“Up to 90 per cent of photomontages produced for development applications could be misleading”, according to architects and planners in a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald. This is not surprising. In fact, does anyone trust the photoshopped montage or the architect’s render? We’ve all seen how good Hollywood can make things look, and using the same tricks in urban planning leads to distrust.
Several technologies have attempted to create 3D versions of a city, precinct or context for design review. But many of these applications are hard to use, slow, unsuitable in real design review processes, or built for technicians.
We hear stories of GIS practitioners spending days trying to import an architect’s building into a 3D city model; having to deal with location, scale and formats. This technology isn’t suitable for a development meeting where different stakeholders and disciplines are negotiating to make rapid decisions. And this is particularly the case when high-profile stakeholders are involved, like a minister or mayor.
What other tools are available for these scenarios? Electronic online submissions, such as eDA, are just form filling without the paper. They still require reviewers to sift through the usual, and print it out themselves.
You certainly don’t use CAD or BIM in a design review meeting. Who would want to have a discussion around AutoCAD, Revitt or microstation? These are fine detail modelling tools for technical detailers – not the review and discussion tools of thought leaders.
Google’s SketchUp, about to be purchased by Trimble, offers ‘light’ modelling – but have you tried using it in a live meeting with half a city running, a new road and building proposal? It is annoyingly laggy and just falls over at any scale. It lacks the ability to give a real user experience; driving down the road, following a lady walking down the street, and so on.
Google Earth and Maps offer the kind of responsiveness we like, enabling you to fly around the place fast. But a box with photos on a simple terrain with questionable accuracy is untrustworthy, and not what we need.
Yet when you come home and turn on the Xbox, or watch your kids play Grand Theft Auto – you are amazed at the fidelity, speed, moving people and cars. And therein lies the chasm between modern consumer power and antiquated business practice. Of course, these games do cost $20m and years to build. We, on the other hand, need to import the proposal in the morning and present it in the afternoon in a real, trusted city-context.
And what about visual fidelity? How much photo-realism do you need when you are at 10% design? Maybe other things are equally important? The planners we talk to groan at the overworked renders they receive when they are just interested in setback, height, canyoning, tower-podium relationships, overshadowing and, importantly, user experience. They want to know quickly how the design really sits and feels inside its context, and how it interfaces with the environment. Essentially, they want a thousand views and experiences in five minutes.
Urban built environment design is a complex and collaborative process. It starts with a concept and then negotiation around that concept. It can involve developers, engineers, architects, project directors, politicians, urban designers and more, scattered over a dozen agencies. In order to be productive, and generate quality outcomes, we need a collaboration tool that supports accurate and quick decision making. An integrated tool that brings all the pieces together, and enables a powerful and trusted conversation around the concept design.
So, what should a design and concept review tool offer you? Put simply, it needs to enable:
- Efficient collaboration
Functionality that allows stakeholders to come together and collaborate, negotiate and iterate quickly and easily around a proposal inside its actual context.
- Rapid decision making
The agility to move, change, update and design on the fly, keeping up with or getting ahead of conversation and thought processes, aiding quick decision making.
- Independence and impartiality
A trusted, measurable, fit-for-purpose base that allows agencies – particularly government – to trust the context of the proposal they are seeing. No smoke and mirrors.
- “Operating” environments
The proposal needs to sit in a simulation of the environment “in use”: time of day, cars driving, people walking, adjacent buildings, terrain resolved enough to walk and drive upon. Urban design is about the human experience and that scale needs to be there.
A suitable level of fidelity is required. We don’t want the bad old days of VRML, and Google Earth is not enough. We need good, clear, bright, legible scenes that clearly show how all the bits fit together – without the expense or fussiness of photo-realism.
Choose a tool that enables the above, and you’ll discover that concept planning need not be an arduous experience.