How VR Is Helping Revitalize Downtown Duluth

Superior Street is one of Duluth, Minnesota’s oldest and most iconic streets, home to family businesses, shops and cafes.

downtown duluth minnesota today
Superior Street today in downtown Duluth, Minnesota.

Now virtual reality is helping with a long awaited revitalization project thanks to the work of LHB, a local architecture, engineering and planning firm.

Everyone from Minnesota’s lieutenant governor to the general public is interested in Superior Street’s redevelopment. Key to gaining support for the project was how LHB used VR to provide an immersive, realistic rendering that displayed the aesthetics, lighting, ambience and sightlines.

For many, it’s difficult to visualize how the final project will appear in real life when viewing 2D drawings of the design. The ability to experience the scene in a real scale from every viewpoint using VR made for far better informed decision making.

downtown duluth minnesota in vr
Superior Street revitalized as rendered in VR.

VR also helped streamline the design review process and control costs because potential design issues were spotted before construction started.

For LHB, delivering a high-quality VR experience began by generating designs in high-end design and modeling applications. They used topography information from AutoCAD Civil 3D and modeled details such as curbs and utilities with Autodesk Revit.

To create realistic nighttime views, streetlamps and other light sources were photometrically accurate for the lamp and bulb type — all with the help of NVIDIA Quadro GPUs. The data was rendered in real time using VR applications such as Revizto, and then all came together in Fuzor, a turnkey VR platform for the AEC industry.

The Tech Behind the Turnaround

Running Fuzor with NVIDIA Quadro GPUs offers unique benefits, such as access to NVIDIA VRWorks enabled VR SLI. With VR SLI, dual Quadro GPUs can render one eye each — dramatically accelerating performance and resulting in a smoother VR experience.

It all adds up to LHB creating a more compelling experience much earlier than with traditional design tools.

“Traditional fixed-angle renderings still have their place, but having VR allows our clients to freely explore projects in progress. This forces us to consider materials and other design elements earlier in the process so the VR experience is realistic. This also allows the client to make more informed decisions earlier,” says Dan Stine, BIM administrator for LHB.

“The payoff is client buy-in and spotting potential issues before starting construction, and that’s invaluable,” Stine says.

Read the full case study.

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