Sotech Launches Sotech City, A Virtual World for Architects and DESIGNERS
In a mind-bending development to Sotech’s virtual reality showroom, the team behind SO-VR bring you…Sotech City. We caught up with Product Development Manager Lee Gravett to find out why this virtual city is knocking down boundaries we didn’t know were there.
What is Sotech City?
Sotech City is a fully immersive virtual world, developed to help architects and designers to make informed decisions when selecting a rainscreen system suitable for their scheme.
We wanted the experience to be as close to real life as possible and have replicated our offices and manufacturing facility. You emerge into the city from Sotech’s front doors.
We have built a low-level building with horizontal panels and a high rise building with vertical panels to give architects and designers an idea of what their project may look like in their chosen Optima system, material and finish.
We’ve developed it to allow the user to visualise how each system would look on a full-scale building. But rather than seeing this as a 3D render on a page, they can experience Sotech City ‘in first person’ on their computer screen, or in VR, but putting on a VR headset, diving into our virtual world and walking right up to a building to view the systems like never before.
People can see how the shadows fall on the panels, how the building looks in the morning vs. in the evening. Architects care about those details, and so do we. The invention of Sotech City puts the love of design front and centre.
How is Sotech City different from Sotech’s virtual reality showroom?
Sotech’s virtual reality showroom is a fully immersive environment where architects can view the full range of Optima rainscreen systems. The panels are designed to be small enough to pick up and examine closely as though you are in our actual showroom.
The user can change the material and finish on a given rainscreen system, choosing from our supply partners wide range of colour pallets. Architects can view project case studies of the selected system and read the full specifications. By interacting with the showroom avatars you can learn more about who we are and what we offer.
What you can’t do in the showroom is see how that selection looks on large panels on a full-scale building in a virtual environment. Sotech City is the answer to that.
There is something uniquely special about putting on a VR head set, shutting out the outside world and really engaging with this unique experience. There is nothing like this currently and we’re excited for architects to experience this more deeply.
Can architects see their current projects in Sotech City?
Not yet but watch this space! Right now, in Sotech City, architects can see their rainscreen cladding selection on two types of buildings: A high rise tower with portrait panels, and a school-type building with landscape panels.
This is a huge development in the way architects can visualise, manipulate and inspect buildings in real time. It’s so much more than a sketch on a page, an artist impression or even a 3D mock up on a screen. This gives architects the opportunity to turn off the noise, immerse themselves in a real time virtual environment and truly consider the possibilities. The user can view it from afar or walk right up to the building to inspect the finish at close range. It gives architects and designers total immersion.
It is our intention in time that user would be able to upload a 3D model of their unique building into our virtual city. For now, our hope is that this really helps with the process of creation and the user can now make even more informed decisions, with a much clearer idea of how that finish will look in a real-world environment.
What is special about Sotech City?
There has been a lot of excitement around Sotech City and our supply partners have been keen to collaborate. When you select a finish or a colour, you’re not just selecting ‘an idea’ or a theme. You’re selecting one of many real-life options available through our incredible partners. This means the selection is available in real life and can be specified immediately. We don’t have to search it out. We can supply it.
We have made it possible to change the time of day and even the weather conditions to give a full appreciation of how the system will look in different environments. Depending on the time of day shadows will fall on the panels differently in the morning to the evening allowing the user to visualise how the buildings will appear in real time.
As with the showroom, we put together a testing team and called ourselves the ‘Guinea Pigs’. The team was made up of people from different departments to gain perspective from different personalities and understand their expectations of what the user might enjoy and value. We did this to ensure the final outcome is useful and practical for everyone. It is too easy to focus on your own ideas but with our team of ‘Guinea Pigs’ we had a lot of interaction, enthusiastic input and ideas.
And lastly, we wanted this to be fun and surprising. We’ve hidden a few quirks in Sotech City for users to spot and enjoy as they walk around. Hint hint: brum, brum, swoosh, swoosh
When will Sotech City be available to access?
Sotech City is live now.
Please download the update to your showroom experience or, if this is your first experience of the Sotech VR solution, download the experience here: https://sotech-optima.co.uk/vr/ or contact us to arrange a demonstration.
Which virtual environment is best for whom?
Installers/designers will very likely get the most benefit from Sotech’s virtual reality showroom. They can pick up the panels, inspect the substructure and see how the panels mount to the wall.
Architects will get a lot of benefit from the showroom too, as they can visit our learning zone where they can book RIBA approved CPDs, download full system details and learn more about CWCT and BS8414-2 fire testing, which have been carried out on all our Optima rainscreen systems.
But there is something special about seeing your design at scale on a building in a city environment. I’d suggest everyone would benefit from exploring the showroom to make their panel selection, and then walk out into Sotech City to see it rendered full scale on a Sotech City building.
What is the future of Virtual Reality for Sotech?
We are putting a lot of time and investment into virtual reality. The lockdowns showed us how much can be done remotely and there is a clear move to virtual working.
With all of the current hype around the Metaverse, Sotech wants to get in there early. There is nothing stopping us from being able to hold virtual meetings in the future and for users to upload their own 3D building models or participate in virtual system training.
Sotech were having conversations about virtual reality 5-6 years ago. The world wasn’t ready then but one thing that has come out of Covid is that technology has progressed quickly bringing our ideas of a virtual world to reality in 2022.
How do I access the Showroom and Sotech City?
Both the Showroom and Sotech City can be accessed using a virtual reality headset or via most desktop computers with adjustable settings to allow the most optimised experience.
The best and most immersive way to enjoy these virtual environments is through a virtual reality headset. If you’d like to experience this but don’t have access to a headset, you’re welcome to visit our offices in London or County Durham in the North East of England to enter the VR world through our dedicated in-house VR spaces.
If you’d like to experience the Showroom or Sotech City without a headset, you can experience it on most laptops and PCs. The programme will automatically detect if a headset is present and start up accordingly.