Virtual Reality in the Architectural Field

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Virtual Reality (VR) has a growing presence in the architectural field.  While VR is by no means a new idea, it has become more affordable in the last few years, allowing it to be adopted by our field.  And it is impressive;  I know when I first started studying architecture in college, I did not imagine that I could one day be in a virtual model of a project I designed.  Now, as I am preparing for graduate school, I’m making sure my computer has VR capability so that I can take advantage of this technology.

Visual representation of a project has always been integral to design.  Often times, clients may have difficulty interpreting a 2D floor plan into a 3D space in their minds, so we provide sketches, drawings, and computer perspective renderings to help, but VR takes it another step further.  A 3D rendering, photorealistic or not, only shows one pinpointed perspective of a space.  With VR, we are able to immerse ourselves into the space and experience the scale with accurate depth perception of our surroundings.  It can do this in both a schematic and photorealistic way, depending on time constraints and need.

How is our industry utilizing it thus far, beyond communicating space with clients?  For starters, it is a great marketing tool.  Presenting previous VR productions to prospective clients can get your clients to think about seeing their own project in VR, and give you a leg up on others when competing for a project.

Last summer, Swiss visualization studio Archilogic created a digital model of Bjarke Ingel’s Serpentine Gallery Pavilion that allowed people to view the project via VR headset devices or in a web browser.  (Want to check it out?)  This virtual model turned this temporary pavilion into a permanent one.  And while nothing can beat experiencing the space in person, it allows people from all over to experience the space without having to travel to London.

The next steps within the development of this technology is the possibility for designers to create spaces directly in VR.  Right now, the architectural visualization company VRtisan uses a headset and motion controllers for real-time rendering.   They are able to walk through their 3D space and, with the motion controllers, manipulate forms and material finishes in ‘first person’.

While the concept of designing a space within VR can seem futuristic, the evolution of an architectural practice has gone through drastic changes over the years.  Not that long ago, designers were at their drafting tables, drafting every aspect by hand.  Now, we are constantly working on computers for drafting and modeling.  Maybe it isn’t that crazy of an idea to think that architecture firms will consist of designers using headsets in order to create and finalize designs in the foreseeable future.

Cover photo from VRtisan

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