Game-changing: Unity steps up to visualise construction projects

Real-time 3D platform Unity is set to develop bespoke software packages for all steps of a building’s lifecycle, according to Julien Faure, vice president of verticals at Unity, writes Denise Chevin.

Speaking to BIM+ following the launch of its first module for collaborative design reviews, Faure said that an overarching trend would be to build a digital twin of every facility and asset in the world, and as part of that, “Unity plans to develop a range of applications for all disciplines involved in the life cycle of a building from ideation, through design to construction to facilities management.

“Where we are today is that we have one application for designers, Unity Reflect Review, and one being developed for coordination and planning – and others coming along shortly on the same platform.”

The latest products are a development of Unity Reflect, originally launched in 2019, which is now used across 60 different countries in architecture and engineering. The software provides a means of connecting BIM data and stakeholders in one collaborative real-time platform and can import models from a range of BIM software. Faure said: “We discovered that our users want even more specific software for the lifecycle of a building and need specialised versions of Reflect. That’s why we have created multiple specialist versions based on the same platform.

“And the first one we launched two weeks ago was called Reflect Review, which is all about design collaboration and we make it very easy for teams to do that.

“It’s very much like clicking on Zoom, you can review the 3D design from wherever you are. You can for example, walk through the design, take measurements, immerse yourself in it.

“It’s coming from the video game industry where you have multiple players playing the same game – and each one can look at the building from their own perspective. So, you can have the contractor be looking at the basement, while the client is on the second floor.”

Faure, who joined Unity two and a half years ago and spent more than a decade at Autodesk, said they were seeing more and more designers using real-time software to review their designs, a process that has been significantly accelerated by covid.

Before covid, he said, it was much more about bringing people together in a room and that was expensive. He said using the new software allows clients to be part of the experience because they don’t need to have any technical knowledge: “They can walk around, open the door, it’s totally interactive.”

He added: “You can have different options – someone might be working in augmented reality, someone else might be working in virtual reality, because it’s all based on the model.

“Someone could be on the desktop – someone could be working on the mobile phone – all reviewing the model in a shared space.”

As well as an off-the-shelf version, Unity has also launched a version of Reflect for software developers or big companies that want to develop their own applications, which is called Reflect Develop.

New York SHoP Architects is using Unity Reflect on a 73-storey residential tower

Unity fills a tall order for New York architects

Among those using Reflect is New York-based SHoP Architects, which uses Unity Reflect to accelerate the process for bringing buildings from vision to reality and make that process more efficient. Unity Reflect allows SHoP to better connect design and construction, and this in turn improves communication on job sites.

SHoP used Unity Reflect and Unity Pro to develop a unique real-time BIM application for one of its signature projects: 9 DeKalb, a 73-storey residential tower currently under construction, which will be the tallest structure in Brooklyn, New York, standing at 325m. The application makes it possible to view associated documents and information based on BIM data. Technicians on the ground can overlay SHoP’s designs in AR on top of the ongoing construction project. They can also surface construction documents from Revit that are tied to their exact position.

“The combination of spatial understanding as well as instant access to all necessary information makes the consumption of construction documents much more fluid and immersive,” said Adam Chernick, who leads on visualisation at the practice. “We’re ultimately trying to save time for our construction partners onsite by transforming hundreds of pages of paper documents into a few taps on a tablet.”

SHoP envisions eventually using custom-built tools like this onsite for all its projects. By offering a more intuitive, immersive way to conduct quality assurance and quality control, SHoP can help its general contractors decrease construction time.

Photos courtesty of SHoP and Unity.

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