Immersive architectural experiences were considered out of reach for many studios until quite recently. But the tides have turned, and even clients are starting to demand VR experiences. So, how are studios incorporating VR into their practices today, and what’s in store for tomorrow?
Experiencing is believing. It’s no longer enough to just “see” an architectural rendering – instead, it’s about understanding a space before it exists. This is made possible by phenomenal new virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) tools now at the fingertips of architects and visualization artists.
We recently gathered a panel of experts to weigh in on new and emerging trends in VR for design visualization. What follows is a summary of key findings from this lively debate.
Our industry trailblazers included:
- Anthony Cortez – Senior Designer, Arup Engineering Consultants
- Scott DeWoody– Firm-Wide Creative Media Manager, Gensler and Associates
- Gaspard Giroud – Partner & Creative Director, GAROU
- Jeff Mottle – Founder, CGarchitect
Joel Pennington – Principal Designer, Autodesk
VR facilitates better communication between architects, designers, and clients
VR has changed the game by fostering an informed dialogue between architects and project stakeholders. Until recently, architects relied primarily on abstractions and still renderings to express their creative vision. While far more effective than design files for client communications, they’re still a way off from “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” imagery.
What VR does so well is to get everyone onto the same page quickly, with a common frame of reference, at any stage of a project – from initial proposals, to design and client reviews, and architectural marketing.
The approach to how and when to implement VR in a design workflow varies widely among architecture firms. As Anthony Cortez of Arup said, “We started using VR and AR to help clients visualize what their projects would look like, and how they would perform, years before they’d get built.”
However, Scott DeWoody of Gensler had a different take: “Once designers get in VR they notice things they didn’t see in their design software, or get inspired to try something different, so VR isn’t just for design visualization. Maybe it’s for the design process, too.” Meanwhile, Gaspard Giroud of GAROU chimed in that they “are using VR mostly for sales or marketing for clients after the product is already finished.”
Why are VR and AR so effective for client interactions? As DeWoody explained, “A lot of clients have a hard time visualizing with a rendering, but everyone knows what they’re looking at when they put a headset on.” These immersive architectural VR experiences go a long way to remove pre-construction ambiguity.
Image courtesy of GAROU.
Collaboration is the next big thing in VR
The perception of VR as a solitary pursuit – a holdover from the entertainment world – is being challenged. Our panelists expect the ability to place multiple team members in the same virtual space to become a significant trend. With the emergence of collaborative VR, stakeholders will no longer need to be present in the same room - let alone the same country. By breaking down borders, VR can evolve into a platform for collective understanding and global design perspectives.
The borders between imagination and hardware also are blurring. Mixed environments that blend VR and AR are commingling with 3D desktop software, so it’s not uncommon to find designers in headsets working alongside colleagues on laptops and tablets.
The critical common thread between the platforms is the underlying design data. Cortez envisaged a collaborative real-time workflow where, for example, “You could edit your 3D model, and have those edits dynamically linked back to update your original Revit files.”
VR is a new medium for the craft of storytelling
Design visualization artists are taking a page from the entertainment industry for storytelling, and customizing it for the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) market. The same principles are at work on the technology side. Autodesk’s Joel Pennington offered: “The challenge I was given was ‘can you take what we’re developing in the entertainment space, and make it applicable to AEC folks?’” The answer is a definitive “yes.”
VR is already creating captivating, memorable experiences that resonate with clients. About his work, Giroud weighed in: “Right now, clients just get so excited about the VR technology. We’re obsessed with the quality of glossy print materials, so we’re aiming to replicate that experience in VR, and have been collaborating with writers to make the experience even more exciting.” In the end, it’s your audience’s experience that’s most important.
Image courtesy of GAROU.
VR hardware is rapidly evolving
The pace of technology innovation in the world of VR is on hyperdrive. With no signs of a slowdown anytime soon, the consensus among our experts was that now is the optimal time to step up your game and get in the VR sandbox.
It’s natural to feel slightly overwhelmed by how swiftly VR hardware technology is evolving. “Disruption is the new stability, and things are going to keep accelerating,” Giroud mused. “There’s just so much technology out there,” agreed Jeff Mottle of CGarchitect.
On the bright side, Pennington said, “There is a device for every budget, and many of them share the same programming requirements.” Evaluate your target audience and requirements, and then make a selection from the continuum that ranges from Google Cardboard on the lower end, to higher-end headsets like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. “Just pick a headset and get started! The only mistake would be not choosing anything at all,” Pennington concluded.
The time is now to leap into VR
Wherever your role resides in the design process, VR will become an indispensable medium. The hardest part is getting started. But, by planting a stake in the ground and experimenting, you can begin to successfully integrate VR into your own design visualization practice. Believe in the process, and the experience will follow.