Bachelor in Architectural Studies students are employing cutting-edge gaming tools to bring their ideas to life. We spoke to the program’s Digital Studies professor, Ángel Flores, about how tech from a very different industry is helping produce better work in less time.

Professor Ángel Flores teaches Alternative Practices—a course designed to introduce students to tools that are revolutionizing how architects work—within the Bachelor in Architectural Studies. And it doesn’t get much more alternative than using gaming tech to realize students’ ideas. The Unreal Engine, named due to the immediate results it produces, is a set of tools that were originally produced to design and develop video games. And Flores, lead programmer at Tanglewood Games in the UK, is in no doubt about its value.

Professor Ángel Flores

“The use of these tools allows architects to focus on the core of their work, reducing technological obstacles and allowing them to produce more and better in less time, or to transmit ideas more efficiently,” he explains. Indeed he’s something of a specialist in real-time engines, having found applications for the technology not just in architecture, but in entertainment, virtual reality experiences and interactive apps. 

Real-time tech’s benefits in a competitive sector

In what Professor Flores describes as “a very competitive field,” Unreal Engine takes no more than 15 minutes for a trained user to bring their concepts from sketches to virtual reality concepts, allowing volumetry checks and experimentation with spaces in real time. Ideas can be checked, modeled and discarded rapidly if they don’t work. 

The tools even allow for a project’s environmental impact to be studied, or the architect to move the virtual sun around to see how light plays on their concepts. “These tools don’t seek to replace the ones we already have at our disposal,” says Flores. “Instead, they complement them.”

“These tools don’t seek to replace the ones we already have at our disposal, instead, they complement them.”

Perfectly illustrating its interconnectivity, Unreal Engine is, for example, compatible with other architectural programs like Revit or AutoCAD. But Unreal Engine visualizes or animates models from those programs in hours rather than the days or weeks required for traditional solutions. It’s a fine example of the power of innovative tech to disrupt every conceivable sector.

Telling a story with Unreal Engine

This year’s cohort were challenged to use Unreal Engine to design and animate an exhibition within a space based on Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion. Each had to present videos of their proposal to the rest of the class, in an exercise designed to reflect a project in a real professional context.

The technology allows students considerable freedom of creative expression, and offers an opportunity to assess how factors like music and composition play a fundamental role in their stories’ narratives. And the variety of solutions presented demonstrated the versatility of the array of tools at their disposal, and Unreal Engine in particular. 

One group changed the spatial perception of the pavilion by covering it, virtually of course, in black paint and lighting its edges. Another chose a sensory experience, creating a path that hid what came next at each stage. A third idea focused on the exhibition of pieces, using the pavilion itself to provide context. Each approach required students to leverage various audiovisual resources to complement each other.

Student´s final projects

Surprising results

Though Ángel is extremely familiar with Unreal Engine and aware of its capabilities, the results of the challenge were a pleasant surprise to him, far exceeding his expectations. Starting from scratch and undertaking an exercise very similar to those they will face in their professional lives, he was delighted with the students’ motivation, participation and discipline. 

“I had to cover content planned for future sessions, because they were going faster than expected and eager to know more. Unreal Engine is a tool with a very steep learning curve, but one that is tremendously rewarding,” he confirms. “I think they had a great time, and I had a great time with them.”

“I had to cover content planned for future sessions, because they were going faster than expected and eager to know more. ¨

Reflecting on the impact of real-time technologies like Unreal Engine in the real working world of architecture, Professor Flores truly believes in their value. “Thanks to ‘real-time’ I have been able to help architects develop their ideas more quickly, and with more attention to detail, as well as shortening developers’ deadlines and improving the reception of their projects, while making them more economically viable,” he confirmed. “As a result, the general public has a better understanding of proposals, so they can support or reject them on the basis of being fully informed, which they see as transparency on the part of the developer.”

And IE University is, as usual, at the cutting-edge when it comes to the adoption of such innovative solutions. “This kind of technology is still not that widely used in Spain,” he concluded, “but it is becoming more common. Fortunately, IE University has been working on this for some time, preparing its students for a future as exciting as it is inevitable.”