How Architects Shaped the Way Sunlight Streams into Our New Building, Using NVIDIA Iray

by Phil Miller

There’s no building in the world quite like the one we’re putting up in Silicon Valley.

While it won’t be finished for two years, we already know how its vaulted ceilings and spectacular skylights — spanning 500,000 square feet over two floors — will capture and disperse light. And we know that with mathematic precision, for every day of the year, every hour of the day.

We know how its undulating roof of triangular facets will refract light on, say, a hot day in mid-July, at solar noon. Or on a gloomy late November afternoon.

And we know that it will be glare-free from any vantage point at any time. That it won’t get too bright to work on a computer screen, or too hot to grab lunch by a window.

This would have been impossible until recently. However, lead architect Hao Ko, of Gensler, was able to simulate the entire building using NVIDIA Iray — our physically based rendering and light simulation software. His team was able to input the building plans and data about its specific windows, carpets, partitions and other material to create a photographic-quality image of their creation — one that updates in near real time, even as they tweak their work.

NVIDIA building interior
NVIDIA Iray rendering of the heart of our new building in Santa Clara.

How We Avoided Cooking Our Colleagues

“With Iray we can see how sunlight interacts with the design over long stretches of time,” said Scott DeWoody, creative media manager at Gensler. “By observing how the sun moves across the sky at different times of the day and year, we were able to detect — and mitigate — a hotspot affecting about 70 square feet of the interior office space.”

Their work was helped by the NVIDIA Material Definition Language (MDL), which allows designers to craft digital materials that accurately depict the physical materials they are specifying.

MDL materials incorporate real-world measurement data and easily assemble, blend and mix layers for rapid customization. They can then be shared between applications, or even with other MDL-compliant renderers. It’s what enabled Gensler’s team to match their real-world specification and maintain design intent as the project moved between teams and applications.

Amazing Graphics in the Cloud

DeWoody — who’s based in Houston, far from Ko in San Francisco — scaled his interactive Iray performance by tapping into a remote cluster of 15 NVIDIA Quadro Visual Computing Appliances (VCA). With each VCA packing eight of our highest end NVIDIA Quadro GPUs, he had 120 GPUs at his disposal — no matter where he was working.

“The VCA is key to our workflow because it allows us to quickly produce all the renderings we need,” explained DeWoody. “I was able to have our lighting consultant sit next to me and we changed the time of day from noon to 6 pm, and changed wood to concrete, and could see the affects in real time. What would have taken her days to calculate took me just minutes to produce.”

NVIDIA building interior rendering
NVIDIA Iray rendering of stairway leading to mezzanine, in our new building in Santa Clara.

Alongside Iray, we’ve announced the first edition of NVIDIA vMaterials — a free collection of over 200 calibrated and verified materials for use in any application that supports MDL. vMaterials take the guesswork out of the design process by providing a known-good reference material that designers can then customize for their own needs.

The resulting combination of reliable materials, accurate lighting and fluid interactivity makes Iray an effective and efficient environment to explore and predict designs.

You Can Predict with Iray, Too

The Iray technology Gensler uses is now available for everyone with the release of a plug-in for popular 3D creation application Autodesk 3ds Max from our new online store. A plug-in for Autodesk Maya is coming in mid-December.

Learn more about 3dsMax with Iray for realistic rendering this week at Autodesk University in Las Vegas.

For application developers, NVIDIA Iray SDK and vMaterials are also part of NVIDIA DesignWorks, a curated suite of development tools, sample code and advanced libraries for developers of CAD, AEC and rendering applications.