If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is the area beyond the camera worth?
Virtual reality is the revolutionary way in which we can experience spaces of fantasy, concept, and design in an immersive environment. As architects and designers, our primary service is to provide our clients with an accurate representation of their vision, while eliminating any possible oversights. In years prior, this was accomplished in multiple ways:
• Plans: 2D representations of a space used to determine area, clearance, and spatial relations.
• Sketches: Quick drawings used to show scale in a 3D perspective.
• Models: Scaled-down physical representation of a space, primarily used to show scale and compare volumes.
• Renderings: Full-color perspectives of a space. It’s as if you stood in the space and took a picture.
So what is the problem with the old methods? While they work well for their intended purposes, they don’t bring a project to life.
This is where virtual reality becomes an incredibly useful tool. It has the power to combine multiple visual representations into one, allowing a client to see spatial characteristics (similar to a plan), see scale (similar to a sketch), compare volumes and masses (similar to a model), and view all of this in realistic colors and textures (similar to a rendering).
By combining these visual elements, a client can become immersed in a project scene before it is built. Immersion is achieved when the mind becomes so involved with the virtual scene that it forgets the scene isn’t real. The level of immersion we are able to achieve with advanced rendering technologies and virtual reality creates a powerful experience. Viewers have reported vertigo when standing on the edge of a roof, have become awestruck looking upon a grand space, and have been surprised as they turn around and realize a virtual human exists inches from them.
Essentially, you will feel as if you are there. You will experience the space. The virtual environment can fool our senses to the point of creating emotion; an instinctive state of mind derived from one’s environment. Before virtual reality, this was not possible. No picture or model could ever have an impact as great as this. This experience will bring innumerable advantages to clients; clients will no longer need to travel to experience an existing space, they won’t have to take blind leaps of faith to understand how a space will look upon completion, they won’t be bound by finite visual representations, and they will be able to interact with their projects.
From explanation to exploration.
No longer will the client/designer interaction consist of showing a picture, explaining where it is taken, explaining what it is looking at or focusing on, and hoping that will be a sufficient representation of an important space. Now, a designer can explore the space with the client. “Look at page 3” now becomes “Look behind you.”
The value of being able to experience an intended space is immeasurable. Virtual reality is the only visual representation that allows such a deep look into a conceptual space. Explaining a scene becomes a nuisance of the past—the scene now explains itself. This frees the mind completely, so that it may focus more on the intent, and less on the picture.
Where Are We Headed?
Virtual reality is an exciting and volatile technology in its nature. Developers, researchers, and architecture firms such as ours are constantly pushing to achieve a more immersive and realistic display of our work. As of today, we are displaying single-location, 360° images in which clients can “stand still” to look around a space—whether it already exists or is merely an idea. But in short time, that will change.
Soon, virtual reality will transform into walk-through animations, into videos, into completely controllable, walk-around environments. We will be creating a video game of your design, in which you are the player.
With the adoption of virtual reality, we can explore endless opportunities in a digital environment:
• Architects can review building designs with their clients, allowing them to explore all the spaces, finishes, and features before construction.
• Civil engineers can stand next to a road they wish to design. They can see the impact of on-ramps, overpasses, grade changes, etc., all while standing on top of the same spot in real life.
• Bridges can be judged for their scale and height clearances.
• Realtors can tour buildings with prospective clients without ever having to step foot out of an office.
• Mechanical engineers can review a ductwork or piping design to ensure all clearances and head heights are achieved.
• Landscape architects could present “before and after” streetscape designs to the local community before a single tree is removed or planted.
• The common homeowner can test their ideas of kitchen renovations or a gazebo in the backyard.
Useful for nearly anyone, at any level, in any business, virtual reality represents a radical way to see your work come to life. As time continues, it will become even more prevalent. If you don’t find virtual reality, it will undoubtedly find you. Take a step out of reality and into one of your own making.