Reality Gap

For centuries (or forever), the medium of communication for development of the physical world – articulated in design, made real in construction or manufacture, and then used and operated – was the drawing. A set of drawings, commonly cutting through things horizontally and vertically, describe the whole of a spatial environment, but only through the vantage of a limited number of representative locations. Beyond the representative locations, the whole of a proposed environment is imaginary, held in the mind of the designer. Over the last 30 years, imaginary space became virtual space. But, drawings hold on tenaciously, still relevant. It’s worth asking why. Drawings remain still important, necessary, because of the undiminished need to affirm the suitability of information at specific locations (in imaginary or virtual proposed space), and more generally, as a sense-making device; drawings make sense out of spatial environments that otherwise often are unintelligible, for twin reasons: information overload, and information omission uncertainty.

Very recently there are two kinds of important new developments. First, the function of drawing is now instantiated in-situ within spatial data . “Focus events” provide location-specific affirmation and improved sense-making (intelligibility), for both the spatial data and the event formerly known as “drawing”. It is interesting to note that what is “drawn” is one’s attention, toward a location at which something is communicated and affirmed. A second important development is spatial hybridization. Information environments are commonly composed now of a fusion of several data types in mutual alignment: vector model, point cloud, photography and video (spherical and standard), database.

Data fusion, and in-situ sense-making focus events share a common purpose in AEC workflow. As shown in the image below, in AEC, actual reality is secondary to ideal or proposed reality. Actual reality is always in flux and subject to intent to bring it into conformance with the ideal.

(reality-gap) reduce-with-focus-events
Informed Action (yellow arrows) Drives Actual Reality Toward Proposed Reality


Figure 1 reality gap between actual and ideal 

The red and blue curves, actual and proposed reality, are farthest apart during design, which of course is no surprise given the nature of design. During construction, actual reality is altered, driven closer to proposed (designed) reality, until it is reached. There is an inflection point at completion of construction, at which point the asset is in operation. As time passes, over the course of operation, the asset degrades; it falls away from the ideal; so it requires maintenance to maintain conformance with the ideal. If maintenance is not performed, the rate of degradation increases; the asset falls into ruin.

Media fusions represent both actual and ideal reality. Within them, in-situ focus events (of various types, including drawings) make information intelligible and communicate action needed to bring, and keep, actual reality in conformance with ideal reality. Referring again to the diagram, focus events reside in the area between the curves, communicating guiding action driving the red curve toward the blue curve.

This might tend to support the idea that information and instruction should be clear and intelligible, in support of intended action. We can generalize: a focus event is any interaction with data that provides guidance, clarity, instruction, direction, affirmation, or on the other hand, raises doubt, questions, remarks, comments, or marks-up. These interactions can be human or algorithmic. Focus events mitigate the twin intelligibility burdens of any information environment: information overload, and information omission uncertainty. Perhaps we can say that focus events are interactions (human or algorithmic) with data that bring insight (by putting things in plain sight). With regard to action, focus events communicate: what to look at, what is affirmed, what to build (or do), the sequence of building (or doing), what to see and understand during operations and maintenance, and so on.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Mark Loomis says:

    I like your graph, it really simplifies the point you’re making.

    The only change I would suggest is moving the actual reality in the design process below the proposed reality. That way you are working your way up to the ideal rather than working your way down to it. The final result would look more like a bell curve graph and I think it would be a little more intuitive.

  2. Mark I like that idea. I will make another version of the graph flipping the axis for the first 2 phases so actual reality climbs up and then falls down. It works nicely the way you say.

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