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Virtual Reality for Architecture: Experience Your Space Before You Build It
February 14, 2019
Who doesn’t want to understand their space before they commit to building it?
Virtual reality is the best advance to the field of architectural design in decades.
In the end, successful architecture is about communicating. Communicating ideas to clients, sketches to our team, and big picture visions to owners and communities. Every task we do boils down to that basic concept. The better the communicator, the better the architect.
The challenge is, not everyone can visualize a space from architectural drawings, and it can be hard to convey design ideas when you're not speaking the same language. What does that line on the plan actually mean? Imagine, instead of having to render or illustrate numerous sketches and perspectives — instead, that you just generate the actual spatial environment with a push of a button? That’s the benefit of virtual reality, and it has fundamentally changed the way we are designing and presenting to clients.
We made the switch to Revit (a building information modeling, or BIM, software) years ago, and it means that all of our projects are no longer drafted, but modeled — though you can view a plan in 2D, it is actually a plan view, basically a slice, of a 3D model. We can then, with the push of a few buttons, translate that into a rendered model we can walk through (virtually), and get a feel for the space as if we are actually there.
Virtual reality can convey simple concepts and the feeling of a space quickly and efficiently. Not only do clients love it, but we can also walk through a model as a team and identify areas we need to work on — things like alignments, weird head height issues, and areas that need additional detail. Viewing a project in virtual reality, we can flag these issues more efficiently, and discuss solutions as a team. It is, quite frankly, a revelation.
Besides the in-office value, we can also pull up the model on a laptop out at a construction site to help a contractor understand the intent of the space. In short, we can communicate at a whole other level, and it is amazing.
Working with us on a project allows you to sit down with us and have confidence in the design because you can literally (ok, virtually) see it on the screen or through the VR goggles. (About half of the people we've tried it with love the VR goggles, and the other half hate it, as it feels super real and so makes some people sick to their stomach.)
It is simple, easy, and I have been freaking out about how awesome it is since we rolled it out. It is also fun to show clients who are just expecting plans the surprise of a whole 3D environment. One of our client service goals is to always pleasantly surprise and delight our clients. This certainly qualifies.
Clients can even view the walk-through on their own, even on a phone, to mull it over, or show their friends.
For example, get out your phone and scan this QR code for an example. As you'll see, it’s a much simpler model than the models shown in the images above, but it gives you the idea of how simple and cool it is to have virtual reality at your fingertips.
Sometimes, even with the best plans, renderings, perspectives, and elevations, you just can’t convey an idea to someone in a way that really rings true to them. And that, as a team so focused on communicating well with our clients, feels like a failure to us. With virtual reality, we can cross that divide. And, that quantum leap in communication is why I think this is the best advance to the field of architecture in decades.