This year’s Tech+ conference—an upcoming and groundbreaking event showcasing technological innovators in the AEC industry taking place on May 22 in New York City—will feature pioneering speakers that are rethinking existing technological paradigms. Among them is Iffat Mai, practice application development leader for Perkins + Will, who will be co-presenting a discussion about enhanced realities and immersive experiences.
As a self-described technology geek, Mai is excited about the fact that the design and construction industry, which has traditionally lagged behind the times in terms of adopting new technology, is finally showing signs of receptivity.
“What I’ve seen is a shift in some people’s attitude, of designers and project teams, who are very open-minded about accepting these new technologies and integrating them into their workflow and process,” she said. Mai notes that a number of software companies are making virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) platforms more compatible with existing design tools that allows for greater integration and efficiency. “I’m really happy to see that’s happening in all different levels in our industry.”
It’s all about communication
Mai’s enthusiasm for change stems from her belief that these new tools are improving communication and client engagement—an assessment that’s been tested in practice at Perkins+Will and the results of which she’ll share during her presentation at Tech+.
“I think VR/AR is the ideal communication tool for the AEC industry,” Mai said. “As architects, communication of design is the bread and butter of our business.”
Noting that many clients aren’t particularly adept at visualization, Mai suggests that 3-D technology can help them better understand not only how a design looks, but also gain a better sense of scale and how the space will actually feel. Oftentimes, clients look at drawings and say they understand them, but are surprised when a space is built because they don’t conceptualize the same way design practitioners do. Mixed reality solves the problem in many ways.
“We’ve been implementing all these new technologies into our everyday design process and really looking to engage our stakeholders and our clients, and offer them the opportunity to be fully engaged in the design process,” Mai explained. “It’s not just giving them nice little drawings; we really put them into an immersive environment and encourage them to evaluate things by really understanding what the design is about so that, in the end, I think that the clients are a lot more comfortable and happy with the final product.”
Overcoming barriers to innovation
As a result, Mai says VR and AR technologies are streamlining the design and review process, saving both time and money. With the cost of hardware and software dropping, she suggests the barrier to entry will be lowered, especially to smaller firms that currently may not be able to afford them.
Ultimately, wide-scale adoption of mixed reality technology boils down to two things, according to Mai: fear of change, and a company-wide commitment to innovation.
“If you can get over the fear of changing and have kind of long-term sight of the future and not be afraid of changing, that’s a critical component of innovation,” she said. “And then your company leaders have to be really promoting company-wide innovation, to have people just think out of the box and looking for new ways of doing things in every aspect of the company.”