The Arc of Visual Storytelling

As architects and designers we are visual storytellers, and as a result we are always challenging our design thinking to expand the narrative. That means experimenting with both new mediums as well as old ones. We use an array of techniques we use to visually communicate our vision.

It can be argued that the hand sketch is still the most accessible and effective method of communication allowing audiences to engage design without a posteriori notion, or evidence, of materiality and space. It engages the viewer with power of abstraction and can amplify the emotional side of design while encouraging collaboration.

 Architecture's partner in visualization from the beginning, a sketch, has the ability to suspend disbelief. The success of the medium is that it conveys an idea without giving too much away.

Architecture's partner in visualization from the beginning, a sketch, has the ability to suspend disbelief. The success of the medium is that it conveys an idea without giving too much away.

 

At the other end of the spectrum of visualization, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality tools are becoming increasingly accessible to designers. These mediums extend vision to act on our proprioceptors which form our innate spatial awareness of the body. With this in mind it’s important that architects and designers experiment with new techniques to determine how these mediums can amplify the viewers’ experience while effectively communicating the creative potential of our designs.

 

 It's important to think about visualization as a spectrum of mediums which offer various benefits at phases throughout the process. VR is another progression in this computational array. 

It's important to think about visualization as a spectrum of mediums which offer various benefits at phases throughout the process. VR is another progression in this computational array. 

 

When we look at Extended Reality mediums there exists a nomenclature issue between AR/VR/MR/XR. Technology is fast, trends are viral, and that makes for a lot of confusion when the two are combined. At the beginning of every AR/VR/MR/XR google query today you’ll likely see an article in the media on demystification of the many acronyms. I won’t go through each acronym here but if you’re interested, I prefer this simple diagram from this 1994 white paper!

 

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There is no doubt that real-time rendering has radically increased the pace at which we are able to iterate and ideate our designs. In both our product design and built environment work we are starting to develop workflows that are similar to game developers which consider moods, experiences, and placemaking at very early stages while concurrently analyzing and shaping our designs. This allows our teams to devote the maximum attention to the iterative design process.

It’s certainly not a new idea for designers to work in a feedback loop between the physical and digital. Using 3D prints, physical models, renderings, and drawings we have long told the stories of our designs. However, with the accessibility of AR and VR technologies from “blue chip” companies like Google with ARCore and Apple with ARKit, we have the ability to transform the experience of the physical and digital medium.

 

 Software like Lumion allows you to see design changes in real-time in a realistic modeled environment.

Software like Lumion allows you to see design changes in real-time in a realistic modeled environment.

 

With the advances in technology, Rios Clementi Hale Studios has the ability to make any project within our practice exist in a VR space, and with almost as much ease as we produce a hand sketch. But the question we ask is: how do we develop those experiences into something with greater storytelling power?

The potential of VR applications ranges from the pragmatic, as tools for creating efficiency within our process, to the aspirational, as a new medium for storytelling that can mimic both time and place and give a new, complex order of thinking.

Check back as we explore these topics on assembly.