In just four weeks, Valerio Dewalt Train created a 1:1 scale on-site augmented reality (AR) application to showcase a 36-story skyline-altering tower before it was built.
Founded in 1994, Valerio Dewalt Train is a 50+ person national architectural and design practice with offices in Chicago, Palo Alto, and San Francisco. The company works with a wide range of industries: institutional, educational, corporate, retail, entertainment, hospitality, and developers. That list consists of clients such as Google, Adobe, University of California, University of Chicago, and Northwestern Mutual. The company has received several awards, including being named in the Top 50 Design Firms by Architect Magazine.
Valerio Dewalt Train was tasked with designing the 36-story, 390-foot-tall Bell Tower and Bell Park Office Building in Denver, Colorado. The location and size of the tower are important to the city of Denver. To visualize how the tower will look in the Denver skyline, Valerio Dewalt Train needed to justify the design to the City and County of Denver.
To showcase the tower, Valerio Dewalt Train focused on using real-time 3D to geolocate the building on-site. To accomplish that, they turned to Unity Reflect to develop a 1:1 scale on-site application in augmented reality (AR). With an agile development process, Valerio Dewalt Train was able to build a prototype in less than four weeks.
Building a prototype
The idea to geolocate the tower on site was based on necessity because of its accessibility. With the construction site across the bay on an embankment, Valerio Dewalt needed to be able to see the tower from a distance at any vantage point. Creating an application in AR would help them understand the size and feel of the space at scale.
“As a designer, iterations of a building can feel very different from one version to the next. With a 1:1 scale AR application, you can do a site walk with the client in between every iteration and get real-time feedback,” says Adam Farooq, marketing director and lead XR developer at Valerio Dewalt Train. “Cutting down on design iterations and doing QA/QC helps us save a lot of money in rework.
There were three main objectives for the project:
- Develop a live real-time application for AR
- Decrease design and construction time by having designs geolocated on site
- Accelerate communication with team and stakeholders
“We chose Unity Reflect because it integrates with the software we already use like Revit, Navisworks, Rhino, and SketchUp, maintains a live connection to the original models, and allows our clients and collaborators to see changes in real-time in AR and VR,” says Farooq.
The rest of the Valerio Dewalt Train product team included Stephen Droll, principal; Ian Curtis, architectural designer and XR developer; Stephen Shatswell, architectural designer; Jacob Goble, graphic and UX designer; and Francisco Lopez de Arenosa, communications manager.
Customization and geolocation
There are different ways to create the ability to view buildings in full scale, make changes anywhere, and see it instantly on-site. One is an image-based tracking method, something SHoP Architects implemented for 9 DeKalb. Another way is to extend the real-time application through a singleton pattern class in Mapbox. This connects the real-time application to bring the building into a new scene geolocated on-site.
With the mixed-use development geolocated on-site with Mapbox, Valerio Dewalt Train still needed the AR application to meet their brand guidelines. To distinguish their brand from others, the team started by customizing the UI to match the company’s colors orange color scheme.
The application was primarily going to be used on mobile. Valerio Dewalt Train wrapped the buttons into a menu to give more screen real estate and modified the menu buttons to be bigger and easier to click. Lastly, the linework was removed to focus on the object to help with clarity when it comes to object filtering.
“The first time I opened up the app to get the 1:1 experience of the tower it was breathtaking. Your eyes light up the first time you do it. You’re like ‘wow, that building is giant,’” says Farooq. “Having that perspective on the ground and looking up knowing that’s the view most people in the city of Denver will see is special.”
Customizing and reworking the application helped stakeholders see the potential of what they could do with Unity Reflect. From start to finish, Valerio Dewalt Train was able to create a 1:1 scale on-site AR application in just four weeks.
Thinking out of the box
Unity Reflect isn’t just used for custom applications. It also delivers a stand-alone application experience for those who want a solution that simply solves problems—such as BIM design and coordination—right out-of-the-box with the click of a button.
To utilize the out-of-the-box features, Valerio Dewalt Train’s architecture team worked on pulling models from Revit, Rhino, and SketchUp into real-time 3D with Unity Reflect. It only took the team five minutes to pull models for the Godfrey Hotel in Chicago and the Edison at RiNo apartments in Denver into Unity Reflect and view in AR.
Innovation at Valerio Dewalt Train
Creating a live real-time AR application was just the start for Valerio Dewalt Train. The AR application sparked the company to have an internal conversation on the future of architecture, what it means for Valerio Dewalt Train, and how they can continue to be at the forefront of innovation in the industry.
Valerio Dewalt Train plans to use Unity Reflect to test and develop additional applications for real-world scale sun studies, interactive design studies, clash detection, design communication, and more.
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