Immersive Environments Lab

Commodity Based Virtual Reality Solution for Architectural Visualization



The Immersive Environments Lab is a partnership between Penn State's Information Technology Services (ITS) and the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (ARCH + LARCH = SALA).

The IEL is an architectural visualization system consisting of a three frusta panorama display and a cluster of graphics workstations. The system was originally designed to be a commodity hardware replacement for higher cost-point solutions like SGI and Cave systems, but we have found students pushing the functionality of the system into a multi-modal presentation system.

The adept student will have an initial display of one screen of slide presentation, another screen of animated video, with the third screen provides a 3D interactive walk-through of their architectural design, and on queue launch the 3D to full three-screen stereo panorama for a group walk-through. These design studio sessions also mix in remote applications and high-definition video conferencing via Access Grid technology to collaborate with peer institutions and industry partners.


The first iteration of the IEL was deployed with one stereo-capable screen during Fall semester 2001. The second iteration was deployed during Spring semester 2002, and provided a two screen Windows desktop. The third iteration arrived during Fall 2003, with a three-screen stereo active panorama and experimentation with multiple Linux rendering nodes for increased interactive graphics performance. Fast forward to Fall 2006 and now we have a new building and multiple locations benefiting from all our past experience.

Other disciplines are benefiting from the facility: mechanical engineering, chemistry, bioinformatics, architectural engineering and construction. A sister lab of the IEL is the Immersive Construction (ICon) Lab, situated within the Department of Architectural Engineering.

Using virtual reality to visualize architecture allows the students to close a mental loop that they otherwise would not have been able to. One may follow the design process from conception to construction to completion.


IEL layout

Windows Workstation

Video Switching


Pasive Stereo


Sound System

Video capture and proccessing


facility access

The IEL Windows Console can be accessed by anyone with a Penn State Access Account ID through Penn State's Active Directory. Card access is required for the lab. The IEL Linux Console can be accessed after a user account is created. For card access and console accounts, please contact the Vizgroup.

projection display

To power on the projectors, you must operate the button panel to the left of the screens. There are two projectors per screen. You can power on/off all projectors by pressing the "All" button. If you will not be using stereo 3D, you can turn on every other projector, odd or even, to avoid double images.

video switch

Each projection screen of the panorama has three inputs. To select the desired display, press the corresponding video button for each screen:

  1. Windows desktop
  2. Mac desktop
  3. Linux cluster

file transfer

You may transfer file to/from the IEL console via CD-ROM/R/RW, DVD-ROM, USB device, or through Penn State's PASS Gateway to the Distributed File System (DFS). Local working copies of files may be kept in your "My Documents" or the folder "C:\Temp\".




Things to Come

Future innovations will incorporate wireless tablet computers with shared desktops and digital white-board/mark-up capabilities for professor/peer review and annotation. This facility provides a test-bed for interactive, collaborative visualization.

Directions to the IEL


208 Stuckeman Family Building

The Stuckeman Family Building is the large, copper patina building located between the Palmer Museum of Art and North Halls, next to the white water tower. The lab is located on the center of the second floor. Enter the lobby of the building, then go up the stairs to the second floor. The lab is the enclosed room in the center of the second floor.

More maps can be found at

Credits and Acknowledgements

Vijay Agarwala, Gavin Burris, Jack Gundrum, Jamie Heilman, Loukas N. Kalisperis, Ray Masters, John Messner Kasuhiko Muramoto, George Otto, Elena Slobounov, and Matt Stone

Contact Information & Help

Please send any and all comments and questions to .