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Gaming engines and VR are coming into the building industry

Ludvig Lovén has always loved computer games. He is now using the underlying techniques to draw building projects in Virtual Reality (VR).

Imagine taking a walk through a 3D model of a future building project, exactly as you can in a computer game? By combining building drawings with gaming techniques this is now fully possible.

Ludvig Lovén is a System developer in BIM and VR at ÅF, and works at generating visualisation models of the company’s building projects.

“Drawings and CAD-models can be difficult to interpret, but visualisation makes it easy for customers and the general public to understand what it will look like when finished,” he says.

Building a model of the East Link

Currently he is working on the first part of the Swedish rail network for high speed trains - project East Link - a stretch of 160 kilometres between Södertälje and Linköping.

The aim is to generate a lifelike model of the complete stretch and the surrounding environment, including everything such as existing buildings, vegetation, lights and materials, and animations of trains hurtling past.

“The purpose is to show the inhabitants and the company owners what is going to be built and how this will influence their immediate area,” explains Ludvig Lovén.

Since such visualisations are so lifelike they are termed Virtual Reality, for which many people think about VR glasses.

However, the model of the East Link will be displayed and navigated using a screen, exactly like a normal computer game. It is even possible to generate films and pictures from the games engine.

“In my view VR glasses are the up and coming thing, because then you can walk around in the model as if you were actually there and you get a feeling of scale and distance that is unobtainable in any other way,” says Ludvig Lovén.

Based on gaming techniques

We have had visualisation at ÅF for approximately three years, and it is part of a method of working called BIM, Building Information Modelling.

In technical terms the process involves Ludvig Lovén and his colleagues developing a script which exports the CAD models from the project to a game engine. In the game engine they later develop an application around the model, with an interface and functionality.

In this case the game engine is called Unreal Engine 4 and has existed for nearly 20 years.
“The technique is not new, but it is only now that it has become both powerful and advanced that we have been able to use it for a construction project,” says Ludvig Lovén.

Visualisation becoming ever more popular

He says the demand for visualisations is increasing, not just within construction, but also in related industries, like architecture and interior design. This is therefore an opportunity to make the process simpler, and the large CAD developers have developed applications that make it possible to generate visualisations without being a games developer.

“But there are limitations to the finished solutions, so we tailor make the models for the customers. But, for the future I believe that visualisation will be more easily available, and will also be used for smaller projects,” says Ludvig Lovén.

Ludvig Lovén trained as a civil engineer in municipal planning, but he has always loved computer games and was educated in IT at upper secondary school. He has been working at ÅF for five years, firstly as model coordinator, then as designer, project manager, BIM Strategist, and his current position is System developer in BIM and VR.