If you have attended any industry event recently, you’ve likely seen demonstrations of virtual reality (VR) technology. Virtual Reality is being touted as the next big thing across multiple industries, from entertainment to medicine to construction. The frenzied interest in VR is bolstered by the technology’s rapid evolution & increased availability. Virtual reality in architecture has a lot of potential and is proving to be a problem solver for architects and designers.
Whereas VR once required expensive hardware. But they are now easily accessible to consumers starting from $600 HTC Vive headset to the $15 Google Cardboard. They use a smartphone for their display screen. Though fully interactive VR environments require some custom programming using a game-design engine like Unity, simpler, but still impressive VR experiences can be created directly from Autodesk Revit and Trimble Sketch Up models using software such as Enscape, IrisVR, or Yulio.
In addition to Virtual Reality, which typically represents fully immersive environments, technology companies are busy creating augmented – and mixed-reality applications. Augmented reality (AR) environments overlay computer-generated information, such as utility lines, on top of real-world views in a mobile or any other device, like a photograph of a city street. Mixed reality (MR), on the other hand, combines real and digital objects in a hybrid environment, such as this MR solar calculation tool developed by Los Angeles–based CO Architects.
But beyond the general marketing hype, what is the potential of Virtual Reality in architecture, and how can firms implement VR into their practices in a more meaningful way than as just another cool way to present 3D renderings?
Below are Three steps to introduce Virtual Reality in Architecture
1. Know Your Why
Jimmy Rotella, a senior associate and digital practice director in CannonDesign’s Chicago office, recommends first outlining your firm’s goals for VR. Is it going to be a design tool or a marketing tool? Will you use it for virtual mock-ups? Do you need high-quality models? How interactive do they need to be? After you identify what your intent is, you can then develop potential use cases. The required technology and level of investment will be different for each goal, Rotella says.
CO Architects discovered that VR helps to fill in unknown gaps during the design process. Exploring a concept model in a fully immersive environment allows architects and clients to understand it better. Likewise, VR lets designers test different options at full-scale early in the process. VR also has visceral appeal. “Not everyone can read drawings,” says CO principal Eyal Perchik, AIA, “but everyone can relate to VR”. In the firm’s VR mock-ups of complex lab and healthcare spaces, doctors and nurses could virtually work in a space, testing its layout and scale long before it’s constructed. Currently, all projects at CO employ VR in some capacity.
2. VR in Architecture is still in progress
Hickok Cole Architects in Washington, D.C., began exploring VR through its in-house iLab program. It provides micro-grants for employees to research new ideas & technologies. Recipients Carlyn Luu, a project architect, and Howard Mack, a design technology specialist, explored potential applications of VR tools. They tested it in design, presentation, and marketing. In design, Luu and Mack used VR to highlight unresolved issues at the forthcoming International Spy Museum, for which Hickok Cole is the architect of record. By sharing the Virtual Reality model with the client, they realized that they could not curate carefully styled views of the project as they could with conventional 3D renderings—the client could explore the model however they saw fit. Hickok Cole is currently using Virtual Reality on three projects with plans to roll it out on more projects soon.
3. Ask For Help
Rotella recommends partnering with software companies, which may fall outside a design firm’s typical network. CannonDesign worked with software company Enscape as a beta tester, getting early access to Enscape’s Revit plug-in. It provided feedback on new software features. Rotella also recommends that firms educate a wide group of people—designers, business development and marketing staff—in VR to help client-facing leaders understand the hardware and software limitations before agreeing to provide VR deliverables.
CO Architects’ interest in the technology began when a job candidate with extensive VR and gaming experience applied for a position with the firm. “Having an in-house VR expert opened our eyes to the technology’s potential,” says CO principal Jenna Knudsen, AIA.
We’ll talk about 3 more steps in our upcoming blog, so stay tuned.