The Neuron Pod was proposed to be a trailblazing building built on the grounds of Queen Mary University in London. The spectacular architecture was instigated by the late visionary architect Will Alsop at aLL Design;it has to be seen to be believed. To this end, the team behind the project wanted to use architectural VR visualisation to see the design come to life ahead of a key milestone in its development.The Neuron Pod was to form part of the Centre of the Cell science education venue, an impressive centre imbued with an ambitious purpose to inspire a new generation of scientists. The design itself was derived from the form of a nerve cell, to fit harmoniously with the four pods inspired by other cells and molecules inside the building.
Architectural VR visualisation provided the ideal medium for showcasing the exterior and interior of the new building.In Spring 2015 Draw & Code were invited to collaborate with architects aLL Design to produce an architectural virtual reality experience that enables potential stakeholders to walk around and experience the visionary building long before any construction had taken place.
The Draw & Code VR artists allied with aLL Design to create the interactive visualisation experience. After aLL Design sent through CAD files of the Neuron Pod to Draw & Code’s 3D artists, we worked on low poly versions of the designs, making sure the 3D environment was suitable for use on the Samsung Galaxy smartphone that powers the Gear VR unit. This modestly-powered VR solution was chosen as tethered headsets were deemed too impractical for the relatively informal gathering of stakeholders where the experience was to debut and the Gear VR was just about the only option available to us. As architectural models commonly feature a lot of polygons, our team had to simplify the model wherever possible without losing the essence of the original.
The model was then transferred to Unity, the ideal game engine for mobile-based XR experiences.. The Draw & Code team continued to add shadows, lighting, reflections and effects to make the experience the most effective it could be. Allowing the user the freedom of movement was needed to create a captivating virtual reality experience.
The resulting experience debuted at the fifth anniversary event of the original Centre of the Cell building. Perhaps one of the most satisfying moments in this showcase was seeing the aLL Design team themselves smiling broadly as they were completely immersed in their own building for the first time.
The vision was accurately communicated, the building’s vivid expression brought to life through the use of VR. The anniversary event was a success and Queen Mary University was able to gain sufficient funding from backers to go ahead with the project. Construction of the Neuron Pod started in April 2018 and it is now open as a contemporary, multi-purpose learning and community space. The building now hosts live science shows, workshops, experiments, debates, films and exhibitions. To see the Neuron Pod go from an ambitious vision to an immersive architectural VR visualisation and to eventually become a real, functioning venue has provided one of our studio with one of its most gratifying projects to date.