Augmented Reality Isn't Enough: The Next Step for Digital 3D [Video]

By Wesley Fenlon

An award-winning thesis on the use of digital 3D in architecture explores the visual and operative potential of building structures with augmented reality in mind.

Harvard grad student Greg Tran takes issue with our modern use of "3D" that goes beyond complaints of dim projections and headache-inducing flicker. He thinks the very concept itself--the idea that what we call 3D is actually 3D--is wrong. "What people are calling 3d TV and 3d Movies are just a form of shallow depth or Bas Relief. Not true digital 3d," he writes in a prize-winning thesis from the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Tran believes that "true" 3D lies in the integration of digital imagery and material reality. Specifically, he sees digital 3D as the future of architecture. As the fascinating video attached to his thesis shows, true digital 3D starts with augmented reality and ends with operative digital 3D that influences the way buildings are designed and how we interact with them.

There's a lot to take in from this video, but here's Tran's breakdown of how you would interact with digital 3D projected in the real world:

The hardware for this technology is very primitive... with these glasses you're able to look through a lens which overlays digital information onto what you're already seeing. But like the evolution of video, photography etc the armature will get smaller and more streamlined. They're already developing LED contacts which would be a streamlined condition.

Then Tran explains his vision for digital 3D and its integration with the material world:

Digital 3d immersion is the first and is most similar to virtual reality (but has little to nothing to do with architecture.) It is a simulated environment which is entirely digital and relies on material/site specificity as little as possible. Digital 3d renovation is where existing facilities are retrofit with site specific D3d software and environment recognition, but the final condition is Digital 3d architecture. This bridges the design gap between the digital and the material. These are buildings which consider/mediate the digital and material realities during design,construction and completion. Here, the medium really is the message…

He expands on all of this in a longer 18 minute video that puts images to the concepts listed above. Like with most concept videos, there are countless barriers between the idea of digital 3D and a true implementation in architecture. The world isn't ready yet--the projection would take too much effort, local networks likely don't have the reach--but we want to see architects embracing these kinds of ideas in the coming decades.