The rise of digital design tools in the 1990s changed the way architects made their plans and thought about design.
Replacing the centuries old pen and paper approach, computer aided design software allowed the profession to produce increasingly complex and precision-engineered buildings.
"The effect was huge on the way architects started thinking about space," explained Professor Vivian Mitsogianni, deputy dean of architecture and urban design at RMIT University, at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo on the Gold Coast yesterday. "It did make a huge difference."
Now, augmented reality technology looks set to disrupt the profession all over again. To explore the potential, earlier this year RMIT's School of Architecture and Design rolled out 21 HoloLens kits to two classrooms of students.
The HoloLens' run software designed by two RMIT lecturers, Cameron Newnham and Gwyllim Jahn.
"They took a technology and made it work rather than waiting," explained RMIT chief information officer Paul Oppenheimer.
"They wanted to apply this to architecture, but HoloLens wasn't there yet. Software wasn't there yet either. So what did they do? They created a live link between the CAD environment and the holographic environment allowing you to place the CAD scene in the real world, with live updates and changes being bidirectional," he added.
Oppenheimer and his technology team helped support the nascent project, providing technical knowledge and funding through its innovation program.
"We went from having one or two HoloLens kits in March through to having two complete working classrooms by the start of the second semester," said RMIT chief technology officer David Preiss.
Within the first six weeks of the semester, students had logged 600 hours on the devices.
"This augmented reality project opens up enormous possibilities for fabricating and realising complex geometries," Mitsogianni explained.
Being able to see and explore a blueprint in three dimensions – a ‘holographic template’ – means students can fabricate far more complex designs than could ever be followed with a paper plan.
"When we abstract these complex forms to 2D drawings they make no sense because we need a million drawings. The room for misinterpretation of the drawing is huge. Whereas in the (AR) model it stays the same and we all understand it,” Mitsogianni added.
Virtual, augmented and mixed reality looks set to transform architecture and design. The emerging technologies could soon become standard tools.
"The way architects will work in ten or 15 years time, the technologies they use will be very different to the ways of working that we understand today," Mitsogianni said.
"There's now a debate about AR: is it just a tool of expediency to make things happen? Or is it going to be used as a radical design tool?"
In January, Sydney-based digital design and construction group Ridley began experimenting with virtual reality and gaming engines.
"Although VR is relatively young in its development, we are excited to begin trialling it for the purposes of project collaboration, visual demonstrations and improving design outcomes for our clients," the group said at the time.
In August, the University of Sydney launched an ‘Immersive Learning Laboratory’ containing what it claims to be the largest number of virtual reality devices in an Australian education institution.
The Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning are among the university's schools using the lab this semester.
The lab, which is housed within the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies, is home to 26 Oculus Rift headsets and a new suite of high-powered PCs to support their use.
The author attended Symposium/ITxpo as a guest of Gartner