• Justin Shaffer

Building Knowledge Series: Virtual Reality is Here

It was only a few decades ago that CAD (Computer Aided Drafting) dramatically changed the practice of architecture. For clients, however, working with an architect still meant reading two dimensional drawings of three dimensional spaces, resulting in limited understanding and communication.

Since then, 3D modeling and animations have helped close the visualization gap by allowing unprecedented presentations that clearly illustrate the architect’s proposed design. While this approach remains highly effective, the next level of design communication is here: virtual reality.

Recent development and inclusion of virtual reality into architecture opens the door for a complete 3D representation of the design. It removes nearly all ambiguity of design visualization and communication by virtually placing anyone inside of a project, free to explore at will and at human scale.

Current Design Representations Presently, the best way to communicate design intent with clients is to provide high-quality renderings. With a skilled modeler, high quality, photo-realistic renderings are incredibly accurate, but with some drawbacks.

High quality renderings still take hours to render and post process in order to create a photo-realistic image of the current design scheme. The design team identifies the best “views” of the project to render, which may not be comprehensive of every space. If the client decides that they want to make changes to the design based on the renderings, the images have to be processed again.

With our recent explorations in virtual reality (VR) hardware and software, the overall project design timeline can be greatly reduced if the client is able to physically experience the building in VR and provide off-the-cuff input. One program being piloted allows elements within the model to be moved during a meeting and the VR rendering is updated live while the client is watching, almost completely eliminating the back and forth revision time.

The Virtual Reality Difference What virtual reality achieves that renderings can’t is three dimensional human scale. VR allows the designer to physically walk around the model. In their hand, a virtual paint palette can apply different materials to any object in the model. Utilizing human scale, designers can create dimensional and ergonomic relationships with virtual elements and spaces using push/pull handles on different building elements. There has never been an encapsulating one to one scale method of designing before the recent development and implementation of virtual reality.

The hardware and software tools for VR are still being introduced and will only become more immersive and realistic. Virtual reality will soon shift to becoming an industry standard for both designers in their everyday workflow as well as presenting to our clients.

The globe’s largest firms are beginning to adopt this technology into their design studios. Architectural demand will continue to grow as VR advancement makes the technology more accessible. LaBella has started to explore this technology to improve the speed and quality of our design process as well as presentations to our clients (as pictured, above).

Programs are being piloted that not only produce photo realistic renderings, but also allow clients to physically walk through their building before it is ever constructed. Spaces and finish materials move from flat 2D representations to 3D experiences. Presentation renderings are produced much faster and at a more realistic quality with these programs and will only continue to push the boundaries of what we are capable of as a leading design company.


About the Author:

Justin Shaffer is an Architectural Designer with a talent for renderings and visualizations. He resides in Livonia, NY where he's into photography, woodworking, boating, and golfing. Connect with him.


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