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Virtual reality in area development

As Geodan Extended Reality (XR) expert Edwin Fennema is only too aware, the structuring or restructuring of existing or new areas presents a complex challenge: a challenge in which different professionals and disciplines need to work together and find the right balance together with stakeholders. Using Virtual Reality to experience and explore future plans reveals the complexity of the plans, improves cooperation and increases participation and the likelihood of support from local residents.

Complex relationships

‘What kind of balance do we want to achieve of residential, professional and living purposes, and what sort of quality of life do we want to create? How do we ensure that our plans are both accepted by local authorities and turn into economic successes, and how do we involve all stakeholders in our plans as closely as possible? After all, we can’t get anything done without the support and involvement of the community.'

'A small selection of the questions which must be answered in complex area development projects: by professionals (including area planners, urban developers and architects) and aldermen, information managers and municipal policymakers. In these types of urban-planning projects, it is virtually impossible to identify the coherence between all these specific components, and that happens to be one of the most powerful aspects of Virtual Reality (VR).’

Live interaction

‘We use Geomagine’s experience technology – and VR – to ensure that all plans, models, calculations and drawings can be experienced beforehand (!) in a digital format. Say, for example, you’re repurposing a former business estate located on the edge of town. You can put on your VR headset, fly across the area, and get a complete aerial view. But you can just as easily perceive any spot on the land – and the processes that take place there – from the ground, in a lifelike style. What makes this technology unique is that you can interact with these processes live and in a group and can fine-tune the optimum situation together.’

What makes this technology unique is that you can interact with these processes live and in a group and can fine-tune the optimum situation together

A calculated prognosis

‘What happens to the traffic if we create room here for 75 instead of 50 businesses? And how will an increase in the ambient noise of 10 decibels affect the residents? You might be able to calculate the ideal balance between residential, professional and living purposes but it will always be an estimate, based on numbers and models. It says virtually nothing about how we, as people, perceive the space, making it kind of an unusual situation. What if I buy a new car – wouldn’t I want to take a test drive first and experience the specifications from the brochure themselves?’

How does this really feel?

‘A digital version of the area to be structured tells you what a 10-decibel increase in ambient noise actually “feels like,” and what impact an extension of the circular road to the residential neighbourhood slated for development actually has on local residents. Another factor to be considered is how safe the new neighborhood feels before you buy a house there: how safe it is to walk around there, take the kids to school and cycle home from the train station in the evening. By being able to render concepts such as safety, energy and sustainability in a digital format, you can adopt a realistic approach to the ‘human experience’ of the future space. While VR might not reveal more than a numerical forecast, you get to experience the future as it actually can be. Digital simulation and forecasting for the future is a perfect way to receive an answer to all the main issues surrounding this type of urban-planning challenge.’

Capturing the essence

‘Answers that make it easier for policymakers to explain what they do and what kinds of decisions need to be made for what reasons. Area planners and other professionals, including architects, are developing a growing understanding of the design parameters. The experiences we felt and experienced together in the virtual reality is captured and presented to interested readers in a professional report. This documentation and representation provides important feedback to all parties concerned. Yes, that includes lawmakers when they assess the plans from a legal perspective.’

‘A growing number of local authorities are already finding that allowing users to visually experience the plans and ideas can be immensely beneficial and enlightening. And those answers cannot be found through conventional discussions around the table and traditional information sessions, but by exploring and experiencing the future virtually. It’s extremely inspiring to be able to contribute to that.’

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A car passing by or an airplane flying over the city. The impact of noise is shown in colours.