Tag Archives: Architecture

IVAS eXPeriment

Thirty-five people took part in the Immersive Virtual Architecture Studio (IVAS) between 26th February and 9th March 2018. The experiment was simply presented as a room scale VR experience where you would have to solve a few jigsaw puzzles inside different rooms. This was one of the most important and exciting parts of my PhD research project. Follows a short explanation of context, purpose and approach.

Soapbox VR room running IVAS with Dean.


Homo Sapiens’ biggest achievement, to a certain extent, as a global civilization, has been to transform and adapt the environment to his needs. The main strength to achieve this outcome is Sapiens “spatial awareness”: the ability to perceive and make sense of his spatial environment and the intrinsic sense of agency that it affords. Sapiens developed this ability following different trait, the most recognizable one being known under the field of “architecture”. For more than five thousand years, using bricks and mortar, he built places to fulfill all the different functions required by society: services, religions, politics and other cultural activities. In the 21st century, Virtual Reality (VR), an inherently spatial technology, offers us the perfect medium to test and apply some architectural principles developed over the centuries to structure and navigate today’s overwhelming digital landscape.


The built environment has a significant effect on humans behavior in the physical world (1). How does that translate in VR? The overall aim of this project is to establish the foundations of a framework to support the design of Immersive Virtual Environments. Such a framework will have benefits not only for scientists but in every field VR is disrupting such as game design, industrial design, data visualization and learning applications to name just a few.


This study is exploring ways to evaluate how different architectural elements affect human’s spatial cognition performance using the IVAS. The following steps will be to apply those findings to support specific cognitive tasks for specific users. This particular iteration of the project is looking at two architectural elements arranged following two spatial characteristics. Those fours conditions are tested using three cognitive tasks. Follows a short description of the setup.

Physical Space – Hardware – Mode of Interaction

For most of our history, natural movement has been the only way to navigate our environment and to experience “architecture”, therefore, it is the primary mode of interaction used in this experiment. To accompany this principle, a room-scale VR environment is set up with a minimum of 9 sqm (3mx3m) of navigable space. In this instance, the IVAS exp. happened in two different rooms, at two different sites: Goldsmiths, Hatcham house, 1 and Soapbox, Old Street 68.
The second mode of interaction is the VR system which is composed of an HTC Vive head-mounted display with two wireless hand-held controllers allowing together 18 degrees of freedom (18 DOF) of movement. The headset is tethered to a powerful laptop that runs the simulation.

Prt Screen from Unity running IVAS A1

Virtual Space – Software – 3D Models

The room with approximately the same dimensions as the physical room is modeled in 3D and will serve as the base for the different conditions (architectural scenes) that will be tested. All other 3D assets are modeled using 3Dsmax before being imported in Unity3D where the interactivity is programmed.

Spatial Conditions

Two architectural elements, wall and columns, were studied following two spatial characteristics: enclosure and complexity (3)

  • A1 : Close Columns
  • A2 : Open Columns
  • B1 : Close Walls
  • B2 : Open Walls
Layout of the different conditions.

Three Tasks involving Spatial Cognition

Solving a Jigsaw Puzzle

This task was design to encourage participants to navigate the space in search for all the items needed to solve the puzzle. A stopwatch was encouraging them to do so as fast as possible – a way to measure performance. VR allows to easily track user’s movement: time, position and rotation. Everybody seems to have enjoyed solving the jigsaw puzzle and were very focused on the task. I had to remind them to explore the space before starting the task. Once the puzzle was solved, the participant was automatically transferred to a transition area where he had to rate two experiential qualities.

Rating of Experiential Qualities (REQ)

The spatial analysis can only be meaningful in regards to an equivalent evaluation from a human experience point of view. Evaluating “lived space” (2) can be done by asking participants to rate their experience with each spatial characteristics. This task brings the qualitative human evaluation into the equation. Using a semantic differential scaling technique, subjects were able to differentiate their appraisal using a five-step Likert-like scale. The rating categories were selected to represent previously mentioned properties: enclosure and complexity.

Perspective Taking Task (PTT)

Once out of the IVAS, participants had to answer a few questions on the online questionnaire before completing this last cognitive task. The main purpose of this task is to measure the memorability of each scene (4). It consists of a sequence of 16 pairs of images. For each pair, one of the images was taken from one of the explored room, the other image was taken from a room not visited. The participant had to identify which image relates to one of the scenes he had experienced.

Perspective Taking Task – All the views
Perspective Taking Task – Pair 03
Perspective Taking Task – Pair 11

Space Syntax Design Analysis

The design analysis using Space Syntax approach will give us an objective measure of each considered spatial characteristics. By combining both “Isovist” and “Visibility Graph” techniques, we obtain a number of measurands (3). In this case, we will be using the following measurands to represent the best predictor variables for the spatial characteristic considered:

The spatial qualities and their related measurands are :

  • Enclosure: “isovist openness” and “jaggedness”;
  • Complexity : “number of vertices”, “vertex density”, “roundness” and “jaggedness”;

Early Observations

A quick glance at the data shows that participants experienced spatial complexity as intended in the scenes designed with the columns. Their average best performance comes out of the scene with the closest room with columns. However, the feeling of openness doesn’t seem to be related to the number of windows in the room. One explanation for this is most probably because there was a texture on the glass. It wasn’t completely transparent. A participant even said: “I didn’t realize that there were glass panel walls!”
This is just a short intro of the kind of conclusions I am working on. This experiment is bringing plenty of good data to dig into, some with positive results some negatives. I have a few pages to fill with that discussion (check further posts).

  1. Arthur E. Stamps. Mystery, complexity, legibility and coherence: A meta-analysis. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 24(1):1–16, 3 2004
  2. Annemarie S. Dosen and Michael J. Ostwald. Lived space and geometric space: comparing people’s perceptions of spatial enclosure and exposure with metric room properties and isovist measures. Architectural Science Review, 60(1):62–77
  3. Jan M. Wiener and Gerald Franz. Isovists as a Means to Predict Spatial Experience and Behavior. pages 42–57. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2005.
  4. Barbara Tversky and Bridgette Martin Hard. Embodied and disembodied cognition: Spatial perspective-taking. Cognition, 110(1):124–129, 1 2009.


Using Props to Boost the VR Experience.

Seeing your hands in VR is already a good step to increase the level of presence. Adding the sense of touch is just a natural progression.
What better way to do so than bringing real props in the equation? Yes we have the controllers already!  Although they can appear as a sword and a shield,  those are stuck in your hands and don’t really bring the feeling of affordances. Instead, if our hands were free, we could naturally grab a door handle to open a door physically and virtually at the same time. In that spirit, Doraemon has done some promising experiment with the “Anywhere door” as seen on roadtoVR.
Image result for Doraemon ‘Anywhere Door’
Doraemon ‘Anywhere Door’
The power of a door doesn’t stop with its affordance. The door is also a metaphor to bring someone from one room to the next. What is exciting with VR is that those rooms don’t have to be physically adjacent. They can be any kind of place, anywhere. From a living room, the door can lead you to the beach or Jupiter. Furthermore, by using two doors cleverly juxtaposed as in a booth, you can redirect the participant to maximize the use of the constraint physical space.
Startracker Stickers
Doctor Who’s Tardis find new meaning with VR. At the Virtual Reality Show in April 2017,  I was able to try a mobile VR setup, no string attached, just a space delimited by a ceiling full of sticky stars. (StarTrackerVR) Those stickers were reflecting an accurate location without the need of cameras. The main trick of the experience was based on a set of virtual booth with one door to get in and one door to get out. Each booth was a gate from one virtual scene to the next; and it was also redirecting the participant to keep him inside the perimeter. However, in this case, they were no physical door.
From the Virtual Reality Show 2017
Either way, physical or virtual, or both, the door is only one architectural element among a dozen that can be used in VR as a way to convey the participant through an experience or a story.

Virtual Reality Immersion for Christmas.

Over Christmas, my son and I had the opportunity to play around with the HTC Vive. Straightforward to set up, you need at least 2 by 2 meters of free space to enjoy the full range of motion. Overall, that was a couple of weeks of awesomeness. Follows a few lines on the games and experiences we have tried out.
  • “The Lab”: After the tutorial, this is the first place from where you start and learn the trick of the trade of the Vive. The main thing is to get use to moving around by pointing, with one of the controller, a ray of light  on a virtual grid on the floor. Then, pressing the trigger will teleport you to the pointed location. I am not totally convince by this method. It still gives me a kind of thickness and definitely reduce the feeling of presence.

    The Lab – Where you start to use the grid to teleport around
  • “Rec Room” : my son’s favorite. He  played in there for hours. The stranger thing in Rec Room is that you play with strangers; you talk to them like they are just in front of you in the room. Well in a way that’s where they are,  virtually next to you. Then you make a team and go playing a exciting paintball or football game, even though they actually are in another country.

    Rec Room, playing paint ball game with some frenchy.
  • Portal Stories: VR”:  love it, my personal favorite game. Really good adaptation of an already so clever and fun game. A perfect match for the HTC vive. In one sentence, the game is about getting out of a room to the next. It is all about the room. Your living room suddenly develop an infinite potential.

    Portal Stories: VR
  • “Irrational Exuberance: Prologue” : this introduction to a new kind of experience is really well design with subtlety. It starts from a very dark environment with just the title and some strange sphere of energy in your hands. They are encouraging you to use those to follow the sphere that goes along the title itself. Then you start to perceive some pieces of stone floating around. Instinctively, you want to push them away, then they break in smaller pieces. Doing the same movement a bit further, at some point you will hit something bigger which will break as well to bring you a glimpse of the outer space. This is the actual wall that surrounds you. By break the wall, you realise that you are standing inside a meteorite. The experience is very immersive, and taking you to a place you couldn’t have imagine. We want to see more of that!

    Irrational Exuberance: Prologue by Buffalo Vision Immersion:
  •  “Google Earth VR” :  bring you as a giant on earth. It is a fantastic feeling to be able to jump from one city to the next. I loved landing effortlessly at the top of the world on Mount Everest

    Google Earth VR
  •  “Engage” is a Educational Virtual Learning Platform. That is where I get very exited. That is the core of my research project: how can we use this amazing technology to enhance the learning experience, to change education for ever?

    Engage – Main hall with the whale
We tried a few other applications as well like this architectural walkthrough “Bund88” which was not easy to load up probably due to the very quality of the render. However, the experience was so realistic. This is definitely a game changer for the architecture and real estate industry. The Roller coaster just made me sick, no comment. No problem for my son though.

The HTC vive is just one more convincing step towards the development of a new medium with a huge potential not only for entertaining  but more for learning and sharing new skills and knowledge between people all over the world.

I was in those virtual worlds more than two weeks ago and still, I can close my eyes and vividly remember the different environments and interactions I lived then as it was this morning.  We learn through experience. That is what VR is all about. We are barely scratching the surface of this new tool that has the potential to positively impact the world.

Is Augmented Reality the next design tool?

What role Augmented Reality (AR) will be playing in the architecture practice and the design of our built environment? How will companies use this technology to attract more consumers? Lets look at those two very different ways to use the power of AR:  as a design tool and as a consumerism device.

Looks like Microsoft is taking the first route with the Hololens. With a variety of polished video presentations, they are showing the Hololens as this amazing new tool to help design interiors, buildings or even a whole new world. It even let you communicate in real time with your teammates from another continent. As an architect, Greg Lynn seems enthusiastic after having use the HoloLens at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2016 (interview from Dezeen here).   For interior designer lacking of vision, this video shows the potential. And to be be really blown away and transported in the future, check out this TED talk from the visionary Alex Kipman.

Of course, I can’t agree more with him on the fact that all those 2D interfaces, displays and screens that have invades our life are born obsolete. We are moving creatures always exploring around us, using our whole body with all our senses to interact with our environment. We are not supposed to be locked behind a screen all day. But, I am digressing onto my research topic here. Even though this is very exciting topic,  we still don’t really know how we are actually interacting with those virtual objects embedded in our physical surroundings. I will look into VR and user experience in another post.

In the meantime, looking at the other side of the coin, the consumerism version of AR, perhaps Keiichi Matsuda vision with his “Hyper-Reality” production is closer to what will happen sooner than later.

HYPER-REALITY from Keiichi Matsuda on Vimeo.

If VR is not the answer, AR is not neither. What I am really looking forward to is when those two technologies will merged into a Mixed Reality (MR) integrated into some sort of contact lenses.

Memory Triggers from a Prison.

Under the arche.
Part of my research project is to investigate the way humans perceive and remember their surroundings, from an architectural point of view. Results from the first set of experiment using 3D Virtual Environment (3DVE), see ArchiMemory XP 2.3, brought me some insights on what architectural features are most efficient at enhancing participants memory.
This is typically a top-down approach: by placing architectural elements  (doors, windows, arches …) at specific locations inside a 3DVE, we can use them as triggers or symbols to construct a meaningful journey for the participant. For example, a door is used as a transition from one type of information to another; a window is used as a digression device to give a hint on something else without taking you away from the main subject.
Lets look through that window, for a mo!
 A few month ago, I had the opportunity to work on an important project about syrian’s prison with a special research group in Goldsmiths: Forensic Architecture (FA). I couldn’t say much until the official release of the website we worked on due to the secrecy of the mission. Now that Amnesty International has released the website, I am taking the opportunity to briefly explain  the project in the light of my own research.
Saydnaya's prison - Aerial 3rd floor
Saydnaya’s prison – Aerial 3rd floor

The purpose of this project is to make the public aware of the existence of torture prison in Syria where humans right are baffles everyday. No NGO or any journalist have ever been inside, we don’t have any document, picture or report on this prison. What we do have is a satellite view and a few ex-prisoners testimonies.

Prison's Corridors
Prison’s Corridors

FA investigation started by doing long interviews of those witnesses. Based on their memories, an architect and a sound designer rebuild in real-time a 3D model of the prison. Because prisoners were blindfolded when arriving at the prison, most of their memories are based on sounds, movements and proprioception. Only after a few weeks, they got to their main cell, they were able to see the walls and the other people faces. Even though, sounds were a big part of their memories, my job was to focus on the visuals including 3D models, lights and textures. I will explain more about this in a separate post.

Triggers in Corridors
Triggers in Corridors
Back to the main room.
Working on this project gave me the opportunity to understand my research topic from a bottom-up approach.  In this case, memories are already in participant’s minds. They are vivid and strongly attach to all sort of emotions and perceptions due to the high stress environment where they happend. In a opposite direction as my previous method, here the process was to extract and rebuild those spaces from memory.
Those interviews were a constant demonstration of how memory works. The further we got in the interviews, the more we realised that memory is triggered by details like objects, architectural elements or colors.  Being in a cell with no window or arche, those triggers can take very different shapes. It can be a water pipe with his specific sound, re-purposed as a communication device or a hatch in the door through which the food was coming.
From the truck on arrival.
From the truck on arrival.
Before closing the door.
Even though those two methodologies are very different by essence,  one being to enhance memory, the other being to retrieve information from existing memories, they have a lot of common ground. From a cognitive psychology point of view, the main factor  activating those memories is “trigger”. Either we find them by telling the stories we remember and go in as much details as we can, or we place those triggers along a new journey to create that story.

To have a hint of those prisoners memory, visit the website and explore the 360 panoramas (more about this in next post) here: Saydnaya Project