UIA, part 4—Nemetschek: Another Chip in the Wall
Jerry Laiserin

Always pushing the edge of technological innovation, Nemetschek AG opted for an understated display of its AllPlan FT, PlanDesignFT, and other (soft)wares, giving pride of place in their stand to the digitally enabled InteracTable and InterWall—part of an emerging trend to project digital information into the work environment and integrate user feedback into the digital workflow.

Developed in conjunction with office furniture manufacturer Wilkhahn, the InterWall is a rear projection glass "white board" that also uses marker capture technology and "virtual ink" software from Mimio. The result is an interactive and collaborative "front-of-the-room" monitor display that also drives computer input—an ideal tool for project management "war rooms," board rooms, and similar collaborative decision-making environments. Running PlanDesignFT, Nemetschek's head-to-head competitor for Autodesk's Architectural Studio, InterWall provides local and/or remote real-time, shared sketch and markup capabilities.

The InteracTable takes similar functionality and lays it flat, embedded into the surface of a large conference table. Here, a large (roughly 1 meter by 0.75 meter) touch-screen monitor is the input/display device that can be driven by conventional mouse, mouse-like styli/pointers, or even a finger. As with most current large-format touch-screens, the thickness of the glass imposes a bit of parallax (you are not always pointing at what you think you are), exacerbated in this form factor by the additional distance of the typical user's eye level from the screen (as compared to the more personal-use-oriented D-Board, Nemetschek's version of the Wacom touch-screen tablets). However, the InteracTable brings us a step closer to a true digital replacement for the group markup session with rolled drawings unfurled on a conference table.

Both InterWall and InteracTable appear to fit into a larger trend toward integrating digital workflow into the physical working environment. For example, tech giant IBM Research and office furniture leader Steelcase have teamed up on a project called "BlueSpace," which is intended as "a new office environment that integrates the physical workplace with advanced computer, sensor, display and wireless technologies."

Steelcase also is involved, along with Callison Architecture and others, in the Seattle-based Office of the Future Consortium, which sponsors the ongoing experimental environment known as Future@Work, a balanced system intended to explore how to "sustain people, business and the environment in equal measure." A similar, but shorter-term exhibit ran in Denver through most of 2001, under the banner Workplace 2010, with principal architectural input from RNL Design.

Bill Buxton, chief scientist at Alias/Wavefront and its parent SGI, who we mentioned in IssueOne's coverage of this year's Society for Environmental Graphic Design conference, has developed a "Portfolio Wall"—an interactive, large-format, multi-image display system that allows multiple users to upload, download, rearrange, and annotate images and data via handheld devices wirelessly linked to the shared display.

Tak Systems, the technology subsidiary of Japanese "Big Five" design-build outfit Takenaka, has demonstrated comparable interplay among large format and handheld digital displays as a means of centralizing and distributing knowledge capital during the construction phase of large projects—a sort of virtual project information center.

At Stanford University's Center for Integrated Facility Engineering (CIFE), doctoral student Kathleen Liston is working on the iRoom, an interactive multi-user, multi-wall display environment for data-rich support of collaborative decision-making (Kathleen also is president of CommonPoint, Inc., the 4-D modeling company responsible for most of the construction simulation examples we cited in the IssueFive story we called the "Woodstock Festival of Design and Construction").

Along with the Japanese example from Tak Systems, Nemetschek's InterWall and InteracTable show that "informating" the physical working environment will not be an exclusively American phenomenon.

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