What 3D Viz Can (And Can’t) Do For Revitalizing Churches
Documenting vital information? Sure. Wooing critics of gentrification? Not so much.
You might have prayed in one, attended a wedding in another, and there’s a growing chance you might one day live in a church. Well, what used to be a church.
Converting old churches into condos is a growing trend among builders. The blend of old and new helps projects stand out against brand-new builds that rely on templated floor layouts. And that’s translating to faster sales, according to Ellen Anselone, a principal architect at Finegold Alexander, a Boston-based architecture firm.
Finegold Alexander specializes in revitalizing existing buildings. In 2017 it was tasked to transform an 1874 German Trinity Church in the city’s South End neighbourhood. The result was The Lucas, a boutique, eight-story condominium with 33 residences.
“There were already sold units when it started construction,” Anselone recalled. Keeping the facade also helped it compete with other new builds in the area, she added.
“The theory behind it was that there was a lot of new construction of condos and apartments going up right around the Lucas. But they were all cookie cutter. In the Lucas, because of the existing building, it couldn’t be cookie-cutter. You get to walk into the original church through that beautiful entry into your new building and it’s unique.”
Selling the idea of living in a converted church might have been easy but designing and building a structure within a structure came with obstacles to overcome. That’s where 3D visualization came into play. There are many types of tools out there but they typically fall into a handful of categories.
3D photogrammetry uses overlapping 2D photographs to extract an object’s height, width and depth. It’s good for smaller objects or wide swaths of land when the camera is mounted on a plane or drone.
3D sculpting uses non-destructive laser beams to capture the data of physical objects. That data is then uploaded and transformed into a 3D model.
3D visualized reconstruction is kind of like finishing a partially completed puzzle. There are pieces or structures still in place but some parts are missing due to destruction or centuries of wear and tear. To fill those gaps, modellers turn to archeological data, documents, research on the original builders as well as basic structural considerations to complete the rendering.
Finally, there’s building information modelling, or BIM. This process uses computer files to capture the building’s interior and exterior measurements. That includes width, height, depth, and sometimes their relationship to time and cost. Softwares like SketchUp and Revit help take that information and visualize it, according to Tony Hsiao, Finegold Alexander’s director of design and a fellow principal architect.
“From a design standpoint, we used a lot of 3D visualization tools. When you have an existing building, the interface of the new inserted into the old heavily relies on a lot of 3D masking studies, initial conceptualization, program fit, and of course as the design evolves, it gets further and further developed and fleshed out,” said Hsiao.
But the power of BIM isn’t just in visualization, it’s also about juggling large volumes of data, said Mikael Sydor, an architect, and senior project manager at ERA Architects Inc. in Toronto.
“Using BIM is a core part of our practice. We’re using it to manage information about the building including geometries, but also sort richer information – construction assemblies, phasing, looking at what era different parts of the building were constructed and what other information needs to be layered on there,” said Sydor. “So not just visualization but as an information management tool and archive tool.”
While Sydor hasn’t worked on converting churches into condos, he’s familiar with the intricacies that go into inserting a new building into an existing structure, pointing to his work with the Dentistry/Pharmacy Centre at the University of Alberta Campus in Edmonton as how it’s usually a mixture of different visualization techniques to get the job done.
“The Dentistry-Pharmacy [project] is surrounded by what we’re calling a 4D BIM model. It had the 3D geometry of the site that we based on laser scan information as well as archival drawings,” he said.
That 4th “D” refers to time, with the model incorporating time stamps from different information sources with tags denoting if a structural beam was modelled from archival drawing or if a plane was constructed through laser-scanning data.
This in turn helped communicate complex packs of information in an easier-to-understand format for other stakeholders, Sydor added. “It gave all of the project partners deeper information about the project, like where the information came from and where they’re able to make the most of it.”
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Metaverses vs. Digital Twins: Here are the differences between the two
That upside of BIM doubling as a communication tool also comes into play during the regulatory stages of revitalizing older buildings like the Lucas, said Anselone.
“Some of our more sophisticated clients are asking for 3D visualization and what we’re seeing is that it helps sell a project. And when I say ‘sell a project’, it helps it get through the permitting process because people can understand what you’re doing,” said Anselone. “If you give someone a set of drawings, they have no idea what they’re looking at. If you give them a 3D image, they get it.”
However, that power of instantaneous understanding varies depending on your audience. When it comes to community consultation on building revitalization, Hsiao prefers a softer approach to presenting ideas to locals who might be worried about gentrification.
“Sometimes the old school can help at the beginning,” he said, referring to his hand-drawn pencil sketches and watercolour paintings. “It’s a softer feel to it. More informal. Not so hard and not so finished and communities like that because of the room for interpretation. Sometimes these much looser, softer styles are very effective because it does provide people the feeling to talk with you. It doesn’t look locked
in. It’s a soft sell.”
Like Hsiao, a glossy 3D render only goes so far as to convert skeptics if you ask Sydo“Our approach towards working with the existing conditions and the existing buildings is understanding what parts of the structure, what parts of that building, represent what values the parties are engaged with,” said Sydor.
“It’s not necessarily about, ‘I’ve got this design and I need to show it off.’ It’s about a more nuanced understanding of the way people interact with these structures or buildings, more so than a glossy render.”
3D CityScapes is a Toronto start-up specializing in building digital twins and 3D visualizations. Interested in building a digital twin? Get in touch with us here or give us a shout at +1 416-477-6846
Metaverses vs. Digital Twins: Here are the differences between the two
Facebook’s discussed name change could signal a focus on creating a metaverse
There’s a lot of talk about the metaverse these days thanks to an impending rebrand from social media juggernaut, Facebook. According to the Verge, the company could announce a new name for itself by the end of October and that move could be tied towards its focus on building a metaverse.
But what is a metaverse, exactly?
Well, that’s a little hard to pin down as it’s not something owned or operated by a single company (for now, at least). That said, current visions for metaverses revolve around a digital space where users enter to interact with other people virtually. That’s pretty true to author Neal Stephenson’s vision of a metaverse that he first coined in 1992 with his novel, Snow Crash.
Fast-forward to today and the closest examples of metaverses include video games like Roblox, where players can craft virtual avatars of themselves and interact with others, Minecraft where users can create open-world environments other participants can join in on, and Fortnite where players can battle to the death of custom-built islands or chill out and watch virtual concerts.
If that level of world-building sounds a bit like a digital twin, that’s because they share some similarities. Like Fortnite, 3D Cityscapes’ digital twins are also powered by EPIC Games’ Unreal Engine. But broadly speaking, a digital twin is “the connection between a physical asset and its virtual counterpart. By using IoT (Internet of Things) sensors, data connect the two to allow for real-time monitoring and can help run simulations,” says Alex Ramirez, an associate professor of information systems at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business in Ottawa.
Ramirez is also part of Imagining Canada’s Digital Twin, a federally funded project with Carleton University investigating what it would take to build a national digital twin of Canada.
Much like metaverses, it’s possible to build entire worlds and populate them with avatars within digital twins. Both can scale and grow as developers see fit but there are some limitations.
For starters, metaverses can be created from the ground up since they don’t need to be tied to any physically existing asset. Digital twins, on the other hand, require an object or process to mirror and that has to do with sensors.
This brings us to our next difference-maker: data. Digital twins live and die by data integration. By utilizing sensors attached to a real-world asset, real-time data forms that bridge connecting it to its virtual counterpart. Metaverses don’t necessarily need sensor data to exist on their own, though the potential to connect with real-time data could be down the road.
There is another aspect that separates metaverses from digital twins, according to Ramirez.
“Metaverses require a level of immersion that digital twins do not.”
While digital twins can be utilized by anyone in the real world, metaverses typically ask users to immerse themselves by entering a virtual space. That also means there is a certain level of accessibility separating the two. While a digital twin can be viewed on a tablet, phone, or computer, immersive metaverses often require a virtual reality (VR)or augmented reality (AR) headset.
Given that Facebook purchased Oculus, a company specializing in VR back in 2014, that could hint at the direction the company will take when it comes to building their own metaverse.
The metaverse is “going to be a big focus, and I think that this is just going to be a big part of the next chapter for the way that the internet evolves after the mobile internet,” Zuckerberg told The Verge’s Casey Newton earlier in the summer. “And I think it’s going to be the next big chapter for our company too, really doubling down in this area.”
Facebook is expected to announce more at their Connect Conference on Oct.28.
What makes you more excited for the future of visualization: metaverses or digital twins? Let us know in the comments below.
Seeing Is Believing
New cloud-based platform will allow buyers to virtually view homes before they are built
23 JAN 2021 MARTIN SLOFSTRA, OTTAWA CITIZEN
Nowadays, it seems, all new homes and condos are bought pre-construction —based on information taken from brochures, floor plans and price lists.
If you are lucky, you may get to tour a model home or suite, but that is not always an option, and that’s the problem.
“To really understand the build environment, you have to visualize it,” says Raza Jafri, founder and CEO of 3D CityScapes, which is developing what it calls the “very first cloud based streaming platform” in the world to help builders and developers showcase their pre-construction homes in the most “photo-realistic and impactful way possible.”
Visualization takes it even further in that designers now are not only able to offer floor plans and model renderings, but show an entire house virtually and to factor in all the subtle parts of the home buying decision.
For example, it can show how a layout effects sunlight throughout the day, and what the views will look like from a 20th floor condo balcony night or day.
Visualization can also allow buyers to experience a variety of options or upgrades — to change out the materials of the property they are viewing (flooring, cabinets, counter top finishes, appliances, furniture) and to preview those changes in real-time.
This not only helps tremendously from a sales aspect, it leads to a more informed buying decision, says Jafri.
It also goes without saying that the pandemic has changed everything — it’s accelerated the development of visualization software lessening the need for buyers to visit a sales office in the first place.
Instead, this platform will allow “for hundreds and even thousands of viewers to interact with the applications they create,” it will be available 24/7 and allow property developers a chance to showcase their future property developer around the clock.
Already, the software is getting endorsements from several builders and developers who during a pandemic and subsequent shut downs have closed sales centres and made in-person visits more difficult.
“We found 3D CityScapes to have the highest-quality digital interactive environment applications available in the world, and are very excited to partner with them,” says Michael De Gasperis, president and CEO, Arista Homes and vice-president of the TACC Group of Companies. “Take it from somebody with decades of experience. This is the direction the industry is going.”
“It’s been a fantastic experience working with the team at 3D Cityscapes. From the moment I sat down with them I knew instantly that they had something incredibly unique and inventive that my team couldn’t pass up…a snapshot into the future of what’s to come in the world of real estate” says Pamela Ventresca, COO Pace Developments Inc .
Aside from being an unlimited sales and marketing tool, it plays a key role in the early stages of planning and design, says Ventresca. “Having access to our own projects on this level and in this magnitude allows us to plan, change, improve and basically clearly see what it is we’re building. It gives us the opportunity to make it better before it even exists, what’s better than that.”
Future versions of the software will build on its “cloud-based streaming” features — Jafri wants to make it easily accessible to anybody with a computer and a good Internet connection.
Among the firm’s more ambitious goals is to complete a 1-to-1 scale virtual 4K environment of Toronto, which would assist urban planners with design and help governments speed up the approval process.
“We are building a digital twin of the entire world,” says Jafri. “The implication is that we will provide an entirely new way of exploring and visualizing data.”
For more information, visit http://www.3dcityscapes.ca
Digital twins of cities set to transform urban experiences
On a typical workday, the team of programmers at 3D CityScapes is constructing hyper-realistic interactive digital twins of cities.
Attention to detail is at the centre of the team’s method, whether it is to add accurate textures, input building designs, or to create interior and street-level exploration modules equipped with virtual avatars.
The company’s vision is to build interactive city environments in the cloud to answer the demand for building smarter, sustainable, design-focused cities around the world.
Their current focus is to revitalize urban planning processes, and optimize real estate sales strategies.
“If Canada wants to be on the global stage, we need to design smart cities where people can have healthy, balanced lifestyles. So much of that has to do with having an infrastructure that makes sense,” says Raza Jafri, President, and Chief Executive Officer of 3D CityScapes. “Our technology is in the centre of that process.”
According to Jafri, he always knew the key to constructing great cities, buildings, and making smart infrastructure improvements is in accurately communicating, and previewing these ideas through interactive 3D visualization.
When the 3D CityScapes team went to showcase their technology at Toronto City Hall to compete for the pre-seed funding, his belief in the technology was affirmed in a significant way.
“The crowd erupted,” says Jafri, describing the moment the audience saw the technology for the first time on screen. Toronto Mayor John Tory was among the many present, who came up to him personally to express excitement and offer words of encouragement. “We were chosen to receive the pre-seed funding out of ten start-ups who pitched their ideas centre stage at Toronto City Hall. It was becoming more and more of a shared vision to integrate sustainability and digital transformation, and it meant a lot to me.”
James Borst (left), Raza Jafri (Centre), Toronto Mayor John Tory discuss 3D CityScapes’ visualization technology.
James Borst, co-founder, and chief operating officer of 3D CityScapes, says the software’s application in real estate and urban planning is only the beginning of a whole new wave of possibilities.
“What we’re creating here will effectively transform the way people live,” says Borst. “For starters, imagine not only being able to walk around and check out the interior of your condo unit, in a building that hasn’t been built yet – with VR goggles – but also being able to see and learn about the neighbourhood, experience how the sun will rise and set from your future balcony. Now apply that thought to retail, tourism, construction, academia, conferences, transit …”
With the COVID-19 pandemic, Borst says the demand for this type of software has only grown, as they hired several new members to their growing team in the midst of the crisis.
“The global pandemic showed us that the digital future we are helping build is not just for the sake of convenience, but it is a necessary progression in the way we, as human beings, evolve with technology,” says Borst.
Coming up on the horizon, Borst has his eyes set on building an internal neural net platform.
“Our goal is to teach the neural network the processes that go into building a virtual interactive environment framework,” says Borst. “The more information we feed the AI, the more automated and accurate the models will be, and it will save us up to 60% of our time.”
“What we’re creating here will effectively transform the way people live”
Raza Jafri (right), President/CEO of 3D CityScapes, speaks to investors Michael Degasperis (left), Geoffrey Belsher (centre)
The journey to creating a better world began when Borst and Jafri met for the first time at a technology conference in New York City, in November 2018. In less than an hour of meeting each other, Jafri knew there was an alignment in both of their visions that had the potential to materialize in a big way.
“Something clicked immediately … we talked about how we could build entire cities using this technology we primarily used for building interior renderings,” says Raza. “It sounded crazy at the time, talking about wanting to have space where you can see all the future projects of that city.”
Born and raised in Montreal, Quebec, Jafri grew up witnessing North America’s crumbling infrastructure. This early experience eventually became a potent catalyst for his vision and a foundation for his drive to help build better cities. Now, his goal is to transform cities into an environment that fosters a healthy, balanced, fulfilling lifestyle for its citizens.
“From seeing the De la Concorde overpass collapse, spending countless hours commuting through gridlocks, zoning that didn’t make sense, to losing a friend in a construction accident, I saw a big demand for efficiency and innovation in the construction and urban planning processes,” says Jafri. “The more I looked into it, I realized this wasn’t an issue confined to North America, but one that needs to be resolved on a global scale. ”
Borst, who grew up in Coulee City, Washington, a small town of 550, says his passion for innovation stems from his involvement in charity work of 18 years.
“In business and in life, everything we do has to have a positive effect so that it reflects the intention behind the formation of this company,” says James.
With an unprecedented number of global construction proposals awaiting their turn to be reviewed, Borst muses about the potential impact the company’s product will have across various industries.
“Imagine if you could actually walk the stakeholders through the proposed project in a 3D interactive environment,” says Borst. “Showing them a vision of what the world is going to look like in 10 years, as opposed to just trying to talk to people and showing 2D drawings on paper … the difference is huge.”