e-folios...
...an exploration of the tools available to the architectural community for presenting work over the 'net.

As the 'net grows in popularity internally and externally, will architects publish their work or will age old fears of unlawful duplication and legal responsibilities stifle the utilization of emerging tools?

Currently, it seems that most architects are fairly comfortable with direct electronic exchanges between parties involved on projects but other options are available and emerging.

Contents:
VRML 2.0 + Cosmo™ 3.0 plug-in player---- Autodesk's WHIP!™ 3.0 viewer---- Cosmo™ HomeSpace™ Designer

1VRML 2.0 + Cosmo™ 3.0 plug-in player

The first method we explore is that of virtual spatial translation around 3D models. Though there are other VRML viewers/players, we chose one that we found easy to install and utilize: Cosmo™ Player by SGI.

Concept: Create a digital model of your work, be it house, chair or tree and then electronically publish it so that others can freely travel around your model by using an internet 3D model viewer.

Process: The model must be converted into a format designed for the viewer (or player) and the internet; currently that format is VRML (Virtual Reality Markup Language). Once the model has been converted into a VRML file the process of publishing is similar to that of publishing any web file: a hyperlink sends the recipient's browser in search of the VRML file which is then loaded into the browser and if they have the corresponding viewer, the file loads and is ready for exploration.

Comments:
This process is in its infancy at this point in time but shows tremendous promise. File sizes tend to be large and as the average internet transfer rate crawls along models are quite limited. It is only a matter of time though...we'll keep our eyes tuned. For exceptional work in this area look at the sites of both Cosmo and Construct.

To test it out for yourself, visit our Exploratorim => VRML and Cosmo™

2Autodesk's WHIP!™ 3.0 viewer

The second method we explore is that of simple 2D drawing publishing for viewing and printing. Since we focus primarily on AutoCAD«, we chose Autodesk's WHIP!™ 3.0 viewer.

Concept: Take a normal drawing and electronically publish it so that others can freely zoom, pan, manipulate layers, restore predefined views and be sent to related user-defined sites.

Process: The AutoCAD drawing must be converted into a format designed for the WHIP!™ viewer and the internet (from the file pull-down in AutoCAD R14 go to export, go to the bottom of the list in the "save as type:" list box and select ".dwf"). Once the drawing has been converted into a ".dwf" file (a proprietary Autodesk format), the process of publishing is similar to that of publishing any web file: a hyperlink sends the recipient's browser in search of the ".dwf" file which is then loaded into the browser and if they have the corresponding viewer, the file loads and is ready for exploration.

Comments:
This process is fairly new and numerous vendors are attempting to provide the "right" solution for firms who wish to publish their work. This creates the problem of ascertaining which direction to invest time and energy. As demands build for better document management systems, this type of technology should evolve way beyond the present limited form. Once document management systems merge with CAD engines to provide Internet-like browsing of internal office work via an intranet architecture, better internet solutions will obviously emerge simultaneously.

For the moment, the WHIP!™ 3.0 plug-in shows impressive strides toward internet and intranet CAD document viewing. It is incredibly fast on zooms and pans and displays surprisingly high image quality, but we found numerous problems that challenge the feasibility of using this process professionally: see DWF Problems in our Lounge and see our Whip tests in the Exploratorium.

To be able to produce ".dwf" files with AutoCAD« R14 and take advantage of the "Layers..." feature of the WHIP!™ 3.0 plug-in, you will need to produce your ".dwf" files with the latest AutoCAD« Internet Utilities 3.0 ; also free and available for download. The install is effortless.

To test it out for yourself, visit our Exploratorim => Whip! Plug-in

3VRML 2.0 + Cosmoń HomeSpaceń Designer Version 2.5 by Silicon Graphics, Inc

Product: Cosmoń HomeSpaceń Designer Version 2.5
Purpose: Creation of 3D Virtual Reality Markup Language (VRML) based "environments" for viewing over a network
Intuitive Rating: High. More sophisticated work is less intuitive.
Acquisition: Download or Mail-order
Price: 30 day free trial offer. ~$90.00
File Size 9Mb
Native File Type Wrl
Import 3ds only
Export Wrl only

The third method we explore involves the process of actually making a VRML file with a program that is designed purely for that function.

Concept: Build a "space" or "environment" for publication to the internet or intranet for viewing through an internet browser with a VRML player plug-in such as Cosmo 3.0 - reviewed above.

Process:Once the program is acquired and loaded, a space can be created by a number of methods: import a 3ds file, use predesigned native objects that range from telephone booths to buildings, use native primitives and dynamically modify them or begin with a 2D polygon and convert to 3D walls. After a space has been constructed, tools for material mapping, animation, sound and URL linking can be employed to further enhance the virtual viewing experience. Output is as simple as saving a file.

Comments:
This program is basically a building program for VRML spaces, but its structure, ease of use and impressive tools challenge many 3D CAD programs.

The captured image (above) depicts what I was able to produce in a couple of hours. By racing through the pull-down menus and observing what I could do, I was soon off to building a scene.

There is a library of 3D objects to select from or you can build based on primary shapes. For more basic object creation, there is a 2D polygon tool. This tool can be used in conjunction with a 3D wall making tool to automatically offset for wall thickness and then extrude dynamically for wall height.

For realism, materials ranging from abstract art to photo-realistic bricks are supplied to cover objects. There is a material editor for modifying existing materials or to create new ones. Color and materials can either be automatically assigned during object creation or applied later in the same fashion as one would paint in a paint program (polygon by polygon). Cameras are easier to place in this program than any other I have used. There is a camera elevation control frame that allows you to slide horizontally and tilt simply by selecting a grip on the camera. Cameras can be moved and rotated freely in plan, elevation and perspective views with incredible ease.

One rather pleasant surprise that I quickly discovered was that this program supports the importation of .3ds files which actually means that you can import AutoCAD files too as long as they have been converted to .3ds files. I gave this a quick test with a small model and other than the fact that AutoCAD R14 solids become rather intense .3ds meshes, everything worked smoothly. I do not recommend using R14 solids for use in this program though, because the resulting product is far more complicated and memory consumptive than it is necessary.

Nearly everything functioned by drag-n-drop technique.

The program is generously offered for a free 30-day trial run and its 9Mb compressed whole can be downloaded @ Cosmo.

To test it out for yourself, visit our Exploratorim => VRML and Cosmo™