Augmented and Virtual Reality Bring New Dimension to Design and Construction

Technological Leaps

While AR/VR technology has existed for quite a while, early iterations of it now seem somewhat primitive in retrospect. Clunky, slow and expensive, it wasn’t able to provide a level of detail that was useful to the design process. That has changed.

“The difference between what was available 10 years ago and what is available today is night and day,” Mrozewski says. “From affordable wireless headsets to software that has streamlined the creation of imagery, the technology available today has allowed more designers to access the benefits of VR without needing a dedicated, high-end computer.”

V Three Studios developed 360-degree renderings for its design team primarily to understand how the design interacted with the complex broadcasting infrastructure required for the Seattle-Tacoma public radio station.

“There are still individuals and organizations using traditional methods in design, which include time-consuming meetings and costly virtual staging and mockups,” Wu says. “Humans are on their devices now more than ever. Clients and customers are always looking for cheaper and more convenient methods, and technology provides that for them. Building professionals and interior designers should use AR/VR technology to accelerate the design process and increase profits.”

“Retrofit projects are a perfect application for AR/VR,” Mrozewski says. “While working on the National Blues Museum, we developed 360-degree renderings and loaded them into wireless headsets. The client was able to stand in a particular spot in the existing space and, through the headset, see the finished project from the exact same vantage point. That project was located in a historic building in downtown St. Louis, so it was a significant transformation. Using the VR headset, one could quickly see how we were incorporating existing building elements into the new design.”

Closing in on the Future

Although AR/VR may appear to be a tool only for design and engineering, the technology has the potential to make big impacts all the way down the chain.

“I would love to see contractors using AR/VR in the field more before and during construction,” Mrozewski says. “Most of the questions we receive during construction are due to items simply being overlooked on the drawings. If you look through a current set of architectural drawings, this is understandable due to the level of information we are required to convey. Every architect I’ve talked to that uses detailed 3D models and VR has agreed that if we could simply hand that model to the contractors, it would make everyone’s job easier. This is still unrealistic for most projects today, but it does seem possible in the near future.”

The technology and uses for AR/VR have come a very long way, but there do remain some barriers to entry, including cost and time.

Actual photo of the Seattle-Tacoma public radio station. The project occupies the first floor of the historic C.N. Gardner building in downtown Tacoma, Wash.

“AR/VR devices are still expensive for consumers, which slows the technology adoption,” Wu says. “Building an AR/VR ecosystem can be expensive and risky, and developing AR models is time- and capital-consuming. Those looking to use AR might have a large expense at first.”

“The obstacles to using AR/VR are being eliminated as the technology becomes more affordable and available, but some obstacles do still exist,” Mrozewski adds. “Creating a 3D model that is detailed enough to work in VR takes a lot of time. With a static rendering, for example, you only need to fully model the elements that appear in a particular view. With VR, everything from every possible angle needs to be fully developed.”

Even with a few immediate hurdles, AR/VR continues to develop and is finding greater levels of adoption.

“Many real-estate platforms are utilizing VR devices to scan houses and then put the virtual 3D house online for visitors to explore,” Wu says. “It will continue to be used in real-life applications and continue to be integrated into the business models of companies of all kinds.”

“Along with the National Blues Museum, we’ve used VR headsets to navigate the details and communicate the designs of many projects with our clients, including restaurants, breweries, universities, offices and private residences,” Mrozewski says. “One recent example is a new Seattle-Tacoma public radio station, which occupies the first floor of the historic C.N. Gardner building in downtown Tacoma. We developed 360-degree renderings for our design team, primarily to understand how our design interacted with the complex broadcasting infrastructure required. It also gave us the opportunity to virtually inhabit and get a feel for the size and scale of a space, located 2,000 miles from our office.”

As the technology becomes more sophisticated, fast and affordable, it’s safe to assume AR/VR will become even more common to the design and construction practice.

“I’m looking forward to the future of AR/VR and the emerging developments that will give us more opportunities to make it part of our everyday design process,” Mrozewski notes. “These include things like more advanced wireless technology, reduced headset size, eye tracking, foveated rendering and increased lens resolution. Providing an interactive VR experience may be more time-consuming at this point, but it gets easier with each software update.”

AR Versus VR

The terms AUGMENTED REALITY and VIRTUAL REALITY are often thrown around together, but what exactly is the difference? Basically, virtual reality is a fully immersive experience, where the user sees only a rendered digital image. Augmented reality, on the other hand, overlays digital enhancements or images over a real-life scene. VR completely replaces someone’s field of vision, while AR enhances it.

IMAGES: V Three Studios

About the Author

Allan Barry
Allan Barry writes about architecture and sustainability from Chicago.

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