The concept of virtual reality has been the stuff of science fiction for many years. Going back as far as books, like William Gibson’s 1984 novel, Neuromancer, or in films like “TRON” and “The Matrix”, creative minds have imagined worlds entirely generated by computers and pondered what it would mean for humans to insert themselves and walk around in those worlds.
Technology has been slowly catching up to the storytellers, and virtual reality is no longer fantasy. For many years it was primarily limited to applications, like gaming and entertainment, but more and more, immersive virtual reality and its cousin augmented reality—technology that superimposes computer-generated images on a user’s view of the real world—are finding practical applications in many professions.
“What started out as an entertainment feature or fun gaming experience is being innovated into an effective tool that companies across many industries can utilize,” says Farris Wu, CEO and co-founder of San Francisco-based DecorMatters. “We are seeing more real-life applications of AR/VR technology and realizing the efficiency and power it brings.”
For those working with the development and construction of buildings, VR and AR can provide incredible benefits, particularly in the planning and design phases.
“AR allows design to be done more efficiently and effectively,” Wu continues. “It helps you with everything from brainstorming ideas to planning a layout to visualizing the final look before you invest huge resources into development. It also helps digitize the entire design process, including seamless communication among clients, designers and contractors.”
There are practical design and construction reasons to step into the virtual world, but one of the most compelling ways AR/VR can change the game is by creating an accurate, interactive platform to show and share ideas and design vision.
“The primary use of AR/VR in our projects is as a communications tool,” says Chris Mrozewski, architectural designer with V Three Studios in St. Louis. “It helps clients gain a much better understanding of the space and allows them to make changes to the design long before construction has ever begun, saving time and avoiding costly changes down the road.”
From 3D to Immersive
The idea behind virtual and augmented reality is really just a logical extension of what designers and builders have been doing for ages. After all, what is a drawing or blueprint if not a creative rendering of what a building can be? AR/VR technology simply uses technology to leap that idea forward, adding exponential layers of detail and engaging more directly with human perception.
For architects and engineers, 3D modeling has become standard practice in building design. Using technology to bring additional depth to drawings has already become accepted. This creates a ready foundation for AR/VR.
“V Three Studios develops a 3D model of every design, regardless of whether or not a client requests it,” Mrozewski says. “The model gives us the opportunity to refine the design and ultimately deliver a more successful project. Depending on the software used, converting that 3D model into some level of VR imagery is relatively straightforward.”
As the technology becomes more effective and accessible, building professionals are finding that the in-depth views and perspective that AR/VR can deliver can be extremely helpful to the design process— and a game changer in identifying issues before they happen.
“Modifications in a building that will improve energy efficiency or decrease energy demand can all be visualized and planned through AR and VR,” Wu says. “Executing the project will be much more efficient with precise AR models and the ability to instantly make adjustments and collaborate together on the design.”
“These tools can help identify potential conflicts as early as possible in the design process. Plumbing, mechanical and structural systems often overlap in very complex ways that are difficult to fully express in a typical two-dimensional plan or even in a static 3D rendering,” Mrozewski explains. “Having these systems modeled and available in a VR environment can assist the contractors and installers in gaining a much deeper understanding of the interaction and location of these systems.”
IMAGES: V Three Studios