Intern Research – Architectural Visualization & Unreal Engine 5.0

Nathaniel King - Architectural Intern

By Nathan King

October 13, 2022

What is Unreal Engine?

Unreal Engine (UE) is a video game development program originally developed for its titular game, Unreal in 1998. After its initial release, the company that would later become Epic Games used the foundation laid in Unreal for game development and applied it to their successor titles, adding-to, revising, & changing the original code. This would build into what is now called Unreal Engine, a freely accessible foundation for game development—but moreover, interactive world creation—that has begun making waves in the Architecture, Engineering, & Construction industries.

As UE has evolved in recent years, its progressively seen more adoption within building design in stages throughout the design process from initial conceptual studies to final production. This is where UE shines: its ability to act as a hub for multiple avenues of creation, development, and final presentation, to be best tailored to the wishes of the client, designer, or any project stakeholder.

What makes this possible?

Unreal Engine’s latest version—UE 5.0—comes with a multitude of improvements from the previous iteration, but its biggest advantage is the introduction of 2 technologies new to the visualization industry: Lumen & Nanite.

Image Source: Unreal Engine – Webinar: Unreal Engine 5 for Architecture

Unreal Model
Unreal Model
Digital Twins


Lumen is UE’s method of global illumination—their simulation of a true-to-life sun. Global illumination plays a pivotal role in the design of spaces and the accuracy of this approximation will greatly influence the feeling of a space, especially when outdoor & indoor lighting are key design considerations. Lumen provides a seemingly real representation of global lighting by allowing for the infinite bouncing of light particles, instead of the traditional range that rarely extends to double digits. Lighting’s effectiveness is largely due to its transition between surfaces and spaces, so allowing for the most interactions between each of these can only contribute to an increasingly true-to-life representation of a design.

Image Source: BuildMedia – Wellington Digital Twin

Digital Twins


Nanite is UE’s method of object visualization. Within a modelling software, objects are computed as a collection of polygons with a texture projected onto their surfaces. The more complex an artefact, the more polygons are necessary to accurately represent it. So, designers will often have to make concessions—render a small portion of a model with greater accuracy or a large piece with many inaccuracies—neither one contributing meaningfully to a scene’s realism. Where Nanite makes the difference then is by allowing for more complex objects to be represented at greater accuracy without compromising the amount of geometry that can be present in a scene.

Taken together, these two components provide greatly increased accuracy and realism, meaning more effective representations for project stakeholders and help create a more conducive environment for designers to create in.

Image Source: Unreal Engine – Personalizing property with Zaha Hadid Architects’ real-time configurator

Unreal Engine
Unreal Engine

Why use Unreal Engine?

As a more open-source gaming development software, UE has an advantage over other common methods of design representation in that it is not restricted to a single method of production. Whereas traditional ‘rendering software’ like Lumion, Enscape, or Vray is often used for the creation of still images or short video sequences, UE can generate these products and more with similar or increased representational accuracy.

Further, UE provides the groundwork for other methods of creation as well. One could produce their own virtual design software for the real-time visualization of spaces or integrate their design with real-world data to generate accurate simulations of future design introductions. Different finishes of interiors could be communicated to clients in real-time, or they could even be allowed to walk through spaces at-will, leading to more-informed, integrated design conversations.


All of these factors frame Unreal Engine as an increasingly powerful, limitless method of creation for those in the world of design, and its integration into the design workflow at Design Collaborative would lead to more opportunities in conceptualization, schematic realization, and presentation.

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