Editor Isabel Allen talks to BIM specialists Jens Majdal Kaarsholm and Peter Mortensen from Danish architecture studio BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) about the way real-time rendering technology like Epic Games’ Twinmotion is impacting the practice’s work.

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BIG’s Terminus Technologies HQ  in Chongqing (image courtesy of LucianR)

On 2 November Epic Games is hosting Build: Architecture 2021, a free two-hour online event designed to give an insight into the way developments in real-time technology are opening up new possibilities for architecture from design storytelling to complex digital twins and massive open worlds.

Leading practices, including Zaha Hadid Architects, BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group), HOK and Foster + Partners will be presenting projects that revolutionise the way schemes are designed, procured, delivered and sold. A series of virtual development lounges will offer an opportunity to get advice from the presenters and Epic experts on all things real-time.

In the run-up to the event Architecture Today will be running a series of interviews with practitioners who will be presenting at the event. This week Architecture Today Editor Isabel Allen talks to BIM director Jens Majdal Kaarsholm and BIM specialist Peter Mortensen at Danish architecture studio BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) about the impact of real-time technology on the practice’s work.


Aerial view of Terminus Technologies HQ created in Twinmotion (image courtesy of BIG / Terminus Group)

How did BIG come to be associated with Epic Games?

Jens Majdal Kaarsholm: We’ve been working with various technologies when it comes to real-time rendering for the past few years, and obviously Epic Games stands out as one of the major players on the market, both in terms of Twinmotion, but also with their Unreal Engine in general. It’s something that we’ve had as a focus point for a while and something we’ve wanted to venture into more and become better at. For us, it was therefore a natural thing to also get involved with Epic Games in terms of the Build event now and to build a good relationship with their team.

What is Twinmotion and how does it contribute to the work you do?

Jens Majdal Kaarsholm: Twinmotion is a real-time rendering tool; essentially it’s almost like having a video game running constantly in the background. You can walk around and see your project and experience it in real-time, instead of having to wait hours for the rendering to finish. For us, what stands out with Twinmotion is that it’s great at creating the animations as well. It’s excellent at the storytelling part – where it’s possible to animate trees, people and truly tell a story. It’s about being able to walk your project, feel your project, and also pursue different options as you go along. Back in the old days, you had to narrow down a few options quite quickly because you didn’t have time to sit and render for hours on end. You had to pick just a few that you wanted to see in your rendering. Nowadays, we can see all of them as we go along, which obviously lets us explore more options more efficiently.


Twinmotion real-time rendering (image courtesy of BIG)

Has it been a challenge to integrate it into your practice? I can imagine that people young enough to have grown up with gaming found it very straightforward, but have you found that the older members of staff have struggled to get their heads around it?

Jens Majdal Kaarsholm: Yes and no. Some of the younger architects have already learned to use it at school or at university so they obviously have a flair for using it. But I think most of these real-time rendering tools are quite easy to use. I wouldn’t say plug and play, because obviously you do have to know a bit about it beforehand, but they are generally quite straightforward. I think most people, after a few hours of training, can get their heads around it. This is likely part of the reason we are seeing it being used more and more. Our visualisations team is a strong advocate for it. And they are starting to use it a lot more for competitions. Again, it’s much to do with the fact that we can animate the scenes. Instead of having to produce a video externally, we are able to shoot a good quality video with animated people, cars, trees etc., and in a short time.

How do you think the rise of real-time technology is going to change the profession as a whole?

Jens Majdal Kaarsholm: I think we’ve already seen a major change in the way we work with these new tools. Peter and I used to work at Fosters together back in 2015, and already back then we were playing around with real-time rendering tools. Back then we quite quickly realised that the partners and the senior architects were a bit sceptical in the beginning with the quality of these renderings. They looked a bit too much like a computer game and maybe not high-class enough for what they were used to seeing from a rendering. The quality now has increased immensely. What Twinmotion and the Epic team are doing is mind-blowing in terms of the amount of development that goes into these tools and how much they progress every year. I think it’s quite astonishing.

Nowadays, our partners here at BIG know how quickly and easily we can create these images and how much it helps in informing the project decisions they make on a daily basis. So, I think it has already changed the way we go about architecture and how we design because it literally gives every single person behind the computer a way to walk the project, and to experience the project from the inside too. And you don’t have to put on your VR goggles to do so. You can do that as well, obviously, but you don’t have to. It’s more just the fact that you can walk around as if you are in a video game and really understand if that staircase you just designed works. You don’t have to visualise a few images, or draw a plan or a section. You can literally take a walk up and down the staircase and feel how it would be.


Twinmotion combines an intuitive icon-driven interface with the power of Unreal Engine (image courtesy of BIG)

Your project at Chongqing looks like an incredible science fiction fantasy commission. Can you tell us about the project and the client?

Peter Mortensen: I was the BIM lead on the project, so I was focusing on it from a design technology perspective. We were involved in just one part of the project that included the new HQ for Terminus Technologies and a bit of retail and different office buildings.

From the beginning, they were super interested in different technologies that could be used in the built environment, which influenced the entire project, including details like robotic furniture that could move around the building depending on where it was needed, and so on. There are different displays outdoors with drones and robotics that sit in the landscape of the building. The building is designed with this massive green roof that dips down into the courtyard, so you can access the green roof. And the intention is to incorporate different robotic sculptures and drones. We had BIG Ideas, our research and development team, helping us develop this. The fact that Terminus Technologies is an AI company offers brilliant opportunities; the building is clouded with different sensors and monitors. It’s a great opportunity for us if we can get some of that data to review our design in a post occupancy analysis, because we are a data-driven practice.

Contact Details
BIG will be presenting its work at Chongquing at Build: Architecture, a free virtual event taking place on 2 November. Click here to register.