Virtual Environments as Medium for Laypeople’s Communication and Collaboration in Urban Design
The distance between urban design processes and outcomes and their communication to stakeholders and citizens are often significant. Urban designers use a variety of tools to bridge this gap. Each tool often places high demands on the audience, and each through inherent characteristics and affordances, introduces possible failures to understand the design ideas, thus imposing a divergence between the ideas, their communication and the understandings. Urban design is a hugely complex activity influenced by numerous factors. The design exploration process may follow established design traditions. In all instances, the medium in which the exploration takes place affects the understanding by laypeople. Design tools are chosen, in part, to facilitate the design process. Most urban design community engagement does not use Virtual Environments (VE) as a means of communication and participation in the early stage of the design generation. There has been little research on how the use of VE for urban design can engage laypeople as contributors to the design process. It has been suggested that VE instruments can allow laypeople to express, explore and convey their imagination more easily. The very different nature of perceptual understanding of VE and its capability to produce instant 3D artefacts with design actions may allow laypeople to generate meaningful design ideas. An experiment setup has developed to leverage laypeople in authentic design collaboration. This thesis examines in the context of New Zealand’s National Science Challenge ‘Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities’ the drivers of change that contribute to the shaping of places, development and design of future neighbourhoods. A series of experiments have been conducted in the site of a neighbourhood to investigate the relative effectiveness of immersive VE to facilitate people in collaborative urban design. The findings support the hypothesis that VE with the generation of 3D artefacts enhances design communication for laypeople to design an urban form for their neighbourhood. The thesis concludes by discussing how New Zealand’s future neighbourhoods can be shaped and developed with VE assisted participatory urban design.