3D visualization in architecture is a brand new branch in the architecture industry. Supported by new technologies, 3D visualization emerged as a convenient solution for many challenges. It can help you communicate your ideas to your clients much better. More importantly, it enables engineers and contractors to grasp your concept better and help you turn it into reality.
Two cornerstones of 3D visualization in architecture are virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). While they are fundamentally different things, they have some similarities, and both offer unique benefits to architects.
In this article, we are going to try to answer a tough question — which is closer to 3D visualization, AR, or VR? To be successful at it, we have to take a closer look at both these technologies and see what they bring to the table.
VR technology allows us to immerse ourselves in a 3D environment and interact with its elements. New hardware and software solutions are bringing us closer to seeing the VR applications in the real world, both immersion and interaction wise.
VR-enabled visualization takes place in an artificial environment. Every construct in a VR has to be designed and rendered so that we can see it, which is perhaps the main difference between VR and AR. Since it enables architects to streamline their workflow, VR has become widely adopted across the industry.
Unlike VR, which takes you into a pre-generated virtual world, AR combines the elements of the real and virtual. It also supports interaction in real-time. If we were addressing the same subject just a few years ago, the VR would be an absolute champion.
Thanks to the smartphone revolution and new systems such as Tangible AR, HMD AR, and Smart Device AR (SAR), AR can now be easily implemented in workflow and used on site. It has opened new doors for AR in architecture, especially in the visualization department.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the different uses of VR and AR.
We are not going to waste your time by citing the actual use cases. Instead, we will focus on use cases in general. Many architects utilize VR daily. So, what are the VR applications?
It is a vital aspect of the design process. Whether architects are designing a building from scratch or they are exploring building renovation opportunities, VR can help them make informed decisions in real-time. Thanks to the powerful 3D rendering tools, architects can do this in a time-efficient manner.
Construction communication is also a common VR use case in architecture. 3D models in an immersive environment enable engineers and contractors to assess the design and give their input on whether it can be pulled off or not.
VR-based 3D architecture visualization can also facilitate project communication. A 3D rendered model can be a central communication hub where all parties involved in a project can come for information. Since 3D models can be ported on a variety of devices, facilitating project communication is seamless.
AR has brought something brand new to the field of architectural visualization — the ability to merge virtual 3D models with the real environment. AR apps are optimized for smartphones and tablets, enabling architects to take their deliverables with them and present them in real physical environments.
The use cases vary. Here are the most common ones.
AR provides great support for interior design. Thanks to AR’s ability to project 3D models into space, interior designers can work hand in hand with architects to create powerful environments. With AR exploring new possibilities becomes easy. Not to mention that there are not any tradeoffs in terms of design quality.
AR is also commonly used in building refurbishment. Architects can now bring their ideas with them to the worksite. They can show the 3D model of a refurbished building and merge it with the one on-site.
When it comes to building refurbishment and interior design, AR empowers architects to experiment on-site with real materials. Thanks to SAR, architects can merge virtual data such as textures, walls, floors, or any other object with the real environment.
Let us remind you that SAR removes the added display interface from the picture, making the experimentation even more credible and realistic.
This goes for every element that has to be brought down, rebuilt, or built anew. Instead of working with 2D blueprints, engineers and contractors can see the 3D model in the real environment and how it interacts with the existing structure. That brings us to another use — construction management.
AR enables the architects to move on to the new project as their assistance will not be required anymore. With the entire project brought into the AR, everyone on the construction site will know what to do. There are mergeable 3D models for every stage of the construction, which streamlines construction management and reduces the margin of error.
OK, all the use cases of VR and AR are pretty compelling, and they can really tell us which one is closer to architectural 3D visualization. Yes, AR is slightly in favor due to more use cases, but is it a better visualization tool than VR overall?
What we didn’t factor in so far are humans. Technology and human perception don’t necessarily have to go hand in hand. We take information for the real world and process it in a peculiar way to build understanding. The studies confirm that our perception of reality is the most important factor when it comes to determining our sense of presence in an environment.
It appears that we can’t be transported into a new artificial world that easily, which is very important if we are going to assess what's closer to 3D architectural visualization, AR, or VR. On top of that, we have to factor in the theory of “Maximum Likelihood Estimation”. It's a popular concept that brings together psychology and computer science.
In short, our understanding of the environment is based on the information, and we combine the information we receive from all our senses to do it. If we choose to only invite the studies and theories as witnesses, AR is definitely a better option.
It combines information from the real world and 3D generated objects. AR allows us to see objects in real-time in physical space around us. Real-world provides more information to us as all our senses are engaged. With all that information, we can build a better understanding of the environment and make better decisions.
When it comes to visualization, the real question is — what provides more information, AR or VR? The answer to this question is also the answer to our ultimate question — is VR or AR closer to 3D architectural visualization?
Architecture is a complex field. An architect may be asked to design a building or complex of buildings ground up. On the other hand, architects are often brought on refurbishing and renovation projects. Each one of these tasks comes with unique challenges. These challenges can be overcome with 3D architectural visualization and the use of proper technologies.
What are we saying actually? In some scenarios, a VR is closer to 3D architectural visualization, while in other AR takes the trophy. How come?
When you are designing a building from scratch, the laws of perception of reality and interpretations of Maximum Likelihood Estimation don’t apply. There is no information in the real world to be integrated with 3D generated objects, apart from the surroundings.
The surroundings are easily integrated into your 3D render. In this scenario, VR is closer to architectural visualization as it provides all the information we need to understand the concept of a new building and how it interacts with the landscape and other buildings near it.
However, when you are working on a renovation or refurbishment project, there is already information about the real world that you can leverage to your advantage. Why would you recreate it, spend time and resources on something that already exists? This is where AR comes in.
Equipped with AR, you can visit the location anytime you want to test your designs and see how they interact with other project elements. You can also port your renders to engineers, designers, and construction crews to help them better understand your idea. In this scenario, it’s evident that AR is way closer to 3D architectural visualization.
Both AR and VR are great technologies that are going to become standard tools in every architect’s toolbox. There is no winner here when it comes to visualization. Some projects will benefit from AR, while others will favor VR. It’s up to you to make assessments in advance and use technologies according to project specifications and your needs and goals.