Geek of the Week

Geek of the Week: Simon Chavez makes use of VR and AR to supply a greater have a look at architectural designs

Simon Chavez works for Perkins+Will in Seattle. (Photo courtesy of Simon Chavez)

In his job as a visualization designer with the global architecture and design firm Perkins+Will, Simon Chavez uses virtual and augmented reality to help people get a better sense of a building concept.

“I grew up in Boise, Idaho, with a childhood shaped by two loves: nature and technology,” Chavez said. “After high school I spent a year in Austria and later returned to pursue a degree in virtual technology and design at the University of Idaho.”

Chavez, our latest Geek of the Week, graduated in 2015 and moved to Seattle where he landed his first job, at Perkins+Will.

“My most recent local project was for the University of Washington, putting its new Life Sciences Building (a project designed by my firm and due to open this fall) into the Microsoft HoloLens (Microsoft’s mixed-reality headset),” he said.

He said if he could design his own “ideal” Seattle building, he would use VR to show off tunnels and bridges that connect it to other buildings, shops and restaurants for the purpose of moving traffic off the sidewalks and reducing congestion.

Chavez admits to being “one of the biggest sci-fi nerds around,” and some of his answers below speak to that.

“Sci-fi often involves creating complex systems with clean and minimal design, and so does architecture,” he said. “Theres an opportunity to get inspired by cool designs we see in movies or games and run with it.”

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Simon Chavez:

UW Life Sciences
Simon Chavez worked on a project for the University of Washington, using Microsoft’s HoloLens to show off the Life Sciences Building slated to open this fall. (Perkins+Will Image)

What do you do, and why do you do it? “As visualization designer with Perkins+Will, I work with our in-house design teams to create interactive computer models of buildings. These virtual reality or augmented reality models allow our clients to experience the building while also allowing them to modify the design. For example, if a design team needs a building in VR or AR to toggle with different materials in the design — I’m on it. If they need a nice real-time flythrough to show the flow of a design throughout a property — I’ve got it! If they want a (mostly) photorealistic multiplayer experience of a building to let designers or clients make decisions from INSIDE the space — hold my beer (that’s a joke).”

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “Game engines aren’t just for games anymore! A game engine is a software framework for building digital interactive experiences (like AR and VR). Not every industry needs all the components included in a game engine, but now other industries outside of gaming are finding uses for at least some of the components. For example, game engines are now used for things such as creating digital visualizations, storyboarding media and even AI training! Most any industry can find a use for a game engine these days if they’ve got time to brainstorm and learn the capabilities.”

Where do you find your inspiration? “Epic music, surrealist artwork and of course those killer ’70s-’80s space concept art.”

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “Undoubtedly my computer. I’m not particularly attached to my phone.”

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “I have both the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift set up on different computers so we can have two people in VR at any time. I also have two external monitors set up as well as the laptop display. I end up working on so many projects throughout the day as people send me requests or ask for help that I don’t have any default configuration between the three displays and multiple workspaces, so I try to keep stuff spread out. If a task requires more than a few minutes or a few open programs, I’ll assign it to its own workspace to keep it organized.”

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “Exercise. I know I’m not the first to say it. I go to the gym every day; listen to some tunes, watch an episode or two of whatever I’m addicted to at the time and burn some excess energy. It keeps my mind focused and my body lean(ish).”

Mac, Windows or Linux? “Windows for work, Linux for fun. Stop laughing.”

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Kirk — I’m all about the classics.”

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Is the time machine limited to only going back in time? Doesn’t matter, I’m sold. I’d want to go to the future; see where things are at, check out that sweet post-consumer society, meet a few aliens/clones/synthetic intelligences, try and steal a laser gun, get caught, kicked out, aw man!”

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “Try my hand at a game and entertainment studio. Try to get some real AI driven simulations going.”

I once waited in line for … “I honestly can’t think of anything big I’ve waited in line for. I tend to avoid those situations. I wait in line for lunch and that’s pretty much it.”

Your role models: “There’s so many, but I’d have to say Zdzislaw Beksinski. First off, that name. Second off, he’s a great surrealist who kept up with the times and technology. When a new technology or method hit the mainstream, he didn’t complain about how they’d never be as good as the old methods. He would embrace it and integrate it into his workflow. I can respect that. I don’t want to become some crotchety old man who just complains about the youth and reminisces on how much better the old days were.”

Greatest game in history: “Funny enough, I don’t have too much background in gaming nor do I have a very extensive library now. But, I’d have to say ‘Skyrim.’ It’s got its flaws and issues, sure, but it’s the game that got me interested in making extensive 3D experiences and its console got me interested in what’s going on under the hood. Bet you expected me to say some sci-fi game didn’t you? :P”

Best gadget ever: “Raspberry Pi for life!”

First computer: “Dell XPS 15Z (still use it!).”

Current phone: “Galaxy S7.”

Favorite app: “I’ve got to say the BBC News app. It’s good to keep up with current events (but it’s also important not to let it control you!).”

Favorite cause: “Nature conservation! My life has been shaped by the great access to nature and adventure I had as a kid and I think that’s important to pass on.”

Most important technology of 2018: “I’d say 2018 is a great year for improved AI capabilities and integration.”

Most important technology of 2020: “It’s tempting to say DX12 real-time raytracing because graphics are going to be AMAZING, but I think I’m going to have to give it to WinML (Windows Machine Learning). WinML is promising us not just better game AI, but games that can adapt to the player and even change how the game is played in response to the player’s preferences. It’ll make it so games are different for each person every time they’re played.

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “For the love of whatever you hold holy, don’t wait for inspiration to strike! If you don’t have the motivation to work on a project, you need to work on something anyways. Otherwise, you keep waiting for the motivation to come along and IF it ever does, you’ll find your technical skills have atrophied and you’ve lost sight of your vision. Keep working on stuff always, even if it’s just to keep your skills up or to try new things.”

Website: Perkins+Will

LinkedIn: Simon Chavez

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