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Advanced Architectural Design and Visualization with NVIDIA Iray 

This rendering of NVIDIA’s new headquarters was produced using the company’s IRAY software. Rendering courtesy of Iray.

Visualization has been part of the architectural design process for as long as architects and designers have been putting pencil to tracing paper. And as building design has evolved, so have the tools used to create and render everything architects and designers can conceive of. But they have not evolved in lockstep. Even now, the most advanced digital rendering software provides only an approximation of the look and feel of a finished space. Critical aspects of contemporary designs—for example accurately simulating how form, light, and materials will interact in a space—haven’t been possible. Until now.

Over the past two-and-a-half years I’ve been fortunate to work with "NVIDIA’s advanced rendering software Iray while working on the new NVIDIA headquarters project in Santa Clara, Calif. Iray was instrumental in the design of the project—it provided the design team and NVIDIA staff members with an unprecedented level of rendering clarity and processing speed. But when you take a look under the hood of IRAY, you’ll find that it is much more than just a rendering engine capable of generating pretty pictures.

During the headquarters design process, Gensler and NVIDIA developed an Iray pipeline to simulate the evolving physical design as accurately as possible. The movement of light within spaces is tough to anticipate at the best of times, but the amount of daylight Gensler’s design for the NVIDIA headquarters was allowing into the massive interior space made it impossible to depict using conventional rendering software. The interior of the campus headquarters includes skylights, soaring windows, and vaulted, triangular ceilings. These elements required the design team to have a very clear understanding of how light (both natural and electric), form, and materials would interact throughout the day and at night.

This is where IRAY came in handy. Iray’s speed and accuracy allowed our designers to work iteratively–we tried myriad different design ideas and were able to see in real time, via a computer screen, what those changes would yield. Iray allowed us to generate the data we needed within minutes as opposed to the typical one- to two-day turnaround traditional methods and conventional rendering software require. We could literally type in a space location within the office, a time of day or night, and Iray would rapidly create a new image that accurately captured the space and what the lighting and materials would look like.

This ‘heart’ of NVIDIA’s new headquarters building as rendered with Iray. Rendering courtesy of Iray.

Iray’s speed derives from computational power that can span across multiple GPUs, and we tapped into a cluster of NVIDIA Visual Computing Appliances (VCA) to make Iray go even faster. Each VCA consists of eight of NVIDIA Quadro top-end GPUs. By adding multiple VCAs together, the generation time for an accurate rendering was reduced to just a few minutes at full high-definition visual quality. Even with only three GPUs at a single workstation, we were able to generate accurate lighting analysis data—all in less time than it takes to get a cup of coffee.

Iray transformed how we conducted design reviews. The software is so speedy that we were able to show the client interactive renderings in real-time—we didn’t have to rely on pre-rendered static images. The speed and interactivity of Iray allowed us to incorporate their feedback almost instantaneously. It allowed us to fail faster, if you will, and our designers saw the results of the team’s work and considered alternate solutions immediately. This process helped us solve substantial design issues, like the tricky situation of harmonizing the daylighting and artificial lighting together in NVIDIA’s massive open workspace, quickly and efficiently.

Accurate simulation of light is only one side of the coin for the Iray technology. The other side is the accurate simulation of materials. Many samples of material that the designers planned on using in the design of NVIDIA’s headquarters were measured with a special device that captured the physical attributes of the materials. This data was then placed within a material standard called the Material Definition Language, or MDL. These MDLs gave very accurate feedback to the design team; they could see exactly how different paints, concrete, woods, carpets, and metals would affect the final design. Iray allowed us to easily switch out materials, providing almost instant feedback to our designer team.

The accuracy Iray provided gave us solid data to present back to NVIDIA. It also allowed us to be nimble and responsive to client questions as they arose. We could respond immediately, as opposed to hours or days later. At the end of the day, both NVIDIA and Gensler were able to meet the shared goal of accurately simulating the design of a building with significant design challenges. And we did it with a speed and accuracy that proved to be a real game changer.

Scott DeWoody is a visualization artist at Gensler, where he combines his affinity for art and technology as he explores the possibilities of architecture in the interactive space with gaming platforms, augmented reality, and virtual reality. A 3ds Max software, V-Ray for 3ds Max, and Adobe Photoshop super user, these applications allow Scott to focus on image quality and workflow - the top priorities in his work. Contact Scott at scott_dewoody@gensler.com to talk all things visualization!

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