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New technology surrounds viewer in virtual landscape

Like Alice through the Looking Glass, K-State design students are getting the chance to step through a two-dimensional window and into an imaginary three-dimensional world

By Mark Berry



Shadow of person standing in VisionDome watching the virtual movieTwo people stand and watch the VisionDome movieThe VisionDome with an image of one of the virtual rooms
Photos by April M. Blackmon.

Vicki Borchers led her students through the first VisionDome projects. The students created one-minute cinematic walkthroughs of interior rooms.


The K-State College of Architecture, Planning and Design houses two "VisionDomes" that allow students and staff to create virtual walkthroughs of buildings and urban neighborhoods. People who stand inside these domes are immersed by a computer-generated world projected onto the curved dome.

Jeff Head, director of Krider Visual Resource and Learning Center, said looking at a regular computer screen is like standing three feet behind a small window and lookin goutside. One can only see the part of the word that the window allows. But imagine looking out from the threshold of a doorway.

"Then, the scene is all around you," Head said.

And thats what the VisionDome does, thanks to a projector with a multi-faceted lens that looks like the eye of a fly. One VisionDome measures one meter tall and one meter wide and looks like a satellite disk. The next size up measures three meters by three meters and fits two people. The college plans to retrofit an existing dome to become the third VisionDome, which could fit 20 or more people inside.

The VisionDomes were developed for the military as a flight simulator. Head said the college will use the VisionDome as a visualization tool for studio, research and public service projects in the college, and to help citizens participate in the redevelopment and growth of their communities.

Head said that it is hard to get a sense of openness when one is confined to a standard 60 degrees of view. With their 160-degree field of view, the domes will allow them to cross this barrier.

"We hope to use the domes to give students a sense of what it is like to design in three dimension and to get a feel for spatial relations," Head said. "We also hope to immerse research subjects in a virtual reality setting to determine if there are any advantages to domed immersive environments over standard flat-screen projection in studying human reactions to built or designed environments."

Professor Richard Hoag's combined architecture and landscape architecture studio students designed proposals for a master plan for the southern branch of the Metropolitan Community College campus in Omaha, Neb., during the spring 2002 semester. The proposals were presented to the college's Board of Governers in May 2002 to begin a dialogue on alternative futures for the campus.

The video was used by Cody Pilger, senior in landscape architecture, to present his master plan concept. The video produced for the dome allowed viewers an added dimension to explore the proposal in an expanded view fly-over.

"We believe that the VisionDome added an extra dimension to the presentation; a dimension unattainable with traditional paper media and models," Head said. It seemed to help generate interest in the presentation as a whole."

Vicky Borchers, associate professor of interior architecture, led her students through the first VisionDome projects. She said people in other disciplines, from engineering to biology, could make designs and scenarios for VisionDome.

Her students created one-minute cinematic walkthroughs of interior rooms complete with shadows, furniture and balls that rolled off tables and onto the floor. She said the equipment shows customers what the finished product will look like.

"People understand pictures. It's a good common denominator," she said.

The college bought the VisionDomes at the end of 2000 from the Elumens Corp. for about $100,000. The only limitation is the power of the computer that designs the animation, Borchers said.

The college is trying to raise funds for three computers, at $14,000 each. Borchers' students spent over a month drawing their interior design programs on seven computers.

"It was like trying to run the Indianapolis 500 with a Volkswagen Beetle," Borchers said.

Summer 2002