San Francisco: When senior executives of Nvidia Corp. insist that you see its under-construction triangular building at Santa Clara when visiting Silicon Valley, you may wonder what the fuss is all about. After all, when you do visit the unfinished, two-storeyed structure, you have to stretch your imagination to picture how the building will look when completed by year end.
All you see now are multiple skylights on an unfinished roof, windows yet to be painted, unpolished staircases and triangular ceilings in this 500,000 square feet (sq.ft) building. When you look at it wearing a virtual reality (VR) headset, it’s a different picture.
It’s this world that Hao Ko, the lead architect of this building, has to continually sell to Jensen Huang, co-founder and chief executive officer of Nvidia.
Ko and his team have been doing this by simulating the entire building using the Nvidia Iray image rendering software. Iray’s speed comes from Nvidia’s GPUs.
“We wanted to do something that no one had done before. Nvidia IRay helps you see what you will get,” Ko, who is also principal studio director of architecture firm Gensler that is handling this project, said on the sidelines of the GPU Technology Conference 2017 in Silicon Valley.
The tool allowed Ko and his team to put their ideas before Huang, who could take “quick decisions” based on what he saw. Iray’s speed and accuracy allowed the designers to work with various design ideas and see what the changes would appear in real time. For instance, when the architects were conceptualising a lobby, they would have missed the fact that a column would intervene in their plan “had we not seen it in VR”, Ko said, adding, “VR is the biggest game changer for us. Now most of our projects implement VR. We have 320 architects. Moving forward, the ability to create in VR is the most exciting part. In the near future, we will put goggles on, and we may be able to create buildings in VR.”
Iray’s speed enabled Ko and his team to input the building plans and data about its specific windows, carpets, partitions and other material to create a photographic-quality image of their creation, which can be tweaked and worked on in real time.
For instance, Iray helped the architects generate accurate lighting analysis data. Phil Miller, Nvidia’s director of product management, said the firm now knows how the skylights, spanning the 500,000 sq. ft over two floors, will capture and disperse light.
Nvidia’s material definition language (MDL) also allowed the designers to craft digital materials that accurately depict the physical materials they are specifying. MDL materials incorporate real-world measurement data and easily assemble, blend and mix layers for rapid customization.
The architects could also work from a remote location and increase the Iray’s performance by tapping a remote cluster of 15 Nvidia Quadro Visual Computing Appliances (VCAs). What would have taken days to calculate took the architects “just minutes to produce”, according to Miller.
Huang, said Ko, considered many designs for the building since he wants it to “become the soul of his company” at a time Nvidia is readying to celebrate 25 years of its existence next year. He settled on the triangle, as it’s about convergence, and bringing people together. The building is set up for a lot of flexibility. “This building is a living one—we will continue to use AI in it,” Hao said.