Proc. VR/AR in Higher Education Conference 2018, pp. 43–47 (2019)
A key component of the Swansea University Year 1 Civil Engineering training is based around the exploration and development of imaginative, viable Civil Engineering conceptual solutions to problems. In industry, conventional methods for conceptual design communication, such as sketching, physical modelling or 2D CAD drawings are now being superseded by 3D and 4D (space + time) computer modelling and visualisation methods, which go hand-in-hand with the growing industry adoption of building information modelling (BIM) (National Institute of Building Sciences, 2018). This study seeks to further enhance Year 1 Civil Engineering students’ understanding of and interaction with 3D conceptual design, by introducing interactive VR as part of a computer laboratory based activity within the “conceptual design” module. This study is based on the expectation that the introduction of immersive conceptual design and interaction will allow the students to more fully engage in the concept evolution stage of design. Furthermore, in comparison with the more common CAD methods, where students would look at a 2D computer screen to develop a 3D object, it is envisaged that through immersion in VR, students’ spatial awareness of aspects of the conceptual design could be greatly enhanced.
This study found that after developing basics skills in the 3D building information modelling software Autodesk Revit, students were capable of utilising traditional 2D building plans and elevations to develop from scratch their own detailed 3D model of an existing multi-storey building on the Swansea University Bay Campus, the Energy Safety Research Institute (ESRI) Building. The addition of VR-interactivity whilst developing the 3D model enabled students to identify anomalies otherwise not easily identifiable in their models, and also permitted students to develop much better understanding of the scale of typical structural elements such as slabs, beams and columns (for which they learn simple techniques for preliminary sizing in Year 1) in relation to other more familiar building elements, such as doors and windows, and 3D arrangement of interior structures such as staircases within the building. All the participants in the study reported that using VR enhanced their experience of the conceptual design building development exercise.