360-Degree Technology brings the highway into front yard
The virtual flight takes off over the Treptower Park in Berlin. At the level of the Elsenbrücke, the camera descends and now shows very clearly a wide blue band that winds its way across the Spree into the middle of the northern district. The mighty Lindwurm runs past the Ostkreuz until it finally burrows into the earth and only emerges again many kilometres further north.
At the end of the film sequence, the viewer hovers over a rectangular section of Berlin, with houses, bridges and streets in 3-D, and can see the full extent of one of the capital’s most controversial urban planning projects: the extension of the A100 motorway across the Spree to the north.
Users can leave the model at five stations. There you can expect 360-degree photos, taken on balconies or on the side of the road. Open guided tours and exits of the motorway route are marked in blue. Very close they lead past densely built-up residential areas. The residents have their say in audio collages.
The hype around VR
So far, VR glasses have only provided insights into the interiors of exposed new-build architecture, and only for a small audience. For example, those interested can visit the penthouse apartments above the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg. Elsewhere, sections of larger projects are shown, such as at the new station Stuttgart21. Visitors to the information center there can “float” through the tunnels, which are currently being drilled under the state capital. A whole district with a construction project-this is new.
The hype around virtual reality has thus reached architecture and urban planning after the games industry, film and trade. Everywhere there is a lot of experimentation with the new technology. The furniture chain Ikea recently tested an app that allows you to explore built-in kitchens in 3-D before buying. The retail giant Amazon opened a virtual reality department store in Australia together with the department store chain Myer, where customers can view and buy about 12,500 products in 3D.
And in Japan, a fair on virtual reality pornography recently had to close prematurely – the crowd was just too big. At the real estate fair Expo Real in Germany, virtual realities are also shown again and again, but also in an experimental environment.
Limits of new technology
For a few weeks now, the virtual environment that developer Lorenz Matzat has built can be viewed on the website of Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg. For half a year, Matzat and some editors tinkered with the virtual environment. With his project, developer Lorenz Matzat wants to give the new technology political meaning. Because in many large-scale construction projects there are now citizen protests. “Many people are not able to really understand architectural drawings,” says Matzat. “This is too abstract, you have to be trained for it.”In the future, virtual reality could make it easier to get an idea of major conversions in the cities – even before the construction plans are sealed and the first excavators arrive.
“The special thing about virtual reality is that I no longer have to imagine the space,” says digital consultant Thomas Bedenk from the agency Exozet. “I’m actually moving in it.”Project developers would do well to use virtual space in development, planning and communication, says Bedenk.
So far, however, the technology is quickly reaching its limits. Few users even have high-resolution virtual reality glasses and enough computing power at home that would allow a detailed design of the virtual space. In Lorenz Matzat’s animation, Berlin therefore looks more like a three-dimensional cardboard model, not a realistic depiction of the city.
“The application we built is designed for four to seven minutes, “” says Matzat.” “This can also be done with smartphones, it is not yet burdensome for the eyes.”However, he expects that many households will be equipped with high-quality technology in the next two to four years. A tour in virtual reality could then be as natural as a walk through the city park.
Architecture in the virtual world too perfect
Günter Wenzel from the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering and Organization in Stuttgart knows what this technically advanced future of virtual reality could look like for urban planning. He and his team are developing environments that go one step further. In the future, citizens could not only inform themselves about construction plans in virtual reality, but also leave digital notes and help shape construction projects.
“It is important to use visualizations at an early stage and to involve residents in the planning process in virtual environments,” says Wenzel. Only in this way can conflicts between builders and citizens ‘ movements be alleviated, or at least made more objective. However, it is also important that the visualizations are built on a solid data basis.
But that is often not the case, critic such as the president of the Berlin Chamber of Architects, Christine Edmaier, criticize. She points out that animations are often embellished. The light is brightened, there is no garbage on the street anywhere-architecture in virtual reality is just too perfect. “An office building that looks bright and friendly in animation can look dark and oppressive in real life,” says Edmaier. Car noise and the stench of exhaust gases are also difficult to simulate.
The city planner Bastian Lange from the Humboldt University of Berlin is also sceptical. He fears that virtual reality excludes part of the population. “These very complex technologies require competence in dealing with new media,” says Lange. The generation of 60 – to 80-year-olds can be reached rather poorly with elaborate animations.