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Using 3D Models to Help You Create Architecture for the Senses

Do you ever design while you work on your 3D models? And have you ever stopped to think about what that model is telling you about your design? In other words, is it giving you all of the information you need to assess whether your design is unfolding in the way that it should? Of course, the model is heavily biased toward the visual sense — so it helps you to understand factors like lighting and materiality. But what about the other senses? How do you understand how your design will sound or will feel to the touch?

When designing architecture, it is important to understand how your design will impact its occupants through their senses. Is a space going to be noisy and loud? Is it going to feel cold or rough to the touch? You see, 3d models can be used to get a sense of your design before it is ever built. They give you the opportunity to make corrections, play with better ideas, and see how all of the pieces and parts come together. 3D Modeling allows you to “feel” your architectural space in real-time so that you can make changes on the fly.

So, when you are engaged in designing through your 3D model, be sure to think beyond the visual. Consider how that model will sound, will feel to the touch, and will smell once it is built and inhabited by your building occupants. Now, there is a lot to consider while designing — you must remember such factors like building codes, client program, your own design goals, and even material limitations. For this reason, I advise you to make the most out of your 3D models — think about what you can do with them to help make your design better.

As such, the following is a list of five ways to use 3D modeling to your advantage while you design —- to help you understand your design more fully while it is in the design stage, giving you time to make those corrections, come up with better ideas, and to use those materials more fully. Use each of these techniques to push your designs to the next level using 3D modeling.

1. Element Interaction: Show an element that occupants will interact with and develop a prototype to see if that interaction will flow smoothly.

2. Immersion: Use CAVE-CAD or other immersive tools to virtually get inside your model. You can use this to communicate your design to your client, and to see if spatial characteristics are being realized in the manner that you hope.

3. Acoustic Modeling: Use your model to create an acoustic sample of what the sound will be like within your space.

4. Material Samples: Reference your material samples to make certain you are capturing their “feel” — not just visually, but haptically as well.

5. Animation: Create an animation of your model to ensure proper circulation and orientation for building occupants. For example, a design can use landmarks to prevent occupants from feeling lost.

When designing your architecture, be sure to think strategically while modeling. Don’t just use your 3D model to copy your design into a new format without refining it for the better. 3D Modeling is an opportunity to see and “feel” your design in new ways — so you can make continual improvements, and so that you can communicate your best design ideas.

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what members are saying...
Maria: I came across your website through a reference in today's Architect Weekly ezine and am delighted I did. I'll bookmark your site and check back often. I read the first article and then the second and thirty minutes later realized how much time had passed. I've been practicing for thirty years and have always missed the stimulation of academia. I find each of your brief dissertations sort of like a day in design studio. Thanks for the inspiration.

Ron Ward
AI Group Design
I am excited to see you touch a vein of values in architecture, I have been chasing myself for years. Your depth of involvement in these very deep subjects is really beautiful and passionately dealt with and well written. Sound, color and value, shape, texture, scale, smell.... all definitive measures of the spaces we should be alert to. [...] I will savor the rest of your investigation of sensuality in architecture. I'm Glad I found you.

Dennis McLaughlin
McLaughlin Architect
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Maria Lorena Lehman is a visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

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