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Former Navy facility is set to become a 25,000-sq-ft, 3D learning lab.
Former Navy facility is set to become a 25,000-sq-ft, 3D learning lab.

If video game maker Nintendo ever released a construction-related product, it would probably look a lot like the Pacific Northwest Center for Construction Research and Education, now being built at the University of Washington, Seattle.

To be used by the school’s College of Architecture and Urban Planning, which includes its construction management program, the 25,000-sq-ft facility will bring virtual reality and the latest building imaging technology to the classroom when it is completed at the end of 2008.

Center, now being finished, will allow users to see construction in ultra-high def.
Center, now being finished, will allow users to see construction in ultra-high def.

The center will emerge from a $2.5-million renovation of a former U.S. Navy facility that was donated to the university. It is the brainchild of John Schaufelberger, a retired Army Corps of Engineers officer and former West Point instructor who now chairs the university’s CM program. Heading up the fundraising effort is Terry Deeny, a university alumnus, retired Seattle-based utility contractor and former national president of the Associated General Contractors. “We needed a research facility because we had lost several good professors for lack of research space,” he says.

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  • One highlight of the new facility is its virtual-reality lab, featuring an ultra-high-definition rear-projector screen that can display images more clearly than an HD television set. The system, manufactured primarily for military simulations, will be the largest publicly available screen in the U.S., says Eddy Rojas, center executive director and an associate CM professor. “It is so clear you can see the head of a nail on a two-by-four, with no pixilation,” he says. The lab brings elements of construction inside and allows students to experience a project, such as the impact of weather or safety gear, in time-lapse images instead of from textbooks. Walkthroughs, collaborative design and safety simulations will all be possible, Rojas notes.

    With use of special goggles and accompanying software, students will be able to simulate projects in 3D. “It will teach students safety, sequencing and scheduling,” says Rojas. Like in a video game, they will be able to move images on a screen using special gloves. “We will be able to do research on ergonomics, productivity and safety,” Rojas adds.

    University faculty will be able to travel to world-class construction sites and, using the Internet, display them to students at the center in 3D. The facility also will also have a complete materials and methods lab to test materials and build construction components. “Students must learn respect for construction trades and see how hard it is to work in the field,” says Rojas. “They can’t learn that from a book.”

    Terry Deeny
    UW “needed [this] because it had lost professors for lack of research space.”.

    — Terry Deeny,
    Retired local contractor and
    Former AGC National President
    A media production center, where seminars and programs can be created and distributed to CM programs, will also be built in. It will include collaborative-design labs for students to work in teams in a studio setting and to hold video conferences. And if university participants ever want to share their new high-tech resource, it will also be available to industry for marketing presentations and research.