Virtual Reality: Background

When we were working in Dubai, we developed programs and projects using technology to document extant historic sites throughout the United Arab Emirates for our students at Zayed University in Dubai.


Zayed University is a federal university in the United Arab Emirates opened in 1997 for women citizens.  It has campuses in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi and is accredited through the Middle States accreditation body for colleges and universities in the United States.  It also has accreditation equivalency for its art and design programs through the American-based North American Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).

What we were doing is using the tools that modern designers have to use – CAD (Computer-Aided Design) software mainly, but also simple GIS software like Google Earth – and then using them to map and document local history.

When we relocated from Dubai to Calgary in 2012, we took some of the same ideas to a project in collaboration with Professor Thomas Tucker of the School of Visual Arts at Virginia Tech university, architect Dina El-Kady, and two-spirited Siksika artist Richard Duckchief, in which we used a LIDAR laser scanner to scan a tipi at the Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park and re-create a three-dimensional model of a tipi.  Then, we took that model and imported it into a standard architectural CAD software and used Richard’s family tipi design to make the model unique.

We then used some standard BIM (building information management) software used by architects to analyze the environmental performance of contemporary architecture to analyze the tipi.

What we found was a close relationship between how the tipi performed in time and space and its cover design.  There was also a direct relationship between the tipi’s environmental relationships and the ritual use of the tipi throughout the day.

This evolved into an exploration of how immersive environments might be used not only as a presentation medium, but also has a basis for analysis.  We also became interested in how other ephemeral data, like sound, moving light and shadow, star patterns, and weather (snow and rain) might be incorporated into that immersive environment to express time and the integration of culture and nature.

Ironically, we have found that 3-d virtual reality reconnects human culture and meaning to the natural world more effectively than a 2-dimensional representation – like a book, a map, or a picture.  Therefore, VR better represents the multi-dimensionality and complexity of non-industrial design. In other words, all this new technology can help us reconnect with how people lived in the past and saw and represented around them in their own creative expression.

Much of this exploration has been done through our membership in Forum 8’s World 16.  Forum 8 is a Tokyo-based software engineering company that produces VR software for a number of different industries.  They invited 16 scholars world-wide to use their traffic simulation software for research projects.

This year we are going to presents some ideas for using VR to diagnose and provide therapy for people, especially Seniors, suffering from cognitive decline diseases like Alzheimer’s.