Ana Maria Monsalve is a postgraduate student studying the MA in Urban Design & Planning with us in the Department of Urban Studies & Planning at the University of Sheffield.
As a Student Ambassador for the “Developing Design Consultants of the Future” Project, Ana shares with us her experience of contributing towards the progress of the project so far.
During the few last months, I have been working on this project, experimenting with Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, which I’ve found to offer diverse ways to approach the design of the urban space. I can say that the process I adopt to conceive and develop my designs have been changed and enriched by its use. The senses, the proportions and the human scale experienced with this technology have given me the opportunity to test my projects and the chance to rethink particular design features over again.
After working for three years in the area of architecture and returning to the University to begin my postgraduate study, different expectations are being fulfilled. I have the chance to complement theoretically, the area of design that I have always felt passionate about, but also I am using new tools and developing new skills which will assist me be more competent in my professional life. Thus, I believe that the University is carrying out a useful experiment that as an institution, will improve the way Urban Design can be approached.
In regards to my personal participation in the project, I have been involved in the testing of three different aspects: Photogrammetry, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. Each area constitutes and improves particular issues that, as students, we can face during the design process. I found Photogrammetry, for instance, an outstanding tool which will enrich the process of the analysis of a place. It gives the chance to experiment again, with a 3D model, the space visited and explore in detail physical aspects that might have been forgotten. Additionally, as the process consists of a precise method, the student becomes more aware of the surrounding space during this procedure.
Virtual reality, on the other hand, gives us the opportunity to try our proposals in human scale. Most of the visualisation software that supports VR, such as SketchFab, have practical interfaces to use, and can be viewed with accessible accessories like the Google Cardboard, meaning that students will be able to try them either in their homes or at the university. Concepts that are always taught in the classroom could now be tested and re-explored outside of it. Different contextual aspects such as lighting and shadows, night and day experience, the enclosure of the urban space among others features could improve the process and the result of our designs.
Finally, Augmented Reality is an extraordinary tool to show the entire spatial conception of a proposal at a smaller scale. The tool helps to visualise a project with a 3D model that either the students or the teacher can use at any moment with their phones or tablets. In my personal experience, it supports the understanding of large-scale urban proposals giving the user the opportunity to appreciate the project from an bird’s eye view, with the opportunity to zoom in to a particular area of the project; a function that a 2D image of a 3D model cannot support.
In my opinion, the testing 3D models using VR and AR software needs to continue to be an important aspect of our university research. Students must continue to be involved in this kind of initiative that improves and strengthens the process of designing and understanding the urban space. The search for new ways of understanding the urban space will never conclude as such aspects as dynamics, users, and temporalities are always transforming the way we perceive the urban space.