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How is VR changing the future of Architecture? We asked the experts!

Virtual Reality (VR) has increasingly been gaining media attention and the interest of the Architecture world in the last years. Technology is changing the world we live in and it is also changing how we design and draw our buildings. The change from paper to computer was an enormous leap forward and we are currently in the middle of the next revolution, from 2D to 3D, or from CAD to BIM. As computers get better and better, new options that integrate perfectly with 3D & BIM and that were only Science Fiction a few years ago are becoming a reality.

One of the most interesting fields that has been developing very fast in the last years is virtual reality. To find out exactly how VR will shape the future of Architects, we have asked several virtual reality experts the following questions:

  1. How will VR change the way architects work?
  2. Can you give an specific example of a situation where VR helped any of your clients in the design process?
  3. What are, in your experience, the main risks of having VR scenes when discussing the design with the client?
  4. What developments do you expect to see in Virtual Reality in the next five years?
  5. If you could add a single feature to the current VR world, what would that be?

In the answers, the experts cover a wide variety of topics, which shows the endless possibilities of this incredible technology. We talked, among other things, about how Virtual Reality will change the way we Architects design, about how it can switch the point of view and involvement of a client and much, much more.

Read on this very interesting round interview to find out more about VR and its future in Architecture. Ready? Let’s get started!


Rob Kendal, Managing Director of Yulio

1. How will VR change the way architects work?

Firstly, VR is the end of that common client complaint about “I’m just not seeing it”. It is the first medium to create complete understanding between designer vision and client perception, particularly because it provides a full understanding of space and scale. In these ways, VR will speed up client approvals and help minimize late-stage changes, getting architects to ROI faster. But what is less often talked about is the way VR will change how architects work and collaborate among themselves.  VR literally adds another dimension. It offers an understanding of scale that they haven’t had before. It increases their freedom to conceptualize and iterate ahead of actually having to build something.  VR can help them explore more, experiment and push thresholds without the time and costs associated with other methods. Architects are better able to simulate experiments, learn from them and hone in on the right solution faster.

 

2. Can you give a specific example of a situation where VR helped any of your clients in the design process? 

Yulio’s client, Diamond Schmitt Architects in Toronto, had a building of massive scale in Ottawa, Ontario, for the Canadian Museums of Science and Technology. They were working to consolidate a huge collection of artifacts ranging in size from hand tools to a locomotive more than 9 meters in length. They started using VR as an internal design tool to help consolidate multiple design iterations in Revit, connecting the team so that everyone had an understanding of the project. Putting the design into Yulio VR quickly revealed the tasks and revisions they needed to accomplish and gave them opportunities to figure out solutions to design problems. They found they had more time to play creatively and explore solutions because they got to the core focus of the design faster.

While the team originally brought VR in as an internal tool, the quality of the renders was good enough that they began using it with the client in presentations. DSAI saw it as an opportunity to explain the space better, to really get a much deeper client comprehension. Before VR, the client understood the concept but didn’t feel the visceral connection. They noticed a much more emotional response once the client viewed the design in VR, in contrast to an almost clinical approach when they looked at plans. So once they had that emotional connection to the space, they bought into more of DSAI’s ideas around space planning later in the project. The client’s understanding of the design grew exponentially after exposure to VR.

 

3. What are, in your experience, the main risks of having VR scenes when discussing the design with the client?

The perceived risks of client responses to design are sometimes a barrier to implementing VR for architectural firms. Some experimented in the early days with tethered VR and found that clients were unwilling to come into their offices to experience design…the novelty just didn’t outweigh the inconvenience. We’ve seen clients switch over to mobile VR to combat the need for remote meetings, and help them better work with clients who are located some distance away. Once they overcome those barriers, they may believe the realism of VR will mean clients fixate on design elements far too early in the process…that they may worry about paint colour before finalizing structural elements. But they should think about VR like any design tool. A designer wanting to communicate an idea quickly doesn’t obsess about making their pencil sketch perfect and it should be the same with VR.

All renders should be useful but only very few need to be beautiful. Confirming feasibility of a design or a scheme by doing a simple black and white proof of concept with the correct dimensions can save countless hours, dollars and chances of future issues. Clients can pop in and out of a draft design, check the validity of an idea and sign off.  We have clients who deliberately leave their VR scenes in black and white to avoid exactly these kinds of issues.

 

4. What developments do you expect to see in Virtual Reality in the next five years?

The future of VR falls into two distinct categories for me. There are those developments which will improve its immersiveness, its portrayal of reality, and those developments that will make it a more functional design tool. And that’s an important distinction – too often in the hype around VR entertainment and gaming, realism and improvements in VR are considered the same thing. But in architecture and design, improvements to client communication and the tools themselves are separate from VR technology.

First, in the tech itself, expect greater reality from a few key thing – better representation of surfaces and texture as designers sort out how to apply textures without just repeating tiles of the material. And more realistic representations of ‘life’ outside the design – like the subtle play of changing light through a window. And of course, we’re all anticipating true Mixed Reality – the opportunity to move and interact with digital elements in the real world. People outside the industry sometimes expect that from AR, but right now, in many ways, digital elements are just an overlay on the real world, without behaving as if they are truly anchored in it.

The other categories are equally exciting, however. There will be a necessary improvement in things like incorporating video and text in VR scenes so that design stories can be told in context. And there will be better tools, like markup within VR scenes to help gather client feedback. What we are most excited about, however, are new metrics for this new medium. What does the fixation of a gaze mean about how clients felt about a certain design element? How closely does their visual focus represent how people will move through a space, and what does that mean for designing sitelines and store displays? We’re at the very beginning of this technology, and while its technical developments are fascinating, so are the tools and practices that will develop around it.

 

5. If you could add a single feature to the current VR world, what would that be?

Easier content creation. While there’s been a ton of hype around VR, it hasn’t actually hit the mainstream, partly due to lack of content. So far the cost to create VR content has been prohibitive for many companies, but that’s changing. We’re now seeing 360-cameras come down in price and become more accessible. We’ll also start to see software like Yulio making it easier to convert 3D models into VR experience more widely adopted and we’ll also start to see the creation of those 3D models themselves become more accessible.


Ekke Piirisild, Director of VRtisan

1. How will VR change the way architects work?

Virtual reality enables designers to create a 1-to-1 digital prototype of their design proposals before construction, which makes communicating ideas effective and intuitive.

Designers can understand and develop complicated three-dimensional arrangements and elements, check the proportions of a space and how it feels from a human scale and perspective. Creating digital replicas of different design elements or spaces using virtual reality tools offers great opportunities for design development. Virtual reality also allows exploring different ideas with more freedom and flexibility.

Virtual Reality can also act as a powerful tool for studying and understanding existing buildings and spaces by allowing designers to explore past projects and famous works of architecture without leaving their home or office.

Furthermore, VR can be used as a practical training tool. It is beneficial for designers to understand the specifics of the construction process and how different elements are built on site. VR simulation environments allow designers to learn about construction methods which can further inform their design decisions.

 

2. Can you give an specific example of a situation where VR helped any of your clients in the design process?

Virtual Reality experiences have helped our clients better understand their projects before construction. There have been many occasions when we’ve been approached to create a visualisation experience for projects in the later stages of design development. Experiencing the immersive environments have prompted designers to further refine the design to fully celebrate their vision. Communicating ideas using VR has also given end users of the building the possibility to be more involved in the design process. Several potentially costly mistakes have been resolved before starting construction and the end clients have received confidence that the final design suits their exact requirements.

 

3. What are, in your experience, the main risks of having VR scenes when discussing the design with the client?

The main difficulty, not only using VR solutions but more detailed visualisation and 3D modelling solutions in general, is communicating the level of design development at a certain point in time. As the design develops, so does the level of detail in the 3D model or drawings. Communicating that a particular area may be more developed than others is an important aspect of using 3d visualisation solutions.

An immersive environment is not limited to a fixed viewpoint and often the entire building can be explored from a first-person perspective. This is great for detecting issues or clashes between elements which may otherwise go un-noticed but can also be distracting if the current level of 3d information showcased has not yet reached the full level of design development.

Because of this, it is important to understand the best possible uses of the technology for different situations and pair virtual reality with other presentation methods or design tools to communicate the design in the most effective way.

Provided that the scene has been setup in a way that allows users who are less familiar with Virtual Reality technology to easily and intuitively use both the virtual reality hardware and the software functions, the benefits of the technology far outweigh the potential risks.

 

4. What developments do you expect to see in Virtual Reality in the next five years?

The main developments in VR hardware will definitely include new devices that are more powerful, have higher resolution and features such as eye-tracking and haptic controllers will be commonplace. The devices will be powerful and compact. Even today the high-end headsets come with wireless connectivity add-ons, so the problems associated with being tethered to a computer will be long gone in 5 years.

I believe that generally in the Extended Reality (XR) sector the lines will be blurred between Augmented Reality, Mixed Reality and Virtual Reality, it will be more of a spectrum rather than distinct categories. It will be up to the user to decide if they want to be fully immersed or partially immersed in the digital world and the VR hardware will support switching between this functionality seamlessly. This will also lead to interesting software opportunities as parallel digital worlds can be created to fully or partially augment the real world, not only in peoples’ living rooms.

 

5. If you could add a single feature to the current VR world, what would that be?

The technology is going through an evolution, which is paired with developments in other fields – as headsets become more advanced, have better resolution and features, the processing power required to deliver these experiences also increases. A single feature in a particular area would come hand-in-hand with advancements in other fields that overall make the virtual experience more compelling and accessible. Therefore, choosing a single item to add to the VR ecosystem is a difficult task, as there is already a huge amount of development happening both in the hardware and software side.

If I had to choose something based on the work that we do – it would be great if capturing real life environments and using these as part of fully featured VR scenes was quicker and easier. Currently, capturing real world in broad terms can be done using two methods: photography (including 360 photography and photogrammetry) or laser scanning. The workflow for creating 3D environments where users can freely move around the scene is time and processing intensive, as well as very demanding of the computer resources when viewed in VR. If technologies such as light-field capture become more accessible and easier to use, the ability to create engaging content from real world environments would become a lot easier. In my opinion this would be a key benefit to facilitate fully featured virtual reality content creation.


Ryan Neil, Brand Director of SYMMETRY VR

1. How will VR change the way architects work?

There are various stages in the working process of an architect, and utilising VR has the potential to enhance every step of that process.

First of all, at the beginning of a new project, there is a period of ideation whereby various design ideas are visualised by means of sketching, digital 3D models, or 3D models made by hand. For example, during this initial process of design iteration, architects can get a better idea of the scale of a rough massing model within VR at 1:1 scale and continue to make refinements according to the context of the building site while gradually introducing simulations for various daylight scenarios.

For architects that work within a design team, explaining 3D models to colleagues in a VR space at 1:1 will help to communicate design ideas and the potential restrictions of a building site. Giving feedback while walking through a model is much easier than looking at a 3D model on a screen and trying to imagine what it would be like to be in the space when it’s built.

Presenting work to clients in VR can most significantly improve consensus. For a client with no educational background in architecture, they may find it difficult to imagine what a space will be like when built, regardless of how beautifully the model is rendered and presented on a screen, on paper, or as a physical model at scale.

Finally, during the construction phase, giving a contractor and their team the ability to see the designs and verify details in VR at 1:1 could save time and money in ensuring that everybody fully understands what is to be built and how.

We truly believe that VR has the potential to revolutionize architecture, if only for the simple fact that architects and their clients can review and potentially revise designs at 1:1. Some architects we’ve spoken to are hesitant to ditch pen and paper and building massing models by hand, and to those architects we say that VR is not going to replace your entire working process. VR is an enhancement that will allow architects to more effectively realise their ideas in 3D space.

 

2. Can you give an specific example of a situation where VR helped any of your clients in the design process?

We were recently contacted by SONY, and they informed us they had been using our VR software, SYMMETRY alpha, when planning new stores and event spaces. They told us that SYMMETRY alpha made such a big impact to their working process that they wanted to thank us and started sending us waves of new ideas for features.

SONY has a creative team in Japan, and they needed to be able to effectively communicate designs within their team and to other design teams and builders abroad. Using SYMMETRY alpha gave them the ability to not only review their designs in VR, but also to hold conferences with other members abroad, in VR, within the model they were designing.

 

3. What are, in your experience, the main risks of having VR scenes when discussing the design with the client?

For us and the architects we work with, utilising scenes in VR is a simple and effective way to lead clients around a 3D CAD model and direct their attention to important viewpoints without the need to try to nudge clients into position. For clients that have little or no experience with VR, allowing them to jump between different viewpoints may be easier than trying to lead them around via teleportation.

If there were a risk, it could be that relying too heavily on scenes might make the presentation of the model feel too regimented. Sometimes it’s nice to let the client wander through your model and enjoy the little details on their own.

 

4. What developments do you expect to see in Virtual Reality in the next five years?

As the hardware of VR headsets improve, utilising VR within the working process of an architect will become drastically more simple and enjoyable. Increased resolution will lead to more beautifully rendered models. Higher refresh rates will improve motion blur and eliminate the motion sickness that some may feel within VR. Better headset ergonomics will make it easier to wear a headset for long periods of time. More sophisticated haptic feedback will make for a more realistic VR experience.

In terms of software, being able to edit 3D CAD models in VR will gradually become more in-depth and intuitive. Instead of checking a model in VR and going back to make changes on a computer, architects will be able to make revisions to the model from directly within the VR space at 1:1 and have those changes reflected in the CAD software they are using. Furthermore, we at SYMMETRY are researching AI and the ability to add capabilities like 3D object recognition into VR software which will make the design review, edit, and share process more visceral and rewarding.

 

5. If you could add a single feature to the current VR world, what would that be?

We’d love to see AR (augmented reality) better integrated into MR (mixed reality) headsets. We talk to a lot of architects and interior architects that have great ideas about how they want to utilise AR as well as VR, whether during the design process or on a building site, but MR headsets aren’t yet capable of delivering a great AR experience along with VR.


Fernando Drumond, CEO of ArqVR

1. How will VR change the way architects work?

In my opinion, the main benefit of the application of VR for architecture is to improve the communication among different stakeholders, and particularly with clients. When clients come from another industry, it can be hard for them to fully understand a project just by looking at plants and 3D renders (they still correspond to 2D media), it’s not uncommon that they lack the same spatial comprehension that architects and other professionals from the AEC sector have. This understanding comes naturally with VR, because it presents the information the same way we naturally perceive the real world: in three dimensions.

 

2. Can you give an specific example of a situation where VR helped any of your clients in the design process?

Sure, one that we experienced at the very beginning of ArqVR: one of our first clients was a restaurant chain that was building new units and wanted to preview them in VR. Following their usual flow, the architects of the project presented their proposal using 3D renders and then went on discussing the solution with the client for about one hour, during which the client asked for quite a lot of changes. At the end of the meeting, they visualized the same space in immersive VR. At that point, the client changed his mind on all the changes: they were no longer needed, he had finally understood and was happy with the architects’ proposal.

 

3. What are, in your experience, the main risks of having VR scenes when discussing the design with the client?

Many professionals are used to the control given by 3D renders, in which they can design for very specific points of view. With the freedom of movement offered by immersive VR comes a great responsibility: the entire space must be designed with attention to details. That’s where ArqVR’s presentation platform comes handy, allowing them to guide the experience and their public’s attention, helping them to focus on the most relevant aspects of the project.

 

4. What developments do you expect to see in Virtual Reality in the next five years?

I definitely expect to see a better detection and representation of the user’s body inside the VR experience. A certain degree of representation was added by the use of controllers on devices like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, but the experience is still disjointed, even when there is some kind of avatar to represent the user, its movements barely correspond to the user’s actual movements. It will likely come with more freedom of movement, no cables please!

I also believe that we will slowly see more stimulation of the other senses, such as touch and smell. All these points will make a lot of difference in offering an 100% immersive experience.

Furthermore, VR is already becoming a media not just for visualization, but also for creation in different industries, and this won’t be different for the AEC sector. We will soon see people designing, modeling and even coding inside VR environments.

 
 

5. If you could add a single feature to the current VR world, what would that be?

Definitely full-body detection and representation, making the experience more natural to users.


Pierre-Julien Barraud, Business Development Director of EON Reality

1. How will VR change the way architects work?

Ability to visualize projects very early in the design process at scale 1. Ability to select/freeze design options early in the process.

 

2. Can you give an specific example of a situation where VR helped any of your clients in the design process?

One of our clients, Chick-fil-A, needed a way to experience their restaurants before construction started. Computer renderings and two-dimensional plans do not always reveal all the design issues that architects face. For example, it’s extremely difficult to get a perspective view of a location and see how divider heights affect traffic in a location. It’s also hard to see how lighting impacts the location as a viewer moves through the space. This can be solved using full-scale models, however these are extremely expensive and time consuming to create.

EON Reality’s partner Blue Marble 3D created a Virtual Reality version of a Chick-fil-A restaurant to improve the design process. By importing the 3D design data for the restaurant and using EON Reality’s Augmented and Virtual Reality (AVR) platform, Blue Marble 3D was able to create a perspectively rendered Virtual Reality simulation that let Chick-fil-A see the restaurant as if they were actually in the building. By using the four-walled EON Icube Mobile, viewers could look under counters, get a feel for the equipment layout in the kitchen, and examine sightlines all before a single hammer had been raised. This Virtual Reality simulation was also a fraction of the cost of a full-scale “model” and helped resolve design issues before construction started.

As a result, Blue Marble designed a virtual restaurant interior with three different layouts for Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A. The client was able to evaluate each design option as if they were standing in an actual restaurant.

The full case study can be found at https://www.eonreality.com/portfolio-items/virtual-reality-architectural/

 

3. What are, in your experience, the main risks of having VR scenes when discussing the design with the client?

You need to make sure the VR environment is as close as possible to the real one, in order to not generate false expectations. We have seen many projects where the “3D maquette” was not realistic (i.e. looked too good to be true).

 

4. What developments do you expect to see in Virtual Reality in the next five years?

We see lots of opportunities with Augmented Reality (AR) where the VR world merges with real life. Users can experience the project when they are on the real site where the project will be built.

 

5. If you could add a single feature to the current VR world, what would that be?

The current AR and VR technologies can already fulfil 99% of the “architecture/real estate” projects. The critical issue is to educate this specific sector about the use of AR and VR (architects are quite conservatives) and related benefits.

 


 

I hope you have found this round interview as interesting as I have. How do you think VR is changing the future of Architecture? Let us know in the comments below!

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