Using Unreal Engine for Architecture Visualization: UE Archviz Features, Benefits, and Challenges
Imagine being able to see a detailed, hyper-realistic replica of your future home before even setting up a tour – or before the process of building it had even started. Months or years out from moving in, you would already be able to visualize the materials, layout, lighting, and more, as well as begin envisioning your daily routine within the space. Simply put, the story of your home would be fully brought to life with 3D renderings, and you would be able to offer feedback and suggest revisions along the way.
This seemingly utopian idea is already a reality throughout much of the architecture and design industry. And if you’re a professional in the architecture industry, you could offer this immersive experience to clients and stakeholders. With projects of all scopes and audiences —from the home scenario presented, to offices, government buildings, storefronts, and more — architecture visualization, also called archviz, is making it easier to anticipate and refine every detail, while also reducing costs, saving time, and managing risks. Game engines like Unreal Engine have become a surprising but effective tool for creating these sophisticated models.
Read on to learn about using Unreal Engine for architecture, including best practices for Unreal Engine architecture visualization, or jump to the section that interests you most.
Table of Contents
What Is Architecture Visualization?
Architecture visualization (archviz) is the process of creating photorealistic, three-dimensional renderings of different environments and structures, including buildings, landscapes, and interior spaces.
More specifically, Unreal Engine architecture visualizations rely on Unreal Engine, a leading game engine and immersive 3D graphics tool, to construct these displays. In the past decade, many Unreal Engine archviz use cases have emerged, with the technology helping to pave the way for innovative stadiums, transit hubs, factories and apartment buildings.
📃Related Resource: How to Use Unreal Engine 5
Unreal Engine Archviz Tools + Techniques
Here are some of the key features and functionalities in Unreal Engine that have practical and effective archviz applications:
The material editor in Unreal Engine lets you customize the surfaces of everything you illustrate, giving them properties like opacity or translucency, smoothness or roughness, retraction, a metallic quality, and more. These different options allow teams to replicate popular materials used in architecture, like glass, brick, steel, and wood.
Every building begins with its surroundings. The Unreal Engine landscape tool lets you build a grassy field, a sandy beachfront, a cobblestone street, a winding cul-de-sac, or whatever other foundational setting you need to build from. You can also customize your landscape’s size and scale.
Depict realistic lighting with Lumen, the Unreal Engine illumination tool. Far from just controlling how dark or light your rendering will be, Lumen also allows for natural and high-quality lighting situations. For example, you can accurately represent how light reflects off windows or how light diffuses off white walls. You can map shadows, create a fog effect, and more.
Unreal Engine’s path tracing feature uses real-time information to create models and scenes that are true to life. The path tracer continually and rapidly adds images of the current view to its sample library, drawing from hundreds of photos to realistically shade each pixel. The result is an illustration that looks like a high-quality photo.
Unreal Engine’s virtual geometry system, Nanite, renders pixels at scale and is highly effective for models incorporating many objects – like a skyline with multiple complex skyscrapers, a retail center with numerous unique shops, or a museum sculpture park. Nanite supports high-grained streaming to give your renderings an automatically high level of detail and also allows users to directly import photogrammetry scans.
Metahumans, which are digital realistic humans invented by Epic Games and available in Unreal Engine, allow creators to animate life-like characters in a matter of minutes. This can be helpful for architects and designers to show how humans will interact with proposed environments. For example, how will people move through a new event space, office building, or gym? The metahuman animator can predict this before a project breaks ground. Furthermore, some of the textures available thanks to the MetaHuman feature, like hair, can be useful for illustrating rugs, carpets, blankets, and other design touches.
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Real-Life Examples of Unreal Engine Architecture Visualization
Unreal Engine architecture visualization is more than just a brainstorming tool and marketing concept. While Unreal Engine archviz models inform your project before it even gets off the ground, these plans have been the jumping off point for successful, long-standing real estate, corporate, and commercial development throughout the world.
In fact, a 2022 industry survey of professionals in the construction and architecture industry, conducted by the field’s leading trade publication AEC Magazine, found that 23% of these respondents were already using Unreal Engine architecture visualization renderings.
Here are a few of the many, more specific examples of how teams have recently used Unreal Engine in architecture.
Figtree Hill Community Development
Figtree Hill is a housing development located near Sydney, Australia's Dharawal National Park. It is still in the building process, but will feature 1,700 homes, parks, bike and walking trails, local stores, and a playground. The homes will also run on renewable energy. The developer, Lendlease, used Unreal Engine to create a 3D model that accurately communicated the project’s scale to stakeholders.
Centre Block Rehabilitation
Centre Block, located in Ottawa, Canada, includes the key landmarks where Canada’s government leaders meet and work: the Senate, the House of Commons, and the Library of Parliament. Additionally, the site is home to the Memorial Chamber, which honors Canadians lost in military conflicts. As the site is one of Canada’s leading tourist destinations and most significant historic monuments, the stakes for rehabilitating and modernizing it are high. The many different buildings involved, as well as their age, also give the project added complexity. For these reasons, the architecture firm HOK Group is using Unreal Engine to track project updates in 3D and in real-time. Specifically, they have used Unreal Engine’s reality capture data feature for laser scanning, hand scanning, photogrammetry, transforming these scans into advanced digital replicas. An Unreal Engine video went behind the scenes of this project.
Xi’an International Football Centre
Architecture firm Zaha Hadid Architects developed Xi’an International Football Centre in Xi’an, China in 2021, ahead of the Asian Cup and as part of a goal to increase tourism in the region while amplifying the history and culture of Asian football. The stadium can seat more than 60,000 attendees, has 41 elevators and 52 escalators, and will become a major site for both national and international competitions, as well as training. Project team members used Unreal Engine to create an immersive, real-time model, allowing stakeholders to visualize the project from any and every vantage point. This helped ensure the fan experience from each seat. B1M, the most-subscribed YouTube channel for videos on architecture, construction, and engineering, made a video showcasing Unreal Engine’s impact.
Benefits of Unreal Engine Architecture Visualization
The surging use of Unreal Engine archviz technology speaks to its benefits. Here are just a few of the reasons teams have begun gravitating toward the tool:
- Hyper-realism and interaction. With the ability to createtextures that replicate your building materials, depict lighting sources and angles, illustrate scale, add animation, and more, Unreal Engine architecture visualization can bring projects to life in a way that’s not only compelling, but also nearly exact. Specifically, advanced features like ray tracing and photogrammetry scanning rise above traditional archviz capabilities. A game engine also gives clients more of an opportunity to feel they are literally walking through or experiencing a design, as opposed to the static nature of more long-standing archviz industry software. Unreal Engine’s realistic, engaging visuals are also a must for client and stakeholder meetings. Seeing these renderings can make clients more excited, interested, and reassured.
- Helpful for gaining client feedback and detecting errors early. In other cases, an archviz model might spark concern for a client, with the project not mirroring what they had in mind. Capturing this feedback early can help teams get ahead of problems and prevent them from arising later. In addition to gauging valuable client feedback, Unreal Engine archviz renderings can also detect potential construction and safety concerns.
- Cost-saving and eco-friendly potential. The client feedback and error detection that Unreal Engine enables is one part of its cost-saving power, as the tool helps reduce costly rework. Teams can also test how different materials will look and behave within a design, allowing them to opt for less expensive options. Just as teams using Unreal Engine architecture visualization can test materials at different price points, they can also gain a realistic understanding of how more sustainable, eco-friendly materials could work within a project. A highly effective rendering can also cut down on construction time, resulting in reduced environmental impact.
Challenges and Limitations of Unreal Engine for Architecture
As detailed in the real-life examples section of this blog, many architecture firms have used Unreal Engine archviz models for complicated, high-stakes projects, providing evidence of its large-scale effectiveness and adaptation in the industry. However, there are still a few hurdles that teams might face when beginning to work in Unreal Engine. With the right setup and resources, teams can overcome common pain points:
- Significant learning curve and transition time. Unreal Engine’s wide range of features are what make it a recommended tool for architecture and other industries, but these numerous functions can also be overwhelming and confusing. The learning curve can also be steeper for people who haven’t previously used a game engine. However, with an estimated 7 million users across the globe, the Unreal Engine community is large, growing, and home to support and resources. It’s easy to find Unreal Engine resources, including step-by-step articles, videos, webinars, and more.
- Need for high-quality graphics output, powerful hardware, and high-volume storage. The realistic and detailed renderings of Unreal Engine require a powerful device to operate uninterrupted workflows. Architects are typically prepared for this challenge, though, as the computers they work on often have high processing power and RAM. Files generated in Unreal Engine are also large, requiring storage without limits. Software like Helix Core can help manage, track, and provide a single source of truth for large files, making it a popular solution.
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Why You Need Version Control for Your Unreal Engine Archviz Foundation
Unreal Engine architecture visualization is a complex, multi-stage process that can end up involving tons of files and collaborators. When projects span many different versions, teams typically opt to use version control software, sometimes called a VCS or a source control system.
Version control tracks changes to your assets over time, providing a single source of truth and enabling all team members to be on the same page throughout the development lifecycle. This way, everyone who touches a project not only ensures that they are working from the most up-to-dateinformation, but can also see past versions and trace who made which revisions. Rather than combing through emails or searching for old Dropbox links, teams can use a centralized version control software to see all Unreal Engine archviz files in one place and to quickly understand their context and trajectory.
The Power of Perforce Helix Core and Unreal Engine for Architecture
Helix Core is version control from Perforce. Leading companies, including more than half of Fortune 500 businesses and more than 10 major car manufacturers, use Helix Core to support and advance their business. Helix Core is already the predominant version control among gaming companies, virtual production studios, and semiconductor companies, with more industries adopting the tool each day. In the architecture and development space, Helix Core is often used to manage complicated use cases like digital twin files and virtual reality environments.
Here are a few qualities and features that make Helix Core stand out as the tool to help you manage the evolutions and challenges of using Unreal Engine for architecture:
- Ideal for large, distributed teams. The creation of Unreal Engine architecture visualization models can involve architects, designers, engineers, legal professionals, and many more key collaborators. When a project goes from the ideation stage to the planning and building stage, these Unreal Engine archviz representations might also be shared with government officials, contractors, and others. With Helix Core version control, you can collaborate and share with as many team members as necessary, no matter where they are in the world.
- Capable of unlimited scalability. Just as architecture visualization brings together large teams, the process also results in having many files and large files. Helix Core meets all your versioning and storage needs, with no limit on the size or quantity of files it can hold and manage. You can version both 2D and 3D files in Helix Core, as well as video and audio assets, making Helix Core a recommended tool for multi-modal architecture displays and presentations.
- Trusted IP security. When you’re creating an Unreal Engine archviz prototype, you want it to stay secure and confidential in order to protect your unique IP. Helix Core locks down your files, letting you specify different levels of access and define who has access. Users set their own permissions, integrate with a Single Sign On (SSO) for added security, and grant outside access to specific files rather than a whole workspace – so collaborators see only what they need to.
- Integrates with Unreal Engine and other tools. Using Perforce and Unreal Engine for architecture is convenient and hassle-free, since Helix Core versions seamlessly in the background of your Unreal Engine workflow. Work in Unreal Engine with no distractions, knowing Helix Core is saving and recording your changes as you go. In addition to Unreal Engine, archviz tools like Maya and Adobe Photoshop also have Helix Core integrations. You don’t need to give up or adjust any part of your existing architecture visualization tool suite to begin versioning with Helix Core.
- Responsive, world-class support team. Need help with using Helix Core and Unreal Engine for architecture, or want demos, personalized consulting, or resources? ThePerforce support will share their knowledge and point you in the right direction. Perforce support has won awards from G2, a peer-to-peer software review platform.