Development of Design Tools of Pre-design Visualization with Game Engines

Potential utilizations and advantages of pre-design visualization cumulate to one simple argument: the future of architectural design process should embrace pre-design visualization so that designers can make informed design decisions to effectively accomplish design objectives concerning person-environment relationship, some of which have long been overlooked in conventional workflows.

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To implement such a prospect, architectural students and professional designers need design programs that foreground visualization: one should be able to model and draft in an instantaneously visualized work environment instead of work on 3D forms in disjunction with their visualization. Currently, pre-design visualization is nowhere to find (virtually nonexistent) in commercially-developed design programs. But designers can build some homemade pre-design visualization tools using game engines. In the past few months, I have learned Unreal Engine 4 and attempted to develop a few “design games” for educational purpose. WatertownDesigner is my latest product. This is a pre-design visualization tool specially developed for a community-based urban design studio project. By creating, modifying, and aggregating multiple modular cubes, students can create preliminary formal schemes on two alternate sites (one infill site and one corner site) in the 8-block downtown area of Watertown, SD. On-screen widgets display key design statistics including floor area, footprint, floor-area-ratio, and building height in real time. Students can test their schemes in different daylighting conditions and simulate pedestrians’ dynamic visual experiences in and around the project sites. WatertownDesigner also includes a save/load system for conveniently project documentation.

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Computer-aided design programs are so influential that they literally shape many designers’ thought processes and even their design outputs. In the history of design programs, every major advancement brings sustained and perceptible changes to architects’ everyday workflows. AutoCAD merely digitalized the manual working style based on 2D drawings. Contemporary design programs such as SketchUp, Rhino, Revit and ArchiCAD, on the other hand, prioritize the creation of 3D forms over making orthographic projection drawings. This transition gets the designer one step closer to the nature of design: to propose 3D formal schemes instead of figure out how to correctly draw 3D objects through 2D interfaces. Development of real-time visualization technologies in the past few years makes me believe future design programs will implement pre-design visualization and catapult computer-aided design to another level: to build 3D forms with a constant cognizance of their potential implications on humans.

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