7 The second longitudinal phase: analysis and findings
7.1.5 Imbrication 5 (Human à material)
2) With the new goal in mind, the actors identify a constraint in the technology.
They realized both that the design of the images was too laborious and that the subsequent rendering of images took too long. To elaborate, at any given day architects and engineers can make many changes to a building project. And while not every change needs to be rendered and then communicated to a colleague or used for client meetings, the amount of time and resources used on designing, communicating, and rendering significant changes adds up.
Thus, while the head-mounted display had improved the understanding of their designs, it was now seen as constraining due to the resources that had to be allocated to the development of 3D images.
3) Actors change/modify the technology(ies), leading to a new material agency.
Especially the plug-in they used to render their images was seen as constraining. To be more precise, after the architects and engineers modelled a 3D image, they had to make it more vivid and photorealistic by rendering it. And the modelling and especially the rendering process constrained the architects and engineers.
Accordingly, they invested in a plug-in that extended their current 2D CAD software which reduced the rendering time of the models significantly due to its ability to utilize GPUs instead of
Thesis 133 the CPUs of the computers. And because it was much quicker to produce vividly rendered images, it also allowed the architects and engineers to walk and even fly around in vividly rendered models.
However, this new plug-in was not compatible with their current and simple head-mounted display as the display did not support the live models produced by the plug-in – the display relied on the aforementioned static images only, in which one was restrained to standing in a space, not being able to move around in it.
Therefore, they also decided to acquire a more advanced set of head-mounted displays that could be used together with their existing plug-in and desktop computers which had more powerful GPUs.
Consequently, the rendering was done with a click of a button and almost instantaneously:
“So, that’s a relatively new tool [new plug-in]. We’ve had it for around two months. And it is a plug-in that works with Rhino [a 3D modelling program]
but also with BIM [Building Information Modelling] programs like Revit and SketchUp [3D modelling programs]... [and] we are communicating with a lot of different people, and it helps with that. Obviously, as architects we are used
to read the drawings, because we’re trained to do that. So, when we communicate with other architecture offices, they understand the models, but
when communicating to clients who are not that used to read 3D models and drawings, it really helps with that. A 2D plan for example. Actually, we [architects and engineers] also have problems reading these plans. The really
amazing thing about Enscape [the new plug-in] is the speed, and the kind of total experience that it gives you. With V-ray [the old plug-in] it could take up
to 30 minutes to render a picture. With Enscape it only takes around 10-20 seconds and then you can send it off to a client/collaborator/colleague for him
or her to see. (Interview – Architect).
To summarize, by adding a new plug-in to their existing CAD software and by acquiring a compatible head-mounted display, they could now, more quickly than before, check the scale and depth of virtual images and models by walking around or even flying around in them.
Thesis 134 7.1.6 Imbrication 6 (Material à human)
4) The material agency of the technology provides opportunity for new affordance(s).
They then decided to use the newly acquired head-mounted display for other projects in addition to the church project. When designing and preparing the artifacts for meetings with clients and users, the architects and engineers soon realized that the head-mounted display also allowed them to discover errors as the new plug-in enabled the architects and engineers to walk and even fly through models due to the plug-in’s ability to render designed models instantaneously. Hence, they started to use head-mounted displays themselves, mostly individually, to better understand, test, and adjust their models. For example, when walking around in the church, they could quickly see how a change in the number of windows would affect the lighting in different parts of the room:
“That is very useful, because it gives a good result very fast, it’s what they call a one-click solution where you have your existing work in either Revit or
Rhino [existing 3D modelling programs], and with minimal to no effort you get it in either VR [in the head-mounted display] or just, you know, a 3D environment [shown on a normal display] where you can walk around. Which
is nice, because...when we check…a project, we can now quickly, literally walk through all the rooms and see: ‘Hey, that window, that doesn't make
sense’ in a way that you don't see it in plan [drawings] and sections [drawings]…, or it’s more work in, ehm…you know in your mind to combine
the elevation [drawing], you know, with the plan [drawing] and then see the room, where it’s now in VR where you just literally walk through and you say:
‘Hmm, maybe we should move that window, maybe half a meter in.’ – So as a design tool...it’s very good, because it’s so fast.” (Interview – Architect).
5) The affordance(s) interact(s) with the organizational routine, which might lead to change.
This also resulted in improving the efficiency of communicating design changes between the partner architects and the other employees. This is because some of the partner architects are not necessarily involved in any given project on a daily basis. However, because of their role as partner architects, they still needed to get regular updates as they often attended meetings with clients. The head-mounted display together with the new plug-in helped them to quickly get updates on the progress of the projects:
“The partner's function is not to sit and model the project and execute it, which is why I am employed [the engineer]...So, they can suddenly relate to
the model in a completely different way, and as a designer, I can quickly convey some geometry to them. As they can sit and look at it and analyze...without me having to stop my work in front of the computer. So, I can send a model to them. Or, if they have access to the model, they can go in
and just go for a walk.” (Interview – Engineer).
The head-mounted displays and the new plug-in helped the architects and engineers to experience the design in a quick and efficient manner as it allowed them to stand, walk, and fly around in an immersive VE. Consequently, they could now discover errors or perform different kinds of tests in terms of lighting and scale to improve their design, which allowed them to realize their goal of communicating their idea of a building project, including its scale and depth, clearly and effectively to each other.
In other words, an alternative ostensive pattern of the organizational design routine was created due to the affordances that the plug-in and a new and more advanced head-mounted display provided to their users.
While using the head-mounted display, however, the architects and engineers were shut off from the surrounding environment, due to its materiality – the form and matter of the plastic casing. In this manner, the use of the head-mounted display made the organizational design routine more individualized than it was before. Consequently, the alternative ostensive pattern of which these more immersive technologies were a part was put into question as they could not use the new ostensive pattern to refer to, and to make sense of their current actions together with colleagues – but only individually, which I will elaborate on in the next imbrication.
1) Change in the organizational routine creates a new human agency and a new goal.
In the company, the internal organizational design routine was highly collaborative. Other professionals needed to be involved, such as engineers who had to participate actively in the technical aspects during the design of models, or partner architects who needed to be updated on the designs. Consequently, the architects and engineers at the company sought to make their new ostensive pattern, which involved the new and more immersive technologies, more collaborative while maintaining the benefits of the more immersive technologies. In short, they wanted to
Thesis 136 communicate their idea, including the depth and scale, of a building project clearly and effectively to each other while also being able to discover errors.