Tõnu Tunnel / courtesy Fologram
Steampunk Pavilion designed by Fologram, Igor Pantic, and SoomeenHahm Design for the 2019 Tallinn Architecture Biennale, in Estonia

3 augmented reality apps to take your digital building models on-site

March 15, 2022
ARki, Fologram and Twinbuild, and Gamma AR offer designers, contractors, and owners the ability to reference digital models accurately in the real world from fabrication and construction to operations and maintenance.

The use of augmented reality (AR) applications to layer virtual imagery over real-world conditions has soared in the building industry. Alongside the growing adoption of BIM, AR has helped keep the 3D processes of design and construction in 3D. “Buildings are designed in 3D and, for the most part, are built from 2D documentation,” says Gwyllim Jahn, a Melbourne, Australia–based app developer and trained architect. “And from the 2D step, you end up with a 3D building again. It just doesn’t make sense.”

Consumer AR apps generally work as in-situ viewers for overlaying building models. But considering the benefits of having quick access to an accurate building model via everyday mobile devices, like smartphones, tablets, and AR glasses, more AR apps are becoming communication tools to coordinate construction workflows, galvanize project support among stakeholders, and direct maintenance personnel to areas needing attention. 

Here, Smart Buildings Technology looks at three apps that, together, can work across the design, construction, and operations spectrum.

ARki, Darf Design

ARki, by London-based Darf Design, is a model viewer that can place digital models (FBX files) into the real world. Capable of rendering a range of textures, materials, and lighting effects, ARki is primed for client and public presentations. 

Target user: Designers or developers presenting to stakeholders. ARki’s ability to place high-quality 3D models in their site context can improve understanding of design intent and future project operations. “It’s not just an AR viewer,” Darf Design founder Sahar Fikouhi says. “It’s a way to create interactive stories behind your project. We’re always adding functionality in the app that lets you tell that story in the best way.”

The U.K.’s Network Rail currently uses ARki in its design process for pedestrian bridges. Previous generations of footbridges were developed in an “insular way,” says Anthony Dewar, Network Rail’s professional head of buildings and architecture. “We were keen that once we’d developed our design, we could showcase them in a democratic way.”

Pro tips: An expand function allows users to elongate modular design elements with a swipe, while an explode tool disassembles a model to show how constituent parts fit together. A recent feature allows users to add signage and wayfinding to models embedded with metadata annotation

Current limitations: Because ARki focuses on visually representing buildings in their context, its models don’t contain the extensive metadata of BIM construction models, sacrificing information for ease of use.

Hardware: iOS mobile devices

Compatibility: Autodesk Revit; other BIM platforms are possible 

Pricing: The free version limits users to saving one project at a time. For £17.99 (approximately $23) per month, or £200 (approximately $260) per year, ARki Pro allows for unlimited projects that can be viewed across devices. Custom enterprise packages are available. 

Fologram and Twinbuild, Fologram 

Fologram and Twinbuild, both by the developer Fologram, support model visualization and functionality while allowing users to import 3D wireframe construction guides (viewable with AR glasses, tables, and phones) to walk builders through a process step by step. Founder Gwyllim Jahn calls it “shop drawings for AR.” The platform has been used for intricate bricklaying projects and a complex pavilion for the 2019 Tallinn Architecture Biennale that seemed to bend wooden slats as easily as pappardelle.

Target user: Though Fologram and Twinbuild share the same basic functionality, Fologram is more a testing and prototyping tool for researchers and designers to explore new use cases for AR. Twinbuild is intended for the construction and manufacturing sectors, accurate to within 3 millimeters.

Pro tips: Fologram users can build applications within the app to interact with models in the virtual environment, sculpting and bending them with a wave of their hand, and changing the scale and massing of models. While Fologram is not an environment to build models from scratch, it can automate some quality assurance processes by matching a physical object to its virtual silhouette.

Sasa Zivkovic, co-founder of Hannah Design Office and a Cornell University architecture professor and director of the institution’s Robotic Construction Laboratory, has been using virtual templates in Twinbuild to post-process glulam beams. While fabricators have used CNC milling, 3D printed templates, and manual measurements to locate and drill holes for steel connectors, the AR-enhanced process uses less material—and enables new capabilities in mass customization. “With the Fologram AR technology,” Zivkovic says, “it would be easy to produce a custom template for each beam.”

Current limitations: Jahn and his team are experimenting with Fologram’s QA and QC abilities during construction—for example, confirming where each brick is laid or where each beam is hung—but haven’t yet found a solution that exceeds the visual acuity of the builder.

Hardware: Fologram: Microsoft HoloLens AR glasses, iOS and Android mobile devices; Twinbuild: Optimized for HoloLens 2

Compatibility: Fologram: Rhino (and Grasshopper); Twinbuild: Rhino and Revit


Fologram for HoloLens: $100–$199 per month, depending on the subscription duration.

Fologram for mobile devices: Free, with limited features. The $19.99 monthly fee enables offline access, unlimited synchronization parameters, and access to software updates.

Twinbuild: $599 per month billed per month or $450 per month billed annually. Custom enterprise packages are available.

Gamma AR, Gamma Technologies

Gamma AR, by Gamma Technologies in Luxembourg, aims to bridge a BIM model with an active construction site or occupied building. Users can virtually peel back layers of building components to match model elements—for example, ductwork, water or gas lines, structural members—to their real-life counterpart and access metadata on materials, properties, and measurements. Users can color-code component families and annotate elements with audio clips, text, and images. Gamma AR’s data-rich, systems-level visualization is also useful for building operations and maintenance, giving facilities personnel a mobile model to reference and check present and past conditions.

Target user: Designers, clients, and contractors checking construction against the model; building owners and maintenance personnel, post-occupancy. “We’re trying to get the model closer to the construction worker,” says Patrick Schaper, a BIM coordinator with the Dutch construction firm Royal BAM, which has used Gamma AR on several multifamily residential projects.

Pro tips: Because Gamma AR can “report from reality into the model,” the app is suited for post-occupancy use, such as inspection protocols and regular maintenance, says the Gamma Technologies co-founder and CEO Caner Dolas. However, fire safety protocols, properties, and O&M information must be embedded in the BIM file and associated with an object for users to verify the location, functionality, and maintenance of such systems. Users can visually isolate individual devices (like smoke detectors) in Gamma AR to make finding and managing specific objects easier.

By packaging information from designers and manufacturers within the building model, Gamma AR can give operations personnel an efficient way to share their knowledge. Despite the amount of data that the app can convey, Dolas says Gamma AR aims to “keep things simple.” For example, to anchor the digital model to the real world, users simply need to draw a line in the app at the joint of two intersecting planes, such as where a wall meets the floor.

Current limitations: Schaper says the app has a few synchronization bugs, which the developer is addressing; Dolas would like to further integrate client deadlines and project schedules.

Hardware: iOS and Android mobile devices

Compatibility: All BIM platforms, especially Autodesk BIM 360

Pricing: $46 to $86 per month, depending on the billing schedule. Custom enterprise packages are available.

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About the Author

Zach Mortice

Zach Mortice is a Chicago-based design journalist and a frequent contributor to Landscape Architecture Magazine, Bloomberg CityLab, and Architect's Newspaper, among others. His writing focuses on the interaction of design with public policy in architecture and landscape architecture. Follow him on Twitter at @zachmortice.

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