Monthly Archives: September 2014

Virtual Architectures at the UCL Coding Club

At the end of July I was fortunate to be invited to contribute a workshop on Virtual Reality and the Oculus Rift so the series of coding workshops that UCL have been running over the summer for teenagers at Stratford Library.

This was a fantastic opportunity to give young people hands-on experience of the latest technology and help them engage directly with the possibilities it affords for participatory design. To that end I chose to offer a workshop in which I’d lead participants right through the workflow for creating a 3D scene and generating an interactive walk-through. In doing so I wanted to demonstrate the relative ease with which a 3D environment of any kind could be created with accessible free software including Trimble’s Sketchup Make and the powerful Unity game engine. My hope was that after trying these tools participants might be encouraged to start experimenting for themselves.


Following a brief outline of the session and a presentation about the Oculus Rift we jumped right in to the process of building a model in SketchUp. I began by demonstrating the user interface and walking participants through the creation of a basic room using the rectangle, line, extrusion and offset tools.


Once we had our room we added basic textures and created an array of windows.


After turning the room into a component I demonstrated how the same array technique could be used to quickly turn one floor into an entire building. The ability to copy and array parts of models is fundamental to speeding up work in 3D. It can be tricky to understand and get it right at first so it was really rewarding to watch as the penny dropped. After adding a roof and door to our models we stopped for a break.


During the break it was really encouraging to see that some of the participants were keen to start work on models of their own. The influence of Minecraft was very apparent.

Once we were back at the computers I quickly demonstrated how to export a model from SketchUp and use the free Autodesk FBX Converter to prepare it for import into Unity. As we were running slightly behind at this point I had to move through the process of working in Unity more quickly. After demonstrating the interface I imported the warehouse model we’d created in SketchUp, being careful to note the importance of setting the model scale and position correctly.


A directional light was added for the sun and I imported a model of a town square that I’d prepared in advance of the workshop. The group were really surprised and excited when I told them that I’d been able to create the scene from scratch in about 45 minutes in SketchUp using the same techniques I’d demonstrated earlier.


A skybox was added to complete the scene and the Unity first person controller was added to provide the ability for the player to interact with the scene.


I built the scene and had a working first person experience, in minutes, all within the free version of Unity.


After explaining the process for integrating the scene I’d just created with Oculus Rift we moved to another room for the final demonstration of two Oculus Rift headsets running demos I’d built previously with Unity Pro. Alongside the CASA Urban Roller Coaster I also showed off my City Run driving demo which I’d created with new sample assets from Unity. The latter demo was particularly popular amongst the gamers in the group as it provided the freedom to explore the city for jumps and stunts using an Xbox controller.

[vimeo 105501647 w=625 h=351]

The session was really challenging but we had a great time and managed to achieve a lot. I’d like to share a big thank you with the staff at Stratford Library and Kim and the Public Engagement team at UCL for making this workshop possible. I’d also like to thank CASA for their support.


Virtual Architectures in The Guardian

I’m pleased to announce that last week Virtual Architectures made it into the press following our recent guest post on The Making of the CASA Oculus Rift Urban Roller Coaster for Digital Urban.

Virtual Architectures in the Guardian

While the headline seems to have put several readers of The Guardian on the wrong track I’m please that the article captures our underlying intention well:

The ride wasn’t just for fun. The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) at UCL in London, where Dawkins studies, had set out to show how a virtual rollercoaster could demonstrate to the Grand Designs Live exhibition’s 100,000 visitors a more tangible example of how VR can be linked to city design.

The key to this, they think, is the latest generation of virtual-reality headsets, including the Oculus Rift, which tracks head movement to show a 360-degree view. Its gaming potential has been much discussed, but CASA believes it also has the potential to do no less than democratise urban design.

Many thanks to CASA for their support. The full article is available on The Guardian website here.