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Technological achievements in 3D computer based modeling & rendering

1996

3D Models:

A
rchitects make physical models for many reasons: to  study and modify their designs, and to guide the client and the builder in the course of construction. Physical Models are submitted to design competitions in order to win commissions, whereas study models are a practical tool that  architects use to work out design problems.  Today this method of presentation is sometimes cost prohibitive as projects are being built while the designs are being altered.

The practice of making models dates back to  antiquity. In the second half of the 14th century, models were made especially in connection with the construction of large cathedrals. In the 15th and 16th centuries, models were used in every phase of the architectural design  process, from development of initial ideas to the presentation of finished schemes.

As Leon Battista Alberti wrote in ‘On the Art of Building’, in 1486: "I will never tire of recommending the custom, practiced by best  architects, of preparing not only drawings and sketches, but also models of wood or other materials. These enable us to examine the work as a whole and, before continuing any further, to estimate the likely trouble and  expense."

This is the way we modeled for an architectural competition twenty five years ago, using cardboard and paper.

As the modern world entered the Information Age, visionary architect Frank Lloyd Wright had a vision of his own. If we substitute the word "computer" for the word "machine",  the following statement by Mr.Wright is quite relevant today:
"The machine can be nowhere creator except as it may be a good tool in the creative artist's toolbox. It is only when you try to make a living thing of the  machine itself that you begin to betray your human birthright. The machine can do great work - yes - but only when in the hand of one who knows how to put it to suitable work for the human being."

The use of the  computer as a visualization tool puts us on a new frontier. As we begin to publish rather than draw documents we also begin to feel the need for a new level of information service, something more akin to API or UPI or Reuters.  Imagine having accumulated knowledge and experience at your fingertips the next time you design a building.

With the 3D visualization technology now available at a reasonable price, all of he parties involved in the design  review and approval process can participate interactively and study numerous design iterations within a short time frame.
This constant interaction with our clients and their designers is particularly rewarding. It allows the  client to participate in "brainstorming" sessions whereby design decisions are visualized immediately and understood by all the members of the
team. "This capability is important because it saves what we have the  least of, which is time," says Michael Willis, a San Francisco architect.

The 3D computer-generated architectural visualization process could be divided into two sections: modeling (including scene building) and  rendering.
A 3D digital model contains geometric data defined in relationship to 3D Cartesian coordinates of X,Y, and Z. Modeling is the creation of 3D geometry, referred to as objects. These 3D objects are then used to compose  a 3D world scene.
Digital modeling has a great advantage over the traditional methods used for many years and still in use today. 3D digital models can be changed at any time during the design process at a minimal cost, and they  can be interactive. The greatest advantage of 3D digital models over the traditional physical models is the ability of the viewer to enter the model and view it from the inside, since the digital models are generally built at full  scale.
To produce a 3D computer-generated model, it is necessary to understand the designer's vision of the overall design concept. Because of the amount of detail that is so often incorporated into architectural models, the  philosophy toward software should be to acquire few programs rather than dabbling in the many on the market. The old adage of "jack of all trades, master of none" is too often the case. There is only one way to get the  most out of any software program, and that is by using it on an actual project and getting the job done!

3D computer modeling is the most important stage and a prerequisite to a correctly rendered image. It is not uncommon  for a renderer to rely on texture or bump maps instead of spending time creating a detailed model. The more refined the details in the 3D model the more beautiful the final rendered image will be, as every shadow line within the  final rendering counts.

Most architectural 3 D modeling applications are of a generic nature. They are developed for various modeling tasks such as mechanical engineering, cost engineering, or mainly producing 2D drawing  documentation, etc. Only a few 3D applications are applicable to architecture. One of the most important features to look for in a 3D architectural application is the layering capabilities. These layers are extremely important in  order to separate the objects that will receive different attributes such as color, texture, lighting, and transparency. These layers should be accessible at all times and located on the desktop as you will use them all the time.  You should have as many layers as possible, but the more layers in use, the more housekeeping required.

The problem with many software developers is that they are not the users, and in many cases do not understand the design  process. It's impossible to find software that does everything in one application. One should consider investing in an application dealing only with the modeling process, that creates complex models efficiently, and another  application that will import these models to be rendered.

Mieczyslaw (Mitch) Boryslawski, Associate AIA.

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