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Digital Redevelopment

By: Jeff Owens - Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Source: Owens Architects

There is a unique need in the revitalization project process: moving from great idea to the reality of a new, repurposed site as a contribution to the earth and community. Digital content made possible by design technology provides designers with the tools to cross the threshold into a real-world-based virtual environment for each potential site.

The traditional line drawings and rendered images meant to convey design concepts are now open to more possibilities. Owens Architects, a firm in Lawrenceburg, Ky., dedicated to designing buildings that create good function and inspire beauty while demonstrating fiscal accountability and good earth stewardship, has been developing a new design process centered on the use of digital content, with its application intended to empower revitalization projects. This new technology offers the designer the means to explore the existing conditions and site, and provide options for introduction of new elements to repurpose the environment. As an architect and digital content creator, Owens Architects has experienced the power of visualization content to communicate the design concepts.

 A unique alignment of possibilities is present with opportunities for sustainable revitalization. Our wealth of structures and sites should be explored with a new, holistic approach based on a core principle of human-needs design. This core principle combined with the craftsmanship and human history of the site is an unrealized treasure of inherent sustainability contained within each revitalization journey. A successful journey begins with early support and enthusiasm for the vision of a human-needs-based experience.

The vision-building journey is reliant on the initial design concept proposal. In this information-overload society, traditional tools of communication are challenged when it comes to the needs of revitalization. Visual-based content delivered through fluid media outlets are required to reach our "You Tube"-influenced world.

Building Information Modeling (BIM) provides the tools for a full exploration of each opportunity. A 3-D model of the site and/or structure is the central source for all content produced for the revitalization opportunity. This model creates a database that moves toward a virtual environment that can be leveraged by software to simulate and test the proposed design possibilities. The digital content produced from this design process, including still images, simulations, and animations, are key to reaching a large group of stakeholders. Composition of the digital content into a design study tells the story of the proposed design and targets the qualities that support the human-needs core. The study changes as the design matures from early concept to final design documents, reviving the site and the surrounding community.

The digital content creates a visual-based language that can be combined with written word, music, and voice over to create a multimedia design study for the revitalization journey. Delivery of this content through fluid media outlets offers a more personal, user-controlled multimedia experience.

Sharing the information

Creation of an early dialog with stakeholders is imperative. A visual-based communication tool with the ability to link a general population audience to more detailed information helps to attract interest from potential supporters. The digital content has interactive control of this multi-layered media experience, providing each individual's need with specific information quickly in the encounter, which can lead to a more in-depth review of the design concept. This digital content and fluid media delivery allows sharing of the information, building the group and moving toward a viral spread. The ability to access this content results in a quality information exchange.

Fluid media outlets allow for an easy means for the audience to contribute through feedback, which can begin at the very early stages of the design journey when it can have the most impact. This helps to create a vested interest in the revitalization concept. This interaction can be a building-block component. As the latest content is produced and the design matures, it can be released to the building community of interested individuals. This digital content and fluid media delivery also allows for expansion of boundaries to global 24/7 access of the latest design content.

The impact of this interaction can inform the design, maintaining human-needs design criteria specific to the site and empowered by the support and enthusiasm of a confirmed group of stakeholders. Consensus building can also help to move design concepts and plans through local approval processes. Financial issues are also affected by this local base of support; it is a great resource to move revitalization projects from investor-based, for-profit to community-based for betterment of the human condition.

The current climate change concerns have meshed well with the green design movement. This surge of interest has provided products and techniques to implement new sustainable strategies, which can breathe new life into the revitalization of our wealth of abandoned structures and sites. These new strategies can be limited by the ability to communicate, and then provide concrete data to confirm that the design theory matches the unique condition of each design challenge. BIM provides the tools to explore, simulate, and communicate these sustainable strategies in relation to each unique opportunity.

An example of digital success

The Community Action Council—a nonprofit organization in Lexington, Ky., that is a member of the Community Action Partnership, a national organization representing more than 1,000 community action agencies across the country that fight poverty on the local level—wanted to be located within a property that supports the community it serves. The modern historic building chosen was located in an old residential area experiencing well-established revitalization. In its abandoned state the digital content provided a glimpse into the building's potential as a good commercial neighbor for this residential neighborhood.

The digital content created for this project helped to provide the residential neighborhood and the client with a shared vision of what the building could become. Still images of the proposed changes to the existing structure and site allowed for a color-comparisons study, shared with the neighborhood. Animation walk-around allowed for a more human-perspective experience of the proposed design. The modern solar-light control components were highlighted by a solar study animation which reinforced the qualities of maintaining these elements.

To repurpose structures and sites with community-based grass roots support is to connect and recharge a sustainable revitalization cycle to good earth stewardship.

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