CRTKL 2021 Digital Evolution Lab: Meeting the Minds Part I

Clare Sausen November 8, 2021

The CRTKL 2021 Digital Evolution Lab is our second annual internal, virtual hackathon designed to inspire a culture of digital innovation by envisioning new tools and services. This year’s theme is – Reality Engine: Building architectural tools and services of the future using game engines. Today, we’re sitting down with some of the participants to discuss their ideas and experience in the lab.

The Digital Evolution Lab Pre-Lab kicked off on September 20th. The Pre-Lab is a 6 weeklong event that prefaces the Lab — the main hackathon event. So far, attendees have participated in a variety of events including fun networking events with Lab attendees and lectures hosted by industry experts including Jesse Schell of Schell Games, David Weir-McCall of Unreal and Lara Lesmes & Fredrik Hellberg of Space Popular. Participants are upskilling themselves on the use of Epic Games’ Unreal Engine to prepare for the Lab ahead and attendees have been highly engaged — getting to know one another better and sharing their mutual excitement.

The official Lab will kick off next week, where the 12 participants will be split into 4 teams to compete against one another in developing a conceptualized tool or service using game engines. Hear from some of this years’ participants below on the experience thus far.

Royce DeLord

I believe digital evolution is our industry’s future. I saw the Digital Evolution Lab as an opportunity to be an active part of that future and, by participating, I hope to push our firm one step closer to our digital transformation. I am looking forward to discussing the various ways in which we can blur the lines between the physical and virtual worlds within architecture, and how that blurring can enhance the way we practice architecture.

Game Engines give us a fuller, more vibrant picture of our designs — rendering them as they would exist in the world. The technology serves as a bridge between the designer and the client by bringing our 2D drawings to life in real-time. This allows us to craft a product that meets everyone’s expectations before investing in the design’s physical manifestation. Growing up, I played a lot of video games, and I relied on mini-maps to navigate those virtual worlds. Today, when working with clients, I’ve noticed they often struggle to visualize themselves in the larger context of the building, a shortfall of our current rendering programs. As a result, we spend a great deal of time flipping between 2D drawings and 3D models. Introducing a mini-map would facilitate a more fluid exchange of ideas.

My lab submission would help orient a user to a 3D world by introducing a small location map or “Mini-Map” at the bottom corner of a real-time rendering program. The Mini-Map would help clients understand the relationship between the 2D drawing set and the 3D building.


Juan Ortiz 

I think the Lab is a great opportunity to discover new ways to develop our projects; it allows us to develop a better understanding of software and its capabilities.

Just like the Enlightenment period of literature, music and cinema transformed architecture at the time, today industrial gaming is the new art of our time. I’m specifically interested in the capacity for unreal engine to create different behavior profiles, which led me to develop my submission.

My submission uses the Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) of Non-Playable Characters (NPCs) to make simulations of use of the space by the users — thus being able to optimize, for example, the evacuation of a building or to realize the improvement of the flows inside a shop or a supermarket.


Nina Maiolo

I applied to the Digital Evolution Lab because I wanted to get more involved in different competitions throughout the firm as well as expand my knowledge in an area in which I don’t have much of a background. Video games have always been a source of fun for me — from the retro Sega Genesis to more modern games — but I was really struck by the concept of mobilizing software intended to create games to optimize the architecture industry.  The most compelling part of video games and game engines is the aspect of escapism. Feeling immersed into a scene and feeling as though a character is an extension of yourself doesn’t happen organically; rather, it’s purposely designed with a game engine to feel that way in real-time. This idea can definitely be applied to the architecture industry by developing models and plans that consider interactive and immersive elements prior to construction.

My lab submission involves the idea of developing spaces in a digital environment that lean into the interactive gameplay that Unreal engine provides. I’m super interested in gaming and fascinated by the possibility of a hybrid world where digital spaces blend seamlessly into and become an extension of the corporeal world. I was inspired by the idea of easter eggs and hidden rooms in video games. Many games encourage an expeditious spirit that is rewarded with extra power-ups, mini-games, or other bonus content. I wondered what it would be like to incorporate this element of delight and exploration into the built environment.

I’m most looking forward to working with different people from around the firm that I haven’t had a chance to collaborate with. Working in a global company affords the opportunity to learn from incredibly smart people with various backgrounds and expertise, and that has certainly proven true as I’ve gotten to know the other applicants through networking events.


Hsiao Chiao Peng

I have always wanted to learn Unreal Engine – this is a great opportunity to learn since I have the support of our teams.  I am looking forward to learning a new software able to open new possibilities both in my work at CRTKL and at large in the AEC industry.

I am very interested in the relationship between the digital world and the physical world. In architecture, there is no longer a need to produce 2D submissions, only 3D. The invisible physical space to the visible digital space blurs the lines between the real and the unreal by creating non-tangible spaces that we can truly experience.

My lab submission is a simulation that contributes to the design process of programming the space. Instead of using the old-fashioned human experience, I use actual data to provide/examine our design outcome. I am fascinated by the idea of real-time — the architecture design process is no longer disconnected from the physical world.


Author Spotlight

Clare Sausen
Clare Sausen is a Content Writer for CallisonRTKL. Based in Washington, D.C., she leverages her personal and professional experience in journalism, radio, and nonprofit communication to serve as a valuable member of the global firmwide team. Since attaining her Bachelor of Arts degree from George Washington University in Communication and American Studies, she has honed her craft of architectural storytelling across multiple platforms. Her work appears in outlets such as Broccoli Magazine, Building Construction + Design Magazine, High Times Magazine, Medical Construction + Design Magazine, NORML Blog, The Lounge, You Are Here, and WRGW Music Blog.