by Oz Majid
'81% think virtual reality will change how developments are planned, marketed and leased in the next 10 years'.
(James Morris-Manuel - Matterport)
The year 2016 made way for Virtual Reality to burst back into the visual technology industry, causing excitement to ripple across a variety of industries that were eager to explore its applications. While wearing a special head-set such as the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive and immersing yourself into a virtual world is by no means a new concept, the latest advancements and breakthroughs in VR are proving that the technology is set to have a significant impact on our every day lives. Being able to shoot zombies or ride virtual roller coasters are just the tip of this iceberg.
Industries including health, education, design, and even the military have found incredible uses for VR, resulting in millions of investment capital being pumped into start-ups and major ventures worldwide. Teachers can now take their students to the most famous historical sites in the world from the comfort of their own classroom, for what would be the coolest history lesson ever. Medical students can conduct mock surgeries using life-like 3D models, and people living with conditions like Dementia can have their most precious memories triggered through a 5-minute experience inside a VR headset. Property salesmen can even sell multi-million dollar dwellings to clients from across the world through virtual home tours.
For professionals in the world of Architecture, Design and Construction, the applications for VR are equally as exciting. The technology has paved the way for important enhancements to an Architect’s workflow that were never possible before, leading to better, faster, and more efficient design.
Below are 10 reasons for why Architects, Designers and Developers should utilise Virtual Reality in their projects.
1. Full 360-degree spatial awareness
Florida based Architect Harold Dietrich said the following in an article on Houzz:
Quite the opposite is true with VR, which is why it has revolutionised how Architects can communicate with the world. The magic in Architectural VR happens when detailed floor plans for a proposed space are turned into 3D modelled environments, which the user then ‘enters’ through a VR headset. This provides an incredibly realistic representation of a space, as well as a full 360-degree sense of spacial awareness that simulates the feeling of actually being there. Importantly, this eliminates any guesswork for those that are not accustomed to interpreting abstract 2D drawings, and allows them to understand fine details and complex arrangements within the plan by walking through a real-time model. It truly bridges the gap between imagination and reality.
2. Real-time interactivity
Beyond the ability to virtual inhabit spaces before they’re built, perhaps one of the most powerful features of Architectural VR is the user's freedom to interact and experiment with spaces in real time. With the click of a button, users can change the colours and materials of walls, floors, cabinets, and many other objects of furniture within the space. This combination of design layouts would provide the ultimate shopping experience for potential buyers.
Our commercial manager here at Wireframe, Kevin Gordon, described this as “literally walking through a live catalogue”.
Responsive lighting within VR environments also adds to their realism. 3D programmes are able to render various lighting and whether scenarios (dawn, dusk, sunshine, cloudy), which provide an understanding of light distribution as users navigate through. This also includes the appearance of shadows and sunlight glare.
3. Pre-construction troubleshooting
At Wireframe we say, “Design twice, build once”. As time and cost efficiency are vital in construction, it's only wiser to introduce technology that provides an extra level of insight that allows decision makers to identify any potential design or logistical flaws.
With VR, these errors can easily be avoided by navigating through and fully analysing the planned project. Tweaking the position of a window, the width of a door or the layout of furniture in VR gives designers the flexibility to experiment with a variety of options and critically analyse their work, all before laying a single brick.
4. Marketing & Business Development
A strong brand experience can set an organisation miles apart from its closest competitors. With VR, it has become even easier to make a more impressive and longer lasting impression, to provide a thrilling experience, and position yourself as an industry leader.
This extends to winning bids and securing clientele. Second to physically stepping into a building, VR is undoubtedly the ultimate visual selling tool. If future home owners can 'step into' and emotionally connect with their potential homes, truly visualise every detail and provide real-time feedback, the chances of securing their business and trust is far higher than with traditional floor plans and 3D renderings.
5. Communicate and Collaborate
When multiple stakeholders are involved in a project, efficient communication is required for key decisions to be made and for faster project delivery. Traditionally, as several document are sent back and forth and flights are arranged to visit construction sites, this process can take many weeks and months.
This is why VR is so powerful; a client can view a hyper-realistic mock-up of the soon-to-be space and simultaneously collaborate and make decisions with multiple team members from around the world. With this ability, it makes the process of creative collaboration easier and more enjoyable, but more importantly, far quicker and more accessible. What may have taken days can be achieved over a morning virtual conference call, and many rounds of potential reworking may be avoided.
6. Mobile & Desktop Friendly
VR isn't restricted to using a head set and a powerful PC; it's very much a multi-platform tool. The use of 360-degree Virtual Tours, for example, allow for easy mobile and desktop access. Although not fully immersive like a VR walk-through within a headset, a client can effortlessly download a 360 virtual tour on to their mobile device with the click of a link and still enjoy a virtual experience. In this case, top-end VR kits can be substituted for cheaper mobile-friendly devices such as the Google Cardboard to simulate the effects of being 'inside' the virtual environment. These also serve as attractive props for trade shows and client meetings.
7. Life changing applications
Not only does VR allow us to visualise a world that we have designed, it has the power to help us understand the world as seen through the eyes of those with visual impairments. This is usually achieved via visual simulators which, when worn, give the wearer a glimpse of how it may feel to live with a particular visual ailment. Schools, for example, often use "drunken glasses' to teach children the negative effects of high alcohol consumption. Medical researchers may use similar tools to better understand how various eye conditions affect individuals.
In the context or Architecture and Design, one such example of using VR to better the quality of lives of others is Virtual Reality Empathy Platform (VR-EP). Through the use of a VR device and an applied filter, Architects and Designers are able to view the world through the eyes of someone living with Dementia, and then use this information to design better Dementia-friendly care homes, or audit existing buildings.
The application may also be used to train care home staff or educate the public on the condition.The possibilities are endless.
8. Simulate real-world scenarios
Health and safety procedures don't always have to be boring. Although 3D programmes may be used to test security procedures or fire escape routes, having the ability to immerse 'real people' into spaces and asking them to navigate their way through various scenarios can provide highly insightful data.
For example, having someone virtually inhabit a large office block and instructing them to find the emergency exits from a very obscure starting point can provide invaluable research for designers, all in a safe and controlled manner.
As projects enter the construction phase, VR can be cleverly utilised to provide workers with a deeper insight of the site. Virtually running through complex operations or conducting site walk-throughs are just some ways that training for new construction workers can be enhanced. This becomes especially useful where language barriers may otherwise affect communication and understanding.
10. Cost Effective
While showrooms are typically used to advertise homes and buildings to prospective customers, the process of creating a VR experience can prove to be far more cost effective. With their speed of production and the significantly lower costs of implementation, VR experiences are able to achieve a far wider reach due to their portable nature and easy set up, making them a hit at trade shows and other events.
Learn more about Virtual Reality for Architecture and Design from the video below: