Virtual Reality and Architecture

November 18, 2015

Virtual reality has been in the media a lot recently-the Oculus Rift will hit the consumer market in early 2016, but developer kits have been available since 2012-as people figure out how to utilize this technology. Early adopters recognized the potential VR can inject into the architecture industry. At the moment, it's not clear what the long-term effects VR will have on the design process-in a recent Dezeen interview, 3D artist Olivier Demangel speculates that architects will soon use 3D goggles as they design. What is clear is that VR can add a lot of value to the material we deliver to our clients. Last week on BLG, architect Laurie Canup highlighted a constant struggle designers face: helping clients visually translate two-dimensional drawings into three-dimensional space. This week we will examine how VR addresses this same problem, how it might be leveraged as a fundraising tool, and discuss what adoption of this technology means for designers.

At SRG we recognize that innovation is key to what we do as architects, and seek opportunities that incorporate new tools, processes, ideas, and collaborators. An opportunity of this kind presented itself this summer while working on a predesign study for a business school.

H3D owner Greg Hamilton is very excited about the possibilities that VR brings to architecture visualization. H3D is one of the first companies in Portland to offer VR animation as a service to architects. Principal-in-charge for the project, Kent Duffy, saw the unique value Greg's panoramas and cutting-edge walkthroughs brought to the table and capitalized on the opportunity to elevate our service. Once we realized the measure of that potential, we seized the opportunity and with the help of H3D became early adopters of the technology, purchasing a developer kit for Samsung's Gear VR. The movement from static to animated imagery allows clients to become immersed in and engage with a design as never before. While a beautiful rendering can convey how a building will look, it sometimes fails to transmit the feel of a space. A mock-up allows the client to experience how their new building will support user groups. Similarly, VR provides the opportunity to interact with and closely observe a designed space. This can be a powerful tool when introducing stakeholders to a project at an early stage because it gives a comprehensive sense of the compelling nature of a project. Working with H3D allowed SRG to present design concepts to the client in a way that revealed the magnitude of the design opportunity.

The project offered the opportunity to test this experiential design tool. However, not every project necessitates VR at this time. Since VR is an emergent technology and has yet to be fully integrated into the design process it doesn't make sense for SRG to offer immersive animation to all our clients. Right now, it's about finding the right client and the right project on which to implement VR animation. Absolute industry adoption, if that is to happen, will likely be driven by two groups-young designers and clients who want to be involved in the design process. The next couple of years will be interesting to watch as designers in the academies figure out how to assimilate VR and design. Greg says that in the future-and that future is not far off!-firms should be prepared to provide young designers with VR goggles. In the interim of total adoption, the length of the design process will likely fluctuate; the speed of some things will increase while at the same time users will push the boundaries of what is possible, which takes time. As young designers explore this technology and produce engaging and immersive animations, clients will naturally be drawn to this process and want to be involved. As clients recognize the power VR has to make design lucid for all stakeholders they will begin to expect it. There are myriad questions surrounding this technology and its application in the A/E/C industry. The opportunity to experiment with VR animation while working with H3D gave SRG a concrete sense of just some of those questions. At the moment we are exploring the possibility of again testing this technology and elevating our practice and the service we bring to our clients.

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