CRTKL 2021 Digital Evolution Lab: Meeting the Minds Part III

Clare Sausen November 29, 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 so far.

This year’s Digital Evolution Lab has officially come to a close! The teams spent four days working on their official Lab projects – a conceptualized tool or service using game engines. All four teams were extremely collaborative, highly engaged and worked hard to deliver their final project. The submitted projects were all highly impressive, and we’re proud to host this level of innovation here at CRTKL.

The submissions will be up for three possible awards – the Grand Prize, the People’s Choice Award and the Media Award selected by Amanda Silberling of TechCrunch and Jonathon Hilburg of The Architect’s Newspaper. Stay tuned for updates, as the winning teams will be announced soon! In the meantime, let’s check in with our final participants to hear about their experience thus far.

Arnold Ramoso

My decision to apply to the Lab didn’t happen until the very end of the application process. I was promoting the event to others in the firm, and as I was describing this year’s challenge, an idea popped up that I couldn’t shake off and thought might be interesting to explore. You’re never too old to participate and dream up an idea. The day before the application was due, I decided to see how far I could take the idea – or, at the very least, learn some cool ways gaming engines can influence our industry.

Working with people from different offices who haven’t met before, collaborating on a concept idea with various deliverable requirements within 4 days’ time, all while working remotely, was very thrilling and fun. To think through a solution from various angles through the lens of a new tool we had just learned, stretched us all creatively, and completing the challenge together was very satisfying. Seeing all the amazing ideas submitted by the other Digital Evolution Lab teams is a testament to the talented people we have at CRTKL, and how flexible and adaptable we can be in pressured environments.

Gaming engines are great at connecting to live models and receiving updates from those models. What’s more surprising is that it can connect to the valuable data within those models. I’d like to see how gaming engines can expose that data in more creative and interactive ways that our clients can engage with. My original Lab entry was to use gaming engines to produce simulations of how data (in the form of built model assets) can be accessed by following an assets’ story as it makes its way through a building life cycle. By creating user profiles based on various business departments (i.e., Construction; Procurement; Facilities Management; Operations; etc.) from which to view and engage with data from these assets, we are able to further grow our understanding of our clients’ business. Having virtual, interactive simulations of data exchanges can better market our expertise in utilizing tools that leverage data from models for our clients’ needs.


Jinge Chai

I participated in last year’s Digital Evolution Lab and really enjoyed it. Then, I learned this year’s topic was around game engines, which I never considered to learn or apply to our field. Even though I did not have any knowledge about game engines, I wanted to try and apply. The most rewarding experience of this event was brainstorming with my team on our Lab project. Since game engines were new for all of us, it felt like a startup — an intense but very rewarding experience.

For the creative process of architectural design, I believe we should add more interactive and immersive experience elements which can allow us to examine our work more thoroughly. By applying AR/VR gaming experiences to buildings, we can also create blended experiences that project digital content into physical spaces.  This can help built spaces evolve constantly, following the needs of the market, and it can also provide data feedback to the architects or the owner.

My original entry submission was based on the crowd simulation capability of game engines. In our architectural design process, we mostly review projects from an individual point of view or several individuals. We treat the space as a static object without other users’ interaction. We cannot check the real crowd interaction until the building is actually built. By harnessing a game engine’s power, we can let people experience and interact with a space and its crowds virtually during the design process. This can be done by either generating enough crowds as NPC or pawns or letting real people form crowds by logging into the game engine as their avatars. This way, we can expose potential design issues earlier, and solve them efficiently.


Ahnaf Chowdhury

This year’s lab topic really intrigued me because there are a vast number of open-world video games — which have complex physics and user interfaces that could surely benefit architectural design. I think it is an exciting time where our scope of work is potentially expanding beyond the physical world and it’s important to speculate on how technological advancements such as game engines could be utilized. The benefits of real-time rendering with game engines had already so seamlessly integrated with our design process that I was very curious to explore ways to utilize game engines beyond architectural visualization.

The hackathon itself where each team had to develop a proposal was definitely the most rewarding part of the event. Our team, Hack Vs. Hack, had great team synergy that made it very enjoyable to develop some of our imaginative ideas. To create prototypes of these ideas, we applied concepts we had learned from game designs processes during the Pre-Lab assignments. It was very rewarding to be able to quickly test our ideas by rapidly developing rudimentary prototypes simply using Miro Board. This virtual board was populated with sticky notes, each representing a function or player of our proposed interface. Soon we had a delightfully chaotic board that tracked the lineage of our ideas and helped us narrow down and refine our concept.

The Digital Evolution Lab gave us the chance to critically think about how our practice can evolve with technology. The Lab fostered research and several conversations that opened my mind to the possibilities of game engines. Over the course of the month, the Lab Committee had organized a few lectures for guests to talk about their work with game engines. In this lecture series, we heard many insights into alternate forms of architectural practice and production which made it one of my most exciting experiences in the Lab. Not only did we get an in-depth presentation of the features of Unreal Engine from Epic Games, but we also had design practices show us how they utilize game engine software in unique ways. These lectures undoubtedly inspired many of our team’s ideas during the Lab and exposed us to how architects are already operating between virtual and physical environments.

My original entry into the Lab was focused on utilizing game engines for building operations. I imagined a tool that would virtually simulate tasks involved in continuing a building’s functionality. Such a tool would allow us to propose certain building operation strategies over others – giving architects some agency for preserving a building’s aesthetics and functionality over the course of its life. To expand the firm’s scope of services, virtual simulations could also be packaged as a digital twin file, a virtual replica of the project, for clients to utilize in post-occupancy.


Xavier ‘Michael’ Ticzon

I applied to the Lab because I have a very keen enthusiasm for architectural technology. This year’s take on using the Unreal Engine for anything other than architectural visualization really piqued my interest. I was curious to know how we could generate computational design solutions in Unreal to try and generate more innovative tools for CRTKL and the AEC industry.

The most rewarding experience during the event was working with a team of like-minded, and exceptionally skilled individuals, allowing us to learn from each other. Having participated in last year’s Digital Evolution Lab, I can say that this year’s Lab was more intense, despite the longer time frame. I really appreciated the learning modules leading up to the Lab proper, and the series of Pre-Lab lectures were of exceptional quality. This year’s Lab was just as enjoyable as last year in its own way. I will definitely apply again next year.

I think being able to accurately simulate spatial and environmental conditions (people and weather for example), as well as be a “player” within the architecture model that can experience spaces before they are built, will really enable us to design more efficiently. My original Lab entry was on simulating flooding conditions based on the density of buildings and people of a master plan in relation to the weather or rainfall. I believe a tool like this can be useful in the context of the Philippines, where we have many areas of the city that are prone to flooding. By simulating and projecting conditions, zoning regulations could be more specific for the future wellbeing of a community.


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.