool that is integrated in the urban planning and building design process. The work has investigated both technical and usability aspects of the VR technology and identified challenges encountered when trying to implement VR as a natural communication platform in urban planning and building design. In order to address these challenges, several potential solutions, both technical and organizational, are proposed. When considering usability, this thesis contributes to a better understanding on how VR simulations are experienced by different users in the context of urban planning and building design. Although concerns were identified in relation to visual realism and aesthetic aspects, the results clearly indicate that VR simulations are perceived as useful in order to make decisions about not yet built structures. Valuable properties were found in the VR simulations’ ability to explain the size and volume of new buildings and how these interact with the surroundings environment. However, it was also found that architects experience the current integration of VR in the design process as problematic. As they do not master the technology themselves, they feel a lack of full control over the mediated information. In order to make the VR technology more accessible and easy to integrate, this thesis presents three technical methods that enable cost efficient creation of VR simulations in a way that are adapted to fit the current planning processes: • A semi-automatic approach for the creation of 3D-city models from the City Planning Authorities’ base map • A rendering technique to enhance the visual quality of ground materials • An optimization technique to enable real-time rendering of Building Information Models (BIM) These methods provide the core functionality in a set of tools, which is the “physical” result of this research. Although not seen as a complete framework at this stage, the knowledge and tools that have been developed within the scope of this thesis can be used for efficient implementation of VR in the context of urban planning and building design. To some extent this can be considered validated as parts of this toolset have tested successfully in several projects concerning urban planning and building design.

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