Bricks and Clicks
MAY BECOME EVEN HIGHER-TECH, WITH PROJECTS 'FINISHING'
ON-SCREEN BEFORE CONSTRUCTION STARTS.
The construction industry is a world apart from the computer
games business, but that could be about to change: planners,
designers and builders will be able to work together using
the same kind of ‘virtual environment’ in which internet
gamers compete against each other in cyberspace.
Bricks and ClicksResearchers are combining game and CAD
(computer-aided design) technology to create
three-dimensional environments in which professionals,
working in real time, will be able to explore and test ideas
for new buildings.
This ‘Virtual Worlds’ project is being undertaken by the
Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Construction
Innovation, involving CSIRO’s Division of Manufacturing and
Infrastructure Technology (CMIT). The CRC for Construction
Innovation is a national research, development and
implementation centre focussed on the needs of the
Australian property, design, construction and facility
management industry. It undertakes applied research on
behalf of its partners and the whole industry.
“The goal of the Virtual Worlds project is to use game
technology to visualise construction projects in the form of
an interactive 3D environment,” says Professor Keith Hampson,
chief executive officer of the CRC for Construction
CMIT’s Stephen Egan says many scenarios would benefit from
this novel approach, such as urban planners being able to
visualise every aspect of an entire development: “The
associated plans could be studied interactively by planners,
builders, suppliers, residents, even traffic authorities or
environmentalists. Collaboratively, they can use the latest
software to optimise the quality and functionality of the
development, or the sustainability and its lifecycle
The Virtual Worlds project is headed by Professor Mary Lou
Maher of the University of Sydney, who has studied how
people behave in virtual environments.
She says groups working virtually do not suffer the same
inertia as committees, and will produce better built
environments. “Research shows that people actually
brainstorm significantly better when working collaboratively
in cyberspace,” she says. And helping people with diverse
viewpoints to get along is no mean feat.
She says there is a loss of hierarchy among collaborators
and an increase in ‘open space’ creativity. “Factors such as
accents or reluctance to speak up disappear, ensuring more
ideas are expressed. Best of all, verbose individuals can’t
stall proceedings with their prolonged soliloquies.”
Parallel streams of ideas are standard in these environments
as are video-stream records of proceedings.
Normally, concepts such as meshing CAD tools and
construction assessment software with virtual environment
technology and collaborative theory would be considered
far-fetched, or at least something for the distant future.
However, Australia just happens to have the scientists who
are at the vanguard of this work.
Australia leads international efforts to establish
standardised data structures to promote interoperability;
the Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) already developed have
allowed a CSIRO Future Cities team led by Robin Drogemuller
to generate a suite of software packages that are pushing
the limits on design science.
To realise the scenarios sketched out by CSIRO’s Stephen
Egan, the researchers really only need to develop a way to
import existing software models as IFC files into the
Virtual Worlds format. Then the whole suite of applications
– such as ArchiCAD and the CRC’s LCADesign – will come on
line in 3D splendour. The research is still in the
experimental stages but, significantly, it is working.
Objects that mean different things to the architect,
builder, supplier, resident, neighbour and city planner can
be visualised within the same easily accessed space.
Collaborative brainstorming is then further aided by
Australian software that can assess different designs
relative to the lifecycle performance of buildings or
Being able to visualise answers can transform the impossible
into the plausible, the preferred and the actualised.
The researchers working on this believe they are on the
threshold of major gains in data visualisation technology,
leading to a step-change in the visionary capabilities of
Taj Housing has been at the forefront of developing a
construction network for use by engineers. Laptops equipped with GPRS communication capabilities keep engineers in constant
touch with the helpdesk and allow us to make sure the right
person with the right skills is available to customers at
the right time.
The technology also allows customers to order and track
jobs on-line through a secure internet connection. It provides
valuable management information allowing customers to generate
reports on performance. We also use this information to
identify and implement improvements to our service.
Remote diagnostics and engineering systems, coupled with
advanced building management, help us develop strategies
to reduce customers' energy consumption and overall business
costs. Problems can even be identified and cured without
the need to despatch an engineer to site, saving both time