The virtual reality tidal wave is approaching. And along with it comes a potential revolution in the architectural visualization industry that could turn rendering, modeling, and design itself completely on its rectilinear head. Massive tech companies like Facebook, Samsung, and Valve are throwing aircraft carriers full of money at VR, hoping they can transform not only how we digest media, but how we operate in our daily lives.
And while the jury on widespread VR acceptance is still out, there’s no denying its possible impact on the world of architecture and design.
This article will look at the current state of virtual reality technology, and how we can expect it to start changing the way we communicate with clients and builders, and the process in which we design.
Virtual reality is like actual reality, only it’s created by trillions of instantaneous computer processes then mainlined into your audio/visual senses via a funny looking and prohibitively expensive headset. VR allows you to experience a virtual world as if you were there, offering different levels of immersion and interactivity depending on what you are using it for.
Virtual reality certainly isn’t a new concept, but until only the past few years has the technology caught up with the ambition, giving users the digital experience they dreamed about after their Virtual Boys flooded dumpsters in the late 80s.
Now, VR is allowing people to step through the ephemeral barrier between real and make believe, giving way to a very new brand of video games, movies, and otherwise interactive experiences that hoist away the anchor that grounds us to the sea of reality.
For architects and building designers, the appeal of virtual reality is immediately obvious. Imagine being able to showcase an unbuilt design to clients through a semi-interactive experience that lets them freely move around and absorb what the finished design will feel like when complete. It’s a level of communication that simply can’t be achieved through words, images, or even a fancy animation projected on a screen.
In the eye of the architect, VR equals trust. And in the world of an architect, trust is what allows them to design freely without the watchful eye of one client or many skeptically leering over their shoulder. Establishing clear communication is vital to any design and construction project, and VR helps bridge that gap by literally showing the client what they are going to see - what they are going to feel - when the job is done.
One of the most prized aspect of any design firm is their process. This is the rigorous test a project must go through in order to be the best possible representation of the original idea it can possibly be. Each firm has developed this process to include critical feedback loops and client meetings that are all set up to make the end result better.
Visualization is a key component in this feedback loop, and introducing virtual reality has the ability to give designers more information about how a building will look, and how it will perform experientially. This is vital data that can’t always be properly acquired by looking at a flat image or even an animation.
VR lets the designer see the design in real time before someone spends millions of dollars to see if it will turn out alright. Trust, it seems, is something that an architect must have in themselves just as much as the client has in them. VR makes better, more confident designers, which leads to better architecture.
As any architect understands, the design is nothing if it can’t be properly communicated to the builder via a detailed set of construction drawings. However, most of the time even that isn’t enough to plug up the gaps and be sure the guy throwing nails into the framing at an astounding speed will slow down to read exactly what he’s supposed to be doing.
Virtual reality, if implemented correctly, can help bring architects and builders closer in terms of understanding what needs to be built. It’s a two way street that helps builders understand the design, and helps architects understand how something is built and how an appropriate middle ground can be found.
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Whether or not VR catches fire in the mainstream like many are betting it will, it seems to have found a permanent home among architects and designers. The possibilities are endless, as architects finally have the power to showcase their designs before a single shovel hits the dirt.