Architects use a myriad of ways to convey their ideas to clients and builders. Plan views, elevations, and material boards are some of the more traditional methods. However, clients who don’t work in the field may have difficulty visualizing a space with only these tools. 3D renderings and fly-throughs generated by programs like 3DS Max, Revit, and Sketchup have helped architects portray ideas more effectively, however creating these views can be time-consuming and require a lot of processing power. Virtual Reality (VR) is revolutionizing the field by providing a platform for experiencing a space in 3D where form and function can be analyzed and finishes can be easily interchanged.
What is Virtual Reality?
VR, as it is called, is an interactive computer-generated experience taking place within a simulated environment. It incorporates mainly visual feedback, but may also allow haptic, auditory and other types of sensory feedback.
VR architecture programs use data from a 3D model to provide a structure on which thousands of textures and materials can be applied. High resolution people, objects, and landscape options make scenes even more realistic. Using a VR headset, clients can virtually walk through a space to better understand it. Rich visuals make scenes created using VR software extremely powerful. Realistic landscapes provide context for a building. Dynamic sky patterns and moving people and plants bring scenes to life.
How is a rendering in VR different from a rendering designed in 3D StudioMax? VR renderings may be interactive – when used with a headset, a user can walk through a prospective space. While traditional renderings are static, showing a single perspective view of a building or space, VR are scenes are dynamic; they can show how light changes in a space throughout the day, a user’s movement through a space, and items within the space moving as they would in real life. Multiple users can use VR at the same time. Users can move, add and edit furniture and structural elements, like walls, in real time in VR. Users can adjust lighting and program time and daylight settings. VR programs are developing tools to allow users to create and extrude elements, allowing full design capability within VR. VR is still a powerful tool when used without a headset – a user can virtually walk through a space using a keyboard and mouse. The cursor can be used to direct the view to different locations within the scene. With VR, a person’s view is not limited to selected perspectives.
In addition to being an excellent presentation tool, VR allows teams to internally review new designs at a greater level of detail. Conditions can be analyzed from all angles to identify and correct problems before construction begins. Finish materials can be viewed together and interchanged easily. Identifying problems during the design phase saves money and may prevent costly change orders.
For clients with expertise in their field, VR can help a user test out a space and provide feedback. For example, instead of providing a full Operating Room mock-up with actual equipment, a client can experience the same room and equipment in VR. Incurring less time and expense, the client can maneuver through the space to verify clearances and analyze the functionality of the room.
One of the most innovative functions that VR offers is the ability to observe how daylight will enter a building throughout the day. Although this is possible in some architecture and light design programs, it typically requires a designer to set a perspective and a specific time, and takes a significant amount of processing power and rendering time for a single view. With traditional software, in order to capture how daylight will look in a particular space throughout the day, a designer would need to run numerous perspectives at different times of day. Because VR software uses a base model that is imported from another program, it is essentially applying skins to the building materials and adding the scenery, objects and lighting. Daylight simulations can be created for entire spaces without excessive processing time. A designer can navigate through a building to observe daylight effects over the course of a day, adjusting the design as necessary.
VR in other fields
In the healthcare industry, VR is being used to teach surgical procedures. Students and practitioners are able to practice critical procedures on virtual patients in a simulated environment. VR offers a realistic method to gain experience without the high stakes of a real operation, and allows repetition of more uncommon operations that a doctor might not otherwise have the opportunity to repeat frequently.
VR has been used to train astronauts, military personnel, athletes, and has even been used in courtrooms to illustrate events in 3D for jurors.
The Future of VR
The capabilities we have today in VR represent just the tip of the iceberg. Just like computer aided drafting revolutionized the architecture field, virtual reality brings about a new era in this industry. We look forward to seeing the technology develop and bring new possibilities to the world of design.