, by Zaha Hadid Virtual Reality Group

Zaha Hadid Virtual Reality Group Creates Super Chalet Concept

Using the Substance 3D Assets and tools to boost the design process.

  • Architecture
  • Design
  • Interview

Thank you for inviting us to take part in this interview. We would like to introduce three members of the Zaha Hadid Virtual Reality Group (ZHVR Group): Helmut, Aleksandra, and Risa.

Helmut Kinzler, Associate Director & Head of VR, has been with Zaha Hadid Architects since 1998. Since then, he has worked on a number of important architectural projects such as the Phaeno Science Centre in Wolfsburg, Germany. Besides his work as a designer and project director, Helmut is an avid gamer, and closely follows developments in the gaming industry. In 2014 he started the ZHVR Group with the aim to develop the technology for applications in the practice’s design and presentation workflow and develop a comprehensive understanding of emerging cybernetic space and culture.

Aleksandra Mnich-Spraiter, Lead Architect, Joined ZHA in 2015 and has worked as a designer on architectural, interior, and product design projects such as Lobby at Southbank Tower in London and Loop immersive sound lounge. Her expertise includes computational design and the development of complex geometries. She uses VR solutions for simulations during the design process, as an immersive modeling tool during form-finding experimentations, and as visualizations for client presentations.

Risa Tadauchi, Senior Designer, joined ZHVR Group in 2017 and has since been a core member of the team involved in leading and coordinating VR research projects such as Spatial Matrix, Project Correl 1.0, and NEW WORLDS. In her current role Risa develops storyboards, prototypes, and content for VR using game engines.

Still image of the Super Chalet VR experience interior spaces: entrance lobby
Image: © ZHVR Group

ZHVR Group

ZHVR Group was founded in 2014. Since then, the group has been dedicated to the investigation of emerging VR technology and its application to the design of physical spaces as well as cyberspace. The group engages with multiple partners and has contributed projects to several public exhibitions showcasing the VR technology and the practice’s design work.

ZHVR Group focuses on three main areas: the production and proliferation of VR as a design tool; the research of the aesthetical potential of the virtual domain; and engaging with the public domain to further understand the wider cultural aspects.

Below are some recently completed and ongoing projects we have been working on:

Project Correl 1.0 is a VR experience that demonstrates the potential of VR-enabled collective design and co-creation processes. Project Correl 1.0 was launched in 2019 at the University Contemporary Art Museum (MUAC) in Mexico City, as part of the Zaha Hadid Architects ‘Design As Second Nature’ exhibition.  Visitors were encouraged to place virtual design assets in real-time, creating a sculpture as more and more elements were progressively added to the assembly.

PrismArch is an ongoing cross-disciplinary immersive technology research and development project funded by the European Union under the Horizon 2020 research and innovation program. Aiming to develop a fully networked, singular, digital real-time platform for collaboration and co-creation.

NEW WORLDS is a mixed-reality experience featuring the LOOP Immersive Sound Lounge product designed by ZHVR Group for L-Acoustics Creations in 2019. In collaboration with L-Acoustics Creations and the artist Halina Rice we combined the initial product testing platform and refined it to create a new immersive VR acoustic experience. It was recently on display at the ‘Meta-Horizons: The Future Now’ exhibition at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul, Korea.

Super Chalet VR is a high-end photo-realistic and immersive experience that we developed with the help of the Substance 3D tools and will use for today’s showcase.

Still image of the Super Chalet VR experience interior spaces: master bedroom
Image: © ZHVR Group

The role of VR in the designer & customer journey   

ZHVR has been studying virtual reality as a catalyst for subjective individual spatial simulation. For a designer, the ability to simulate a project before it is completed brings great added value to the design process and the final result.

With the more recent advent of multiplayer technology in VR, the ZHVR Group created experiences such as Project Correl 1.0 to demonstrate the potential of VR-enabled collaborative design. Instead of having a monopoly on space creation, the architect’s design agency now involves steering and guiding the participants through onboarding onward to a collective authoring process.

The AEC projects typically involve a large number of parties, such as consultants, contractors, clients, users, and other stakeholders, each of them coming from different backgrounds and with varying levels of industry knowledge. The ZHVR group aims to use VR as a gateway to project our architectural vision into cybernetic architecture and develop a common understanding of projects with clients and other users.

PrismArch project’s aim is to create a unified design space for multiple disciplines to congregate in, where designers can immersively interact with the current design status of their creations and present them to the larger team.

Video Capture of the VR experience
Image: © ZHVR Group

Super Chalet VR project

The Super Chalet is a prototypical project following the principal criteria of cybernetic design/architecture. Developed by ZHVR Group as a pilot project to showcase the group’s capabilities and interests in partnership with US-based luxury project development and marketing firm FUTURLOGIC and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly.

The Super Chalet (SC) project is a small, mobile weekend home for a global, lifestyle audience – a blend between a recreational vehicle and a stationary weekend home.

The Chalet is a highly integrative design, a multi-layered organism of synergetic technologies. This design approach adopted at the very initial stage aims to create a maximum design life and complete autonomy from a location and resource point of view – without compromising the inhabitants’ luxury and independent lifestyle.

The VR experience for the project was developed to illustrate the key aspects of the design: Compact organization of living spaces, integration of the latest technologies into the building systems, mobility, and atmospheric qualities of interior spaces.

The application consists of 4 virtual spaces: Introductory space, hangar, exterior glacier scene, and interiors. Users can visit virtual spaces spontaneously and move from one to another via the persistent UI within the application. We used spatial audio to enhance the experience and give specific characteristics to individual locations.

Hangar space

Visitors start their journey in a hangar space, where they can see the overview of the SC from a Bird’s-eye view.

The UI enables users to hide the outer skin, and preview building systems integrated within its skin as well as the interlocking interior spaces.

The Chalet is equipped with 2.5 bedrooms and 1.5 bathrooms.  The compact living space is divided into three floors: the entrance lobby on the lower level, the mezzanine with the main lounge and VR/guest room; the upper level with the bedroom and bathroom with access to a raised outdoor terrace with a hot tub.

The user can use a clipping plane tool to view the layouts on different levels.

Still images of the VR experience hangar space
Image: © ZHVR Group

Glacier

The next scene of the VR experience is set in a remote mountain glacier location, where users can admire beautiful surroundings and its reflections in the mirror finish of the Chalet`s outer skin. Made out of polished high-grade stainless steel, the outer skin seamlessly blends into all of the earth’s available environments while presenting a sculptural and astounding aesthetic to its observers.

Mobility is an important aspect of the project brief. SC was designed to accommodate quick assembly and disassembly for transportation – creating a small, flexible platform for global changes in location while retaining a continuous sense of home and locale.

Still image of the VR experience glacier scene
Image: © ZHVR Group

Interior spaces

The final component of the VR experience is a tour of the interior spaces. Users can experience rooms on a 1:1 scale. We paid extra attention to the material selection, textures, and lighting to achieve a very realistic result and therefore make the experience more immersive for the viewers.

Still image of the VR experience, living room
Image: © ZHVR Group

Still images of the VR experience, sun deck
Image: © ZHVR Group

The Substance 3D tools and Assets

Considering the micro-scale of the project, the visitor is constantly in close proximity to the interior finishes and furniture. Therefore, visual fidelity was crucial for the experience to be as realistic and immersive as possible.

The Substance 3D Assets library provided us with a large selection of excellent and realistic-looking materials, we were also able to create custom textures for bespoke furniture pieces using Substance 3D Painter.

Thanks to the high-resolution output powered by the HTC Vive Pro2 and RTX graphics card we were able to have a close look at the design details and materiality.

The high resolution of material textures and assets was essential to give buyers the right experience of SC, making it a vital element of the marketing of the project.

As the project develops, we envision creating a carefully curated selection of materials for future buyers to choose from in the next iterations.

Video capture of 3D asset textured in Adobe Substance 3D Painter
Image: ©
ZHVR Group

Pipeline overview

We used Rhino and Autodesk Maya to produce and prepare 3D models. We then transferred the geometries into Unreal Engine 4.27 using a combination of the Datasmith and .fbx export. We used Autodesk Maya and Unreal Engine UV mapping tools to create asset texture maps.

Once assets were placed in UE, we used the Substance plugin to access the material library. The workflow was simple and intuitive – we just dropped selected material into the project and adjusted individual parameters to achieve the desired look. 

Capture of 3D asset textured in Adobe Substance 3D Painter
Image: ©
ZHVR Group

We were able to easily collaborate and share and preview material updates between each other by exporting materials presets.

A big challenge during the development process was balancing visual fidelity with the performance requirements for a comfortable immersive VR experience.

Performance-demanding reflections played a particularly important role in achieving realism in the scenes.

Capture of 3D asset textured in Adobe Substance 3D Painter
Image: ©
ZHVR Group

Thanks to the real-time ray tracing and performance-boosting NVIDIA DLSS technologies we were able to achieve the unique mirror finish of the Chalet’s outer skin.

To achieve the balance between performance and aesthetics, we developed a hybrid solution of real-time and baked raytracing reflections for the project. For the interior scenes, we baked both lighting and reflections in order to optimize the performance aspects.

Capture of 3D asset textured in Adobe Substance 3D Painter
Image: ©
ZHVR Group

Asset breakdown

We accessorized interior spaces to create narratives of the user journey for each room. For example, we used shoes and a backpack from the Substance 3D Assets library and placed them in the entrance scene to invoke a sense of arrival into the project.

We used Substance 3D Painter on our bespoke furniture pieces in the living room lounge. Assets were modeled and textured in Autodesk Maya to provide a base for Painter.

Using Painter enabled us to develop underlying material combinations and paint details such as sewing seams directly onto the 3D object- making it a very interactive, intuitive, and creative process.

Using maps such as the object curvature map generated by Painter gave us more control in creating textures that responded to the object’s curvature and sharp corners. This added another layer of detail and complexity and contributed to the overall experience.

Capture of textured sofa asset in the interior space
Image: ©
ZHVR Group

Saving time

Testing materials from the Substance 3D Assets library was a great way to develop materiality concepts. It was significantly faster in comparison to the traditional process of gathering physical samples from the office library or having to acquire new ones by contacting suppliers.

The possibility to sketch, create and customize textures in Painter could potentially help to narrow down the search for physical samples making it a more targeted and efficient process.

Creativity gains

The Substance 3D plugin in Unreal Engine provided us with direct access to the extensive library streamlining the workflow.

A big selection of materials within the Substance 3D Assets library and the ability to further modify and adjust their parameters enabled great flexibility for us to achieve the aesthetic we were after.

Even when we were unable to find a specific material, we mixed texture maps of available Substance materials to create the look we were after. An example of this is the carpet in the Chalet’s bedroom: to achieve the characteristic look, we combined felt fabric with a honeycomb displacement map of another material.

Being able to test multiple materials and preview them in real-time helped to quickly test, crystallize the ideas and make a final selection.

Video capture of 3D asset textured in Adobe Substance 3D Painter
Image: ©
ZHVR Group

HTC Vive Pro 2 and Substance

Lighting, reflections, and detail of the material textures all contribute to making scenes more realistic and therefore more immersive when viewed with the VR headset.

The high-resolution output powered by the HTC Vive Pro 2 and NVIDIA RTX graphics card enabled us to have a close look at the design and materiality in VR.

It was important for us to create a certain atmosphere in different spaces. For example, the living room lounge is a warm, inviting, comfortable space to relax or host guests. Details like grain visible in the slightly glossy dark wood floor as well as reflections of the burning fireplace on brass trims gave it a warm and luxurious feel.

In the bedroom, we wanted to create a sense of a cozy and quiet cocoon. We used soft materials and a bright neutral color palette. Details such as fabric textures and displacement of the carpet texture on the floor gave the user the impression of softness.

The future of 3D at ZHVR

ZHVR Group closely follows software and hardware developments and saw a big potential in incorporating Substance 3D tools into our workflow. Access to the Substance 3D Assets library and the freedom to customize our materials has given our creative process newfound flexibility during conceptual project stages.

The high level of detail of Substance materials is essential for high-quality presentations to clients.

As projects progress through design stages, we believe the parallel development of a digital twin can greatly assist the decision-making process. It allows the team to preview materials in a photorealistic VR environment and make choices based on how lighting affects the overall impression of a material. By tweaking Substance material parameters in real-time, it is much more straightforward to achieve the desired effect.

The high level of detail of Substance materials is essential for high-quality presentations to clients. In the next iterations of the Super Chalet VR, we could imagine creating a material configurator or an alternative material combination to offer a choice to future buyers.

As we approach the construction stage, it would be interesting to see if the already vast Substance material library could be extended with sample scans of the actual materials specified for the project.

For more details about our projects, please visit:
zhvrgoup.com
Instagram @zhvrgroup

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