Designing the Future: Digital Twins Are Changing the Fundamentals of Architecture


Is it time to see the world of architecture, construction and design digitally?

By Tiana Cline

HOW LONG DO YOU SPEND INDOORS? This may be the digital age where everything and everyone is connected, but where we are now is also known as the “inner generation”. Our living and working spaces are continually intertwined with technology that changes our vision of construction. It’s not just about the metaverse, but about how we design and develop the built spaces around us.

Steven Pinto is someone who is heavily invested in Virtual Reality (VR). He is the CEO of two South African technology companies – New Reality and CTRL Robotics – which have successfully attracted a global clientele.

“There is a business aspect of digital twins that is working its way into the mainstream. I think businesses are going to start realizing the use of virtual reality in their daily lives so they can become more productive and efficient. he says.

For Pinto, digital twins – creating digital representations of physical entities – and virtual reality are the starting point for a new wave of architecture that is not limited by the constraints and costs associated with physical visualization. of a final product.

“We’re going to see a lot more adoption of
VR technology. There are currently architects in Cape Town doing international work that includes virtual reality tours – they are technically digital twins,” he explains. “Architects aren’t game developers, so you need to be able to bridge that gap so they can use digital tools more effectively.”

Gregory Katz, the principal architect of Gregory Katz Architecture, is someone who has seen firsthand how computers have changed the industry. “And for the best,” he says. “I remember sitting and doing hand drawings in an office in Cape Town and we used to work on tracing paper. If changes were made to the design, you had to try to modify the drawings and sometimes you couldn’t erase what you had drawn. The quality of the paper was so degraded that the whole building had to be redesigned… In this sense, technology has lightened the burden on the profession.


Digital twins present many opportunities for designers who don’t necessarily live in the world of architecture. Industrial designers in manufacturing who need to work with mechanical engineers can use a tool like The Wild, an immersive virtual reality collaboration platform for the construction industry.

“VR can be marketed in a completely different way. Think about working from home – it’s becoming more accessible and businesses are seeing the benefits of using virtual spaces to collaborate and design,” says Pinto. “It’s inherently a huge cost savings and the logistics are minimal. There are now companies investing in divisions of their business that have people who specialize in building digital twins. »

By using digital twins, the fundamentals of the architecture don’t have to change – the technology has the ability to mitigate the challenges of the iterative process and ultimately improve cost effectiveness. An added benefit is that customers can become more adventurous.

“They trust the process because they can see what they are going to buy and can be involved in important decisions before irreparable changes occur.

The whole theory behind the architecture is the same, it’s the execution that’s a bit different,” explains Pinto. “Traditionally, visualization for a client required some form of representation. Models can be extremely inaccurate, but they were the only tool available at the time. Today, architects no longer need to be model makers. They are 3D artists with all understandings of light, form and dimension.

Pinto says what he’s starting to discover is that the line of digital twins is getting blurred between what’s happening in reality and what people are building in digital worlds. “While there are magical and fantastical worlds that don’t apply to the physics world, there is an interesting part of the market where people are looking at these ideas to try to minimize waste when looking at the cost of projects. development,” he said. Explain. Looking at the business potential of virtual reality, Pinto’s team created a simple tool that could place furniture in rooms to allow, for example, an office to determine how many desks would work well in a space.

“Here, we don’t call an architect but rather an interior designer and we only do it after the lease has been signed. The customer cannot conceptualize, above all, the space he actually needs – and this is where the costs end up being exorbitant,” says Pinto. “VR can go beyond simple walkthroughs.”


Katz teaches at the Graduate School of Architecture (GSA) located at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa. He always encourages students – all of whom at GSA are at the postgraduate level – to draw manually because “the thought that occurs between the hand and the eye cannot be replaced by a computer. Quick sketching, intuitive understanding of potentials…it’s different on a computer,” he explains. “On a computer, scale is limited to the size of your screen. You can zoom in and out endlessly, but sketching is a natural, scaleless interaction and things emerge in a hand sketch that you could never replicate on a screen.

While drawing with a computer is more efficient, and physical models aren’t as prevalent as they once were, Katz believes they’re a valuable tool for development and design: “If something happens in a model, it obeys the same laws of physics as it does in reality. That’s a very useful constraint to have in play when you’re designing,” he says. “When you’re designing a digital version of an analog construct , you don’t think about the actual construction.”

Another advantage that Katz mentions is the measurement of the quality of light. While artificially replicating the lighting conditions around a model can be done with a computer, Katz says there’s a slippage between what you actually get and what the computer renders.

“They see a perfect state of your vision. There is an ambiguity around these presentations which can be expensive. GSA students have Oculus glasses and use them to explore the interface between virtual reality, building key dimensions, and augmented reality.

“It’s exciting technology, but I don’t think we can throw the baby out with the bathwater just yet,” Katz warns. “There is always enormous value in the handmade, in the physical world. The technology is there, but we need both.

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