Laiserin's Lemma—Real Virtuality
(lemma: a short theorem used in proving a larger theorem)
Jerry Laiserin

Jaron Lanier, who is generally credited with coining the term "virtual reality" (VR) in the 1980's, has also written about Programs as Cities: "There are two complimentary approaches that can be applied to irreducible complexity. The first is improving the machine representation of such complexity to create better tools for analysis and manipulation. The second approach (visualization) is to improve the user interface so that the user can understand, remember, and manipulate complex structures more easily." (emphasis added). While historical development of computer-aided design (CAD) and building information modeling (BIM) systems focused on the "representation" branch of the problem, steady improvement in computing price/performance is edging the "visualization" or VR branch closer to the mainstream. A recent book by Jennifer Whyte, Virtual Reality and the Built Environment, blends case studies and context into a useful guide to the practical applications of real-time, interactive, spatial technologies to design, construction and management.

In a prodigious effort, Dr. Whyte builds on historic fundamentals of spatial perception (from the likes of Rudolf Arnheim and Kevin Lynch) and brings us through notions of representation, scale and 2D-versus-2.5D-versus-3D. A central premise is that "Within construction, there has traditionally been insufficient flow of information between members of the project team, suppliers and manufacturers. Yet shared understanding of design is important to ensure construction projects fit together... There is a need for more information to be accessible to all professionals involved in design." This is especially true for coordination and constructability issues, about which Dr. Whyte observes that CAD data "can make the process of coordination worse than when it was done on paper."

Chock-full of leading edge real-world examples, this up-to-date study steers clear of both academic abstraction and mere boosterism of cool stuff. Rather, Dr. Whyte thoughtfully probes the technical, cultural and business issues favoring and opposing more widespread usage of VR in design and construction. In my observations of work in this field I see increasing evidence that VR will emerge as the best tool to visualize complex spaces, processes and underlying data relationships, as well to provide the shared context that underpins true knowledge management. Multi-dimensional product, process and organization modeling for construction will increasingly depend on VR. For those who haven't yet experienced the effectiveness of this technology, Jennifer Whyte's work offers valuable insight. For those who have already embarked on the virtual path, Dr. Whyte provides a road map to making VR real. However, don't just take my word for it, buy and read the book yourself...

... and let me know what you think.

Editor and Publisher, The LaiserinLetter
Analysis, Strategy and Opinion for Technology Leaders in Design Business