The Immersive Environments Lab is a partnership between Penn State's Information Technology Services (ITS) and the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture.
The IEL is an architectural visualization system consisting of a three frusta panorama display and a cluster of graphics workstations. The system was originally designed to be a commodity hardware replacement for higher cost-point solutions like SGI and Cave systems, but we have found students pushing the functionality of the system into a multi-modal presentation system.
The adept student will have an initial display of one screen of slide presentation, another screen of animated video, with the third screen provides a 3D interactive walk-through of their architectural design, and on queue launch the 3D to full three-screen stereo panorama for a group walk-through. These design studio sessions also mix in remote applications and high-definition video conferencing via Access Grid and Tandberg technology to collaborate with peer institutions and industry partners.
The first iteration of the IEL was deployed with one stereo-capable screen during Fall semester 2001. The second iteration was deployed during Spring semester 2002, and provided a two screen Windows desktop. The third iteration arrived during Fall 2003, with a three-screen stereo active panorama and experimentation with multiple Linux rendering nodes for increased interactive graphics performance. Fast forward to Fall 2006 and now we have a new building and multiple locations benefiting from all our past experience.
Other disciplines are benefiting from the facility: mechanical engineering, chemistry, bioinformatics, architectural engineering and construction. A sister lab of the IEL is the Immersive Construction (ICon) Lab, situated within the Department of Architectural Engineering.
Using virtual reality to visualize architecture allows the students to close a mental loop that they otherwise would not have been able to. One may follow the design process from conception to construction to completion.