Augmented Reality In Architecture And Urban Design Computer Science Essay

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Architecture has been changing by many factors, such as different lifestyle and new technologies. The primal function of a shelter for people has changed as well. Nowadays, architecture connects people with more environments and information. Augmented reality and other advanced technologies change our perception of architecture, both aesthetically and functionally. A growing research in computing and new technologies brings us new opportunities and development in many sectors, from medicine to art. The design sector is looking toward various IT technologies that enable improvements in current state-of-the-art of architectural visualization, design and construction process etc.

Researches have developed many Augmented Reality applications in various fields, such as medicine, game industry or art. In design sector have been introduced many AR prototypes which have become the basics for new developing technologies. AR tools provide better understanding of the design concept. It supports effective collaboration while visualization aid facilitates it just to certain content.

In this paper, I start with classification of Mixed Realities from Real to Virtual Reality and compare them in terms of perception and interaction. This classification allows identifying the appropriate use in design sector. Further, I explain the use of AR tools in architectural and urban practice and show how they can be related. I choose some examples to understand how the implementation of AR to design process works. First two protypes, Sketchand+ and BenchWorks, represent the first attempts to integrate AR into the various phases of design. AR CAD and ARTHUR systems are the next generation of AR tools in design.

Augmented Reality is a very new topic and it was hard to find book publications. My resources were mainly academic papers that I found on the internet. It was also difficult to write any conclusion as the AR applications are still in progress and scientists are testing and improving them. I think that one disadvantage is that most of the AR technologies require special equipments and advanced computer systems. On the other hand, using AR tools in architectural practice could have many benefits. One of the very important advantages is reducing costs, shorten design process time and support collaboration between team members. Additionally, AR tools could simulate the construction process which would make it easier and more effective. AR could be used for virtual travelling within buildings and have also educational function, for instance in museums and galleries.

2. Classification

Over the past decade, the research in techniques that combine virtual and real world has grown rapidly. Different realities (Virtual, Mixed or Augmented) have been applied in design sector in order to merge physical space with virtual world. These realities can be helpful to designers when presenting their ideas and concepts in less abstract and more realistic way. There is a variety of explanations and definitions of realities. The one I chose is focused on the difference in perception and interaction as important features of design. It can also help to maximize benefits of reality technologies for certain design activities and help designers in comparing different technologies.

Figure 1. Order of reality concepts ranging


As we can see from Figure 1, reality concepts range from Real Reality through Mixed Reality to the Virtuality. The definitions of particular realities are sometimes very difficult to identify. Some reality can cover a part of another one.

2.1 Virtual Reality

The visualization technology creating a total virtual environment is called the Virtual Reality (VR). This computer-simulated environment is able to simulate places in the real or physical world. During the recent decades, architecture visionaries adopted ideas of virtual reality when they wanted to present their design concepts. Computing technologies have been developing and supporting more and more advanced graphic capabilities (including CAD software, graphics hardware acceleration or head mounted displays).

The architecture designs and urban plans in larger context used the virtual reality concept in 2001 for the first time. Since then, the progress has rapidly accelerated and working in VE became a part of architects' profession.

2.2 Virtualized Reality

Virtualized reality world enables users to see a virtual reconstruction of a real-world event. It is a simulation of a place in the real world. This technology places a set of cameras at an event and allows the user to fly around to watch the event from different positions. Take a football match as an example. The use of virtualized reality would enable us to watch a match from the point of view of the quarterback. Since 1993, the technology that could enable us to see these views of the world has been an area of ongoing research.

Virtualized Reality can bring great benefits to architects and landscape designers, especially in a design review of a final proposed model. The medium could enable the designer to appear in the proposed space and perceive the perspective, the lighting, etc.

2.3 Augmented Virtuality

Merging a real object into a virtual environment is provided by technology called Augmented Virtuality. Multi-modal, layered, physical elements are dynamically integrated into the virtual environment and can interact with the virtual world in real time. There are various technologies that use the Augmented Virtuality technology, such as streaming video or 3D digitalization of real objects.

Design sector gives space for more innovations in Augmented Virtuality but despite its potential capability it has not received particular attention compared to Augmented Reality or VR.

2.4 Mediated Reality

Computer-Mediated Reality refers to augment or removed information from perceived reality. The perception is provided by some kind of electronic device, for instance a wearable computer, EyeTap or a smart phone. The device works as a visual filter between information from real world and information received by a viewer.

Mediated Reality has been used for architectural applications to remove or mask visual data. The technology is also operated with interactive computer interfaces.

2.5 Augmented Reality

The term Augmented Reality (AR) refers to an enhanced view of a physical real environment merged with augmented layer of virtual computer-generated elements. Artificial information can be saved and restored as a layer on top of the real world view. AR is a sub-mode of Mixed Reality (Fig.2) adding the information layer in the real time.

The AR technology has potential to bring many benefits in the design sector, especially in architecture and urban design. Head-mounted displays, virtual retinal displays, sensors and actuators are most commonly used for visualization purposes.

Figure 2. Order of reality concepts ranging from Reality (left) to Virtuality (right)


2.6 Amplified Reality

To amplify reality means to blend actual surroundings with computer generated images. A real object directs the flow of information and unlike with the AR system, the user is in control of the information. Amplified Reality enhances the perceivable features of a real object in the real world while AR is focused on how the user perceives reality.

Figure 3. Classification according to correlation between perception and action and level of interaction


As indicated in Figure 3, Mediated, Augmented and Amplified Realities have a similar level of perception and action and the closest position to the real reality from listed realities. Similar level of perception can be identified in their technology definitions; the virtual element is adjusted with the real object. High correlation between action and perception makes those three realities beneficial for planning activities.

Apparently, Amplified Reality has the highest interaction with real objects. The second highest interaction belongs to Augmented Reality. For better understanding, I use an example to explain the difference between these realities. Imagine that you are going to colour walls in your room with a new colour. One possibility is to re-paint the walls. The other one is wearing a pair of eyeglasses with glasses coloured with your preferred colour that would change your perception of the walls. Wearing coloured eyeglasses represents adding a layer of information to the real environment. Thus, changing the perceived information without an interaction creates AR. Re-painting the walls corresponds to amplified reality because of an interaction with the real world. To sum up, an Amplified Reality system changes the attributes of the physical object while in Augmented Reality, the impression of the perceiver is altered. Mediated Reality has a lower interaction with the real world environment. It is an environment in which the real objects of Mediated Reality are altered or removed by the imposed virtual objects. Those three realities are the most suitable for architectural design because of their coloration between perception and action.

3. Augmented Reality in relation with Architecture

„There is a problem in the spatial and temporal separation between the varying forms of representation used in urban design. Sketches, physical models, and more recently computational simulation, while each serving a useful purpose, tend to be incompatible forms of representation. The contemporary designer is required assimilate these divergent media into a single mental construct and in so doing is distracted from the central process of design."

(MIT Media Laboratory, Augmented Urban Planning Workbench, 2002, p.1)

"The primary questions are: Which new possibilities and application areas are opened through our approach for the surveying and planning process within existing buildings? Particular attention should be given to user interfaces and interaction possibilities, as well as to an appropriate integration within the working process of the architec."


A growing research in computing and new technologies brings us new opportunities and development in many sectors, from medicine to art. The design sector is looking toward various IT technologies that enable improvements in current state-of-the-art architectural visualization, design and construction process, etc. Firstly, the design concept is created in designer's fantasy, followed by developing the concept during the design process and finally bringing it into the physical world. In the 20th century, the development of virtual environment brought new opportunities in the design process to architects and designers. In the past, the only way that the design process worked, was that architects made technical drawings and built models. Thanks to Computer Aided Design (CAD) packages we are able to make our abstract visions more realistic by rendered visualisations. The process of working in CAD consists of creating 3D graphical model and rendering it on a graphics workstation. Development of Virtual Reality enables more and more ambitious visualisations. In VR, it is possible to simulate a walk through the 3D object. This facility offers a simulation of the viewing of the new design in virtual environment to the customer and designer. However, could we show the new design to the client in a real environment? There is one possible solution, using Augmented Reality where a user would view the virtual information simultaneously with the physical world.

Augmented Reality has an important contribution in design process. The final architectural project or urban plan heavily depends on the effectiveness of collaboration between team members. AR tools provide better understanding of the design concept and support effective collaboration, while visualisation aid facilitates it just to certain content.

3.1 Collaboration within research

Augmented Reality has been developing since the second half of the 20th century. Researchers and scientists came up with a variety of applications in many different sectors. AR tools usable in design and architecture are still in progress. In the past, the researchers worked primarily on scientific visualisation in AR environment. The collaboration with designers is essential. The collaboration started just recently and there are some usable tools which need to be improved in order to be applied. Architectural studios and universities already participate in this collaboration and provide many ideas and concepts.

3.2 Collaboration within design process

The quality of design, particularly large scale design and sophisticated projects, often depends on successful collaboration of team members. A design meeting involves a team of participants while the actual design is still made by individuals who are using CAD software and PCs. When special problems are discussed and solutions suggested, it is up to the individual to perform and apply those changes in the design. Collaboration is then limited just to early design sketches. AR technology supports the collaboration in common meetings and allows manipulation witch spatial problems. Interaction mechanisms allow all the users to be involved in the work of individuals.

3.3 AR in construction process

Good architecture does not depend on the design process only. Not less important factor of quality of the building is planning the construction. AR can make the construction planning very effective in order to reduce time of construction and improve the process. With AR tools is possible to plan the construction in the real situation. 3D CAD models can be used for planning scenarios. [I] "For construction sites, it has been proposed that an AR system might provide users with an "X-ray vision" inside a building, allowing them to see, for instance, where the pipes, electric ducting, and structural supports are situated inside walls and above ceilings. Such systems visualize hidden features of a building and are well suited to support maintenance and repair. AR is also useful to get a realistic impression of existing plans."

3.4 Experiencing architecture in the real time through AR

Beside the design process, augmented reality can be used also in the real architectural environment where the buildings will not be limited just to a real geographical coordinates. Thanks to AR, the virtual travelling within a building would be possible. Some museums have already imposed AR technology which can help visitors to learn better the exhibit's core message. [II] "Most museums do not have the space and resources required to exhibit their whole collections. In addition, the nature and fragility of some objects prevent museum curators from making them available to the public." In AR are artefacts presented by 3D models that can the visitor observe. Virtual Reality exhibitions can be installed inside a museum, by using touch screen displays or it can be presented on the Internet. The great benefit is that the visitor can interact with the content of exhibited artefact.

4. Applications

Many of the applications can be useful also in the design sector. This paper presents AR tools in different phases of design. First two examples, Sketchand+ and BrenchWorks, are prototypes that apply AR system into the design sector. The other two examples, AR CAD and ARTHUR, are relatively well developed by researchers as well as architects and intended to be used in architecture and urban planning.

4.1 Sketchand+

Sketchand+ is a collaborative AR application aided 3D sketching tool developed by Hartmut Seichter, an architect and software engineer. Seichter's goal was to integrate the new AR technology to create and edit sketches, the early phase of design. The system was developed in 2003 and it was the first prototype of using AR in architectural practice.

The devices for using sketchand+ system are an augmented digitizer-tablet and strokes for creating 3D sketches. The software handles audio and text messages. It is controlled from within the Mixed Reality environment using tangible interaction techniques. Sketchand+ works with AR Toolkit and an early version of the libTAP VR/AR framework.

In the following pictures, you can see a user with AR glasses creating a 3D object and working with it. Firstly, he creates a model by using a sketchpad and stroke and then he observes the model in the real physical model.

Figure 4. Sketchand+


4.2 BenchWorks

The application was developed by the same architect and engeneer, Hartmut Seichter, one year later then Sketchand+. It represents the next generation of Sketchand+ and facilitates devices and techniques usable for urban design proposals. BenchWorks uses AR Toolkit System in combination with optical magnetic tracking. The system can be used by two people simultaneously observing virtual and real objects. This early prototype provides the precision of a magnetic tracking systems and free manipulating of tangible interfaces.

Working with BenchWorks is illustrated on the images bellow.

Figure 5. Benchworks



Augmented Reality Computer-Aided Drawing (AR CAD)

Figure 6. Ideal setup for AR CAD user

Another example of AR prototype supporting

Source: and review process is AR CAD that was developed by Dunston and Wang in 2005. The concept of enhancing the spatial understanding of 3D visualization systems was the key issue. The tool does not improve virtual design process only but also supports the execution of construction plans. User of the system can manipulate a virtual object with two view change mechanisms. He can move around the model or rotate the 3D object. Virtual object information is received through the network communication. AR CAD system then creates a virtual model according to the received information. For using the application we need a modelling computer with AutoCAD, an AR computer running AR viewing software, a head mounted display (HDM) and a camera fitted in the HDM. This experimental AR CAD facility is supported by AR Toolkit. The application is able to zoom in or zoom out and has a transparency mode which renders a model with a certain degree of visibility.

Figure 7. Components of AR system


III"The experimental prototype can provide the piping detailer with the ability to explore the CAD design in non-immersive (AR) virtual reality modes."

A detailer is a professional who works on a detailed design which completes a general design that was made by another professional. The user who is a detailer can see the view of a less abstract representation of a 3D object. When you click on the "export-model-to-AR" button, the detailer by looking at the card through a head mounted display can observe a 3D CAD model.

AR CAD's detailing function is efficient in the individual design. The support of CAD modelling in a real world environment is very useful and perspective in architectural practise. There are still some limitations of the currant AR CAD system, for example the application is limited to piping.


Augmented Round Table for Architecture and Urban Planning ARTHUR

ARTHUR was released in 2004 as another AR interface for roundtable design meetings, supporting mainly urban and architectural proposals for multiple users. The goal was to develop interactive collaboration based on AR technology and integrate CAD systems into AR environment. An augmented round table provides the view of physical working environment and virtual components where real objects are used as tangible interfaces to create a virtual environment. Collaboration is supported by verbal and non-verbal communication by the table. The system provides optical see-through AR displays. For using the application, you need AR glasses, the ARTHUR round table, twin cameras fitted in the glasses and computer vision techniques. ARTHUR is based on many particular components, for instance MORGAN AR framework, computer vision based mechanisms or AR displays.

Figure 8. The basic components of the AR framework

Figure 9. See-through head mounted display Source:

Source: The AR glasses and the real world placeholders provide all users around the table equal access and contact to the design user interface. The user is able to observe the scenario in 3D, using head mounted displays (Fig.9). It is possible to render the scenario monoscopic or stereoscopic. 3D visualisation augments see-through video and the view from head mounted camera is layered by the virtual scene elements.

Figure 10. Computer vision systems

Computer vision is used as the basic user input. There is a main difference between input devices. Natural input is an input such as hand gestures or fingertip moving, and marker based device is input such as a placeholder object or wands. CV system controls the marked based devices. There are two types (Fig.10), one is placeholder object and the other one is wand-like pointer. Placeholder objects are moved in the table plane. They can be manipulated by a user. Pointers have 3 buttons to pick the operation with a pointer.



In this experiment is used a real-world example. A model of London presents a testing ground for architectural and urban design. The ARTHUR environment enhances many issues in designing process, such as discussions about the best building area, the general shape of a building with respecting the building's environment, the complete review of a final object and the presentation.


Figure 11.Collaboration of two users around the ATHUR table

3D model of the city is displayed on the table. Users are allowed to remove existing buildings from the suitable building space. Then they can add a new basic 3D object and edit it by using 3D sketching. The object is manipulated by placeholder objects and 3D wand. After finding the final suitable shape of the model, the users locate the object and refine the scale. The decision needs to be considered from different aspects. Users decide to demonstrate a simulation of pedestrians' movement in this new cityscape scenario.

Figure 12. Pedestrian simulation


The movement directions deal with space syntax theory. [IV] "Space syntax deals with the configurational properties of environments. Spatial agents use vision to assess the configuration, and move towards open space by a stochastic process, i.e. by choosing a destination at random from the available space, and walking towards it."

The MORGAN AR frameworks enable the communication between the agents' simulation engine and augmented reality application. The agent simulation prevents from the movement through a dynamic object.

ARTHUR application is an instrument to link virtual 3D models to interaction and provides a simple interface for creation. The system encouraged collaboration between co-workers and had a strong social dimension. In the experiment, one user took control of the process and directed actions. But this is very common in architectural teams. The users comprehended structures between spaces as a dynamic experience. In the future, ARTHUR will be enhanced [V] "by using more flexible and light-weight components (such as lighter displays, firewire cameras) and further reduce the necessary set-up and preparation time."

7. Conclusion

The introduction of mentioned AR technologies provides us an overview of what AR has already achieved in design sector. The new tools support the understanding of spatial structures and collaboration between participants what can bring us better and more sophisticated results in architectural or urban design. Augmented Reality has changed from research field into practical industrial applications. Until now we do not have any applications integrated in a real architectural practise but there are prototypes which can change this fact in the future, even thought the transition into the design sector is relatively slow.

CAD modelling is commonly used system in architectural studios, although predominant technique is still hand drawing and creating physical models. AR tools probably will not replace CAD systems, though their integration is supported.

Using AR tools in architectural practice could have many benefits. One of the very important advantages is reducing costs. It could be provided by shorten design time and advanced simulations of virtual model and its behaviour in the real environment. Buildings and urban proposals will become more efficient. Additionally, construction process follows after virtual model's guide performance which can make the real process more effective. Another great benefit, which I emphasized more times in this essay, is encouraging collaborative activities between architects, designers and meeting participants. Beside the design process, augmented reality can be used also in the real architectural environment where the buildings will not be limited just to a real geographical coordinates. Thanks to AR, the virtual travelling within a building would be possible.

On the other hand, using quite a lot of special equipments is very inconvenient. The applications require a high performance computers and computer systems.

Information Age brings us many new technologies, like Augmented Reality that breaks barriers between Virtual and Real world. The development of those technologies helps to make improvements in many other sectors, not just computing research. I believe that architecture will benefit from AR and adopt AR tools in terms of creating better and sophisticated environment.

„The way that we track with computers today will change the shape of the city tomorrow."

(Vision of Augmented Reality, S. Morgan, 2008)