by Reeti Gupta
A big part of working in a large 1400 person architecture firm like HKS is establishing firmwide standards, policies, and procedures to work with technology platforms from concept to completion. HKS’ Practice Technology team was established to focus on leveraging technology to advance our design capabilities and improve our delivery processes. Practice Technology focuses on project delivery, visualization and immersive environments, building performance analysis, technical support and software management.
Remote collaboration became vital when the pandemic hit in March 2020. With a robust infrastructure already in place to work on projects remotely, such as laptops and Citrix VDI capabilities, the switch to remote work was rather seamless. We have a number of our Revit projects on Autodesk BIM 360 Cloud that has facilitated consultant coordination and overall team collaboration on projects to be done remotely. HKS employs several other cloud-based software platforms that support Model Coordination and Bluebeam Studio, that allow for collaborative markups, reviews and coordination of our drawings and models. For ideation and design collaboration, we also adopted MIRO, a virtual online whiteboard to sketch, pin up, comment and support discussions.
On the visualization side, we participated in an exploration of NVIDIA’s latest collaborative rendering technology, Omniverse, to create high-quality renderings that allowed us to generate a visual in about half the amount of time it would have otherwise taken.
At HKS, Extended reality (XR) technology is changing the way we present and communicate design to our clients through immersive experiences. Using virtual reality (VR), our clients can provide feedback and approval on the spaces we design for them, not just by presenting a rendering or an animation, but by placing them in the model and guiding them through the spaces while they are still in concept.
On a recent healthcare project proposal developed by HKS’s New York City Health Practice, VR was used to guide the client through the space which helped the stakeholders to envision proposed design solutions. The virtual environment accurately represented materials like warm woods, painted glass walls, stone, flooring finishes and other design features that are not perceived on a 2D image. The HKS team also shared multiple design options for a recovery room; each option was aimed at maximizing flexibility with the number of beds. By leveraging virtual mock-ups the team was able to quickly switch between design options with the click of a button on the VR headset. This allowed the client to clearly understand the implications of the different scenarios and pick an option that was best for their project. Photo-realistic renders were also set up in the VR experience to get a complete understanding of lighting, medical equipment, and materials for operating rooms, without the need for modelling the entire floor.
The project team accomplished this work by leveraging the workflows, processes, and training for Oculus Go and Yulio developed by HKS’ Practice Technology team.
Beyond the development of standard project deliverables, HKS is working to develop multi-user collaboration processes in VR by walking through our Autodesk Revit Models hosted on the cloud. These processes allow us to mark up changes, and measure heights and distances using a software called Prospect that also allows us to talk to each other while we are on the Oculus Quest Headset. This type of VR collaboration allows us to coordinate with our consultants in real-time to identify potential issues during the design phases of the project.
The Practice Technology team believes that for any technology to be adopted and implemented, we must have the right people who are also eager to improve processes. To support these efforts, we have established a network of specialists: the Practice Technology Specialists and Immersive Technologies specialists who ensure proper implementation of our standards and workflows within each project.
At HKS, we continue to advance our tools, and improve our processes to adapt to and keep up with the adoption of new technology so we can ensure that we provide the best services and highest quality projects for our clients and the communities we serve.
Reeti Gupta is director of practice technology at HKS Architects.