Planning with AR/VR Tools

an article by NOW, NEAR, NEXT,
in cooperation with Bollinger+Grohmann and SBA Architektur und Städtebau

Mixed reality glasses: they allow interactive projections to be displayed in the immediate environment.

Mixed reality glasses: they allow interactive projections to be displayed in the immediate environment.

© Bollinger+Grohmann

Digitalisation has entered our lives. "Digitisation" or "Digitalisation" is a fuzzy umbrella term for a variety of technological developments that are fundamentally changing the construction industry. The scope and direction of these changes can hardly be estimated. They will affect the entire process chain, from real-estate management, architectural design and its implementation, component production, and the construction of buildings, through to facility management, conversion and deconstruction. Digitalisation stands for a high degree of individualisation. It brings forth new planning approaches, as well as its own design language and a change in practice in design, fabrication and on the construction site.

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) solutions have already found their way into many branches of industry. The former prejudices of being gadgety or gimmicky have been eradicated by the advantages in practice - in logistics and production, training or research. Slowly, new tools are also being used in the construction industry - not only on the construction site, but also in planning. AR and VR solutions facilitate the intuitive evaluation of information and data for the human brain by locating objects directly in their context. The technology helps control, process and plan complex information at the intersection of the digital and physical worlds. In the construction industry, AR tools connect 3D planning data live as virtual objects with real images. VR solutions facilitate complex dimensions through digital visualisation, which are difficult to understand in two-dimensional plans with multiple planning levels and trades, and highlight potential problems already in the planning phase. Complete digital planning sets in the form of a "digital twin" are necessary for this.

Currently, other parts of software development and data and network management are controlled by a few large companies. However, in order to secure important scope for design in this area, it is important that the public sector, university research and the freely organised architectural community also get involved to help shape this planning/change process. Some offices such as Bollinger+Grohmann and SBA Architektur und Städtebau are helping to pave the way with innovative software and tool developments.


"Decades of experience in planning and construction are incorporated into each of our design processes, but we always think in new and conceptual ways, especially when planning complex geometries. An essential part of our work is the exchange with other disciplines from practice, research, and development. Many colleagues also work in parallel at different universities or on special research projects, often in collaboration or with the support of the office.

At the interface between architecture and engineering, these research projects provide essential impulses in the field of parametric, computer-generated structural design. For many years, we have developed various tools and plug-ins for the parametric calculation, analysis and optimisation of structures directly in the CAD environment, such as Karamba3D, Octopus or the FEM-toolbox. We also vigorously pursue or conduct transdisciplinary research on new technologies such as AI, particularly the targeted use of machine learning applications and the further development of 3D printing.

The will to use new technologies or contribute to their further development always serves the goal of bringing structure and architecture closer together or uniting them.

We are also particularly interested in the possibilities offered to us as planners by virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) tools. The first attempts to develop our own applications to help artists and creative people model geometries and structures are currently being tested in our office. The primary aim is to bring together the input of designers and the computer in real-time to visualise and assess ideas and calculations. Starting from an initially simple (and not optimised) design, the artist works on a virtual model in real space. Following this pattern, simple and free forms can be modelled quickly and their topology modified while simultaneously calculating and evaluating structural performance information."

Ludovic Regnault developed the case study "tensegrity" at hand and realised it as a prototype. The installation consists of a stable rod structure in which the rods do not touch each other but are only connected by tension elements, here as ropes. This construction principle is attributed to Richard Buckminster Fuller and Kenneth Snelson which is called "tensegrity". The term comes from the English words "tension" and "integrity". © Ludovic Regnault


In a similar context, the caadria 2022 Post-Carbon workshop "Manipulating the mixed reality space for the design of repurposed timber structures" was held in Sydney this year, led by our Melbourne colleagues, where a VR/AR environment was used to explore the reuse of timber components from existing or demolished buildings, as well as leftover pieces from industries, to create new structures. © Bollinger+Grohmann


SBA Architektur und Städtebau

"In many areas of everyday life, but also in architecture and urban planning, digitization is playing an increasingly important role. A major future topic of cities is currently the concept and development of a digital twin - the digital copy of a city including real-time data. With the walk-in VR Dome as a new digital exhibit, the original physical city model has been replaced to pick up on this trend."

Digital City Model Shanghai: Virtual Reality Dome und Digital Twin, © SBA Architektur und Städtebau


The Shanghai Urban Planning and Exhibition Center (SUPEC) has been a popular destination for citizens and tourists for years. According to the current mission statement of the city („Shanghai 2035”) - an overarching concept with the clear goal of a competitive, innovative but also livable, healthy city from quantity to quality - the museum will now also face the future: Not only the building has been completely renovated. Also, the aging exhibition has been modernized, with a focus on the integration of innovative and interactive ways of presentation.

The former highlight of the museum was a huge physical city model made of wood. Instead of the classic model, the museum asked for an innovative and unique alternative that should be at least as impressive as the original exhibit.

SBA convinced with the concept of the „Digital Sandtable“ - a walk-in virtual reality dome in which the city of Shanghai can be depicted and walked through by means of a digital twin: Visitors and experts can walk and experience a digital model of the city of Shanghai in various dimensions: From bird flight over the city to walking through streets, parks and buildings. For some focus areas and development areas, special scenes and guided tours have been developed that can be run through. The digital model can impressively provide visitors with a wealth of information on urban development and on the city of Shanghai.

Thanks to state-of-the-art VR technologies and 23 high-performance projectors, the digital city model looks very plastic even without 3D glasses. An intuitive interface allows visitors and museum staff to easily navigate the city model. Not only the immersive experience and the versatile possibilities of the city model are impressive but also the dimensions of the entire installation and the custom-made screen with a height of two floors.

The Digital Sandtable now represents the new centerpiece of the exhibition.

SBA cooperated with several German experts and scientific institutes like Fraunhofer IBP (Holzkirchen) for the development of simulations integrated into the model or with Fraunhofer IFF (Magdeburg) for the programming of scenes, visualizations, and the user interface, but also with a German specialist for immersive custom-made entertainment systems, project syntropy. The interdisciplinary team in Germany worked closely with colleagues from SBA Shanghai over the entire duration of the project, but also with the Shanghai Planning Institute, which provided important geodata for the digital model.

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