The author using a pair of Homido Minis to view Ryerson architecture student Semeen Mahbub's virtual installation project (which can be seen below).
The author using a pair of Homido Minis to view Ryerson architecture student Semeen Mahbub's virtual installation project (which can be seen below).

Published: November 25th, 2016

The most striking feature of Semeen Mahbub’s proposed installation for Toronto’s Allan Gardens is the shadows.

What resembles a gate from the outside has actually been expertly designed to cast intricate shadows across its pagoda-like interior, using the sunlight to create a crisscrossed pattern across the walls and floor. Standing at the centre feels almost like a spiritual experience, akin to visiting one of Japan’s Buddhist temples, Turkey’s mosques, or a western European church, but without being tied to any particular religion.

“My concept was that the sun acts as a sign of safety for humans – we’re more likely to go out during the day – so I kind of wanted to play with the sun and shadows,” Mahbub, a first-year student in Ryerson University’s architectural science program, says. “So at the very bottom there are lots of shadows, but as you keep climbing the ramps at the edge of the structure it lets in more and more light, until it’s completely open when you reach the top.”

Mahbub’s installation isn’t coming to Allan Gardens anytime soon. But she can lead you through a virtual reality version of her project, thanks to a new partnership between Ryerson and Toronto-based software developer Yulio that gives the school’s architecture students the unique opportunity to use the latter’s VR platform to bring their dream projects to vivid digital life.

Mahbub's project as rendered (left) and in virtual reality (right).
Mahbub’s project as rendered (left) and in virtual reality (right).

And while the students have only had access to Yulio since September, it’s already having a profound impact on their work, Mahbub says.

“Building in VR helps me see if I’ve made any mistakes inside the building – like if one my ramps is off by like a few centimetres, you can’t tell in the 3D model, but in VR it makes a huge difference,” she says.

Student-driven both in front and behind the scenes

Yulio CEO Robert Kendal
Yulio CEO Robert Kendal was approached by students interested in using his company’s platform, not the other way around.

Astonishingly enough, the partnership between Yulio and Ryerson was the work of neither executives nor educators.

Instead, Yulio CEO Robert Kendal tells ITBusiness.ca, the company was approached in July by two recent graduates from Ryerson: one a Yulio employee, the other a personal friend.

“There was no direct solicitation,” he says. “It was like, ‘This is so cool! Can you guys come down and show it to my professor?'”

As a commercial enterprise serving the architecture, interior design, and real estate sectors, Kendal says that approaching Ryerson’s engineering and architectural science department would have been on Yulio’s list of seeding strategies, but he was thrilled to be asked first.

“I think giving the students a chance to experience some of their vision before construction begins makes VR a good fit for the program,” he says.

It also gives them a new platform they can use to connect with their future customers: “I’m sure some students have this capability, but it usually takes years of experience for architects or designers to see their vision perfectly – and even then, the customer can’t,” Kendal says. “And the traditional methods for communicating design intent – photos of similar projects, tile or paint samples, a 2D blueprint – just aren’t going to have the impact of full immersion.”

vincent-hui-headshot
Ryerson University architecture professor Vincent Hui says Yulio’s platform is helping his school train the architects of the future.

Ryerson architecture professor Vincent Hui agrees.

“Let’s be honest – when you’re looking at a floor plan, it’s like reading a different language,” he says. “If I give a blueprint to my parents or sister, they’re not going to understand. But VR has a huge emotional impact.”

Moreover, by incorporating Yulio’s platform into its architecture curriculum, Ryerson is building on its tradition of preparing students for their chosen industry’s future, he says. Eventually, administrators plan to incorporate VR into all four years of the program, giving students of all levels the chance to contribute to projects their predecessors could only dream about.

“The stuff that we’re doing right now is going to be ubiquitous in the professional landscape five years from now,” Hui says.

Crucially, Yulio has made no adjustments whatsoever to its platform for student use – “That would actually not be good,” CEO Kendal tells ITBusiness.ca. “We want real-world use-cases.” – though the company has granted students access to such features as Yulio Live, a platform friends and parents can visit to experience projects after typing in a four-digit code.

And the parental reactions especially are priceless, Hui says.

“Imagine your experience times ten,” he says. “Because mom and dad are thinking, ‘I never see my kid. I gave him to this crazy prof at Ryerson, and I don’t know what he’s learning, but wow! Look at what he’s done!'”

You can check out more student projects here.

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