Consultancy and Engineering Awards: Cundall takes tech prize

This year’s winner of the Technology Champion of the Year Award is Cundall Virtual Acoustic Reality (VAR), a unique software tool set to transform building and infrastructure design with three-dimensional audio modelling.

Eschewing the flat 2D graphic interface of conventional acoustics modelling, the Cundall team has combined a virtual reality headset with a gaming engine and high-quality audio to take project teams on a 3D audio and visual tour of buildings before they are built.

This will enable valued decisions to be made based on ‘experiencing’ the building rather than numbers on a page. Cundall VAR links a powerful 3D graphics program, Unity, with the CATT Acoustic software to enable clients and the design team to experience how audio performance changes as they walk around a virtual model of a building’s interior.

The Cundall VAR system was developed to allow the acoustic effects of design decisions and changes to be easily understood. Proposals can be evaluated and potential problem areas identified and rectified at the design stage, preventing costly and difficult remedial works once a building has been constructed and commissioned.

Clients can use the system to assess the merits of investment in acoustic treatments. Likewise, architects and designers can evaluate how relatively simple changes to their design can improve the acoustics of a space. For acoustic engineers it can be used to justify where treatments are most effective, while providing a simple way of demonstrating this to the rest of a design team. Property developers, owners and agents will be able to use the VAR system to assess how any existing acoustic problem can be resolved, or how a proposed building refurbishment could change the aural environment. 

Most of the hurdles overcome in developing VAR involved getting the various pieces of software, each using different a software language, to talk to each other in real time. A method of synchronising the user’s position with the sound that would be heard at that location was required, together with a simple way of control for moving around inside the model.

A standard hand-held gaming controller was selected. These are relatively familiar to most people and ease of use was one of the key aspects of the design. Future development of VAR may refine the hardware to make a smaller ‘second generation’ system, as well as seeking to combine the auditory experience with more information from other design disciplines, such as lighting, for coordination with BIM models.

Judges’ comments
“Cundall has found a novel and innovative way for project teams to design and manage the acoustic performance of buildings by combining audio prediction modelling with game-quality graphics. The VAR is a cutting-edge software tool for project teams and holds great potential for coordination with other disciplines and BIM models.”

Highly Commended – Structure Mode, Fabric cast reinforced concrete
Structure Mode has helped to rebuild a community centre in the coastal Cambodian city of Sihanoukville with innovative use of fabric formwork for casting reinforced concrete. Use of concrete was a well-reasoned decision for a location where timber has become scarce and steel expensive. The fabric formwork is lighter, easier and cheaper to produce than traditional timber formwork and improves durability. Following computational analysis and physical testing, a woven polypropylene formwork was designed and used successfully in the construction. The Bomnong L’or Centre, which provides supplementary education to local children and adults, now has four new teaching spaces, a computer room and administrative and service spaces.

Geo-Environmental Services Limited
WSP I Parsons Brinckerhoff