7 Ways Virtual Reality is Making Life Easier for Architects

Virtual reality is redefining the architectural design process — here’s how.

Improving the efficiency of our built environments will require better, more efficient design practices. Virtual reality (VR) has already established its viability as an impactful AEC tool. By transforming 2D or 3D models into immersive, manipulable virtual environments, VR technology enables architects to interact with their designs in heretofore unimaginable ways. With VR, many of the most challenging aspects of architectural work become streamlined and simplified, allowing for better designs from both an aesthetic and technical perspective.

Inside a virtual building, architects can change the sun’s position, photograph details, and even sketch three-dimensional notes. They can view their designs with a highly realistic level of spatial depth, and perhaps even more importantly, can share that immersive experience with other stakeholders.

The future of our built environments will be defined by tools like VR — in fact, for many forward-thinking AEC professionals, this future has already arrived. Here are seven of the most notable benefits VR has to offer to the modern architect.

1. Understanding Scale

Unfortunately for architects, the human mind simply isn’t very good at visualizing large spaces in the abstract. While 2D renderings and digital models can impart a basic understanding of what a finished environment will look like, you simply can’t capture the experience of interacting with a physical space when staring at a computer screen or piece of paper. By translating their plans into highly realistic, immersive virtual environments, architects can invite project owners and other key stakeholders to experience a design on a 1:1 scale.

This is especially beneficial in the context of master planning. For example, when you have to spec out multiple buildings in a new city development project, VR allows you to gain a truly accurate sense for how a new building will fit in and interact with the surrounding structures and environment.

2. No Surprises!

Static, 2D renderings don’t just make it harder for architects to communicate their “vision” to owners during the pitching process — they usually end up making more work for the firms as well.

Drawings can only show a proposed project from a few select angles, and under a finite number of environmental conditions. This kind of limited visibility typically means more revisions and rework for architects, both upfront and later on.

With VR, the users are in complete control, meaning owners can inspect every nook and cranny of a design before signing off on the deal. Early consensus typically results in time savings and less rework during the design phase, and fewer scope changes and reduced subcontractor default down the line.

3. Data-Driven Design

While architectural design is, in many ways, a highly scientific process, there’s always been a little bit of guesswork involved. In other words, you create a design with efficiency and usability in mind, but it’s only after the project is completed that you find out whether or not you actually made good design decisions.

VR allows architects to test out their designs before construction even begins. Observing how people interact with a virtual environment generates valuable data that can be harnessed to guide decision-making during the design process. More intelligence upfront means less downstream rework, stronger designs, and ultimately, happier clients.

4. Fewer Design Flaws

As spaces have become increasingly complex, more stakeholders are involved in the design process than ever before. Unsurprisingly, this can be problematic from an efficiency standpoint — when designs are being modified by multiple parties simultaneously, it increases the likelihood of clashes and inconsistencies by a significant margin. VR facilitates holistic (and remote) visibility into the progression of a design in real-time, reducing the overall number of errors and making them easier to identify if and when they do occur.

5. Increased Awareness of Construction Feasibility

Though the construction industry has made huge strides in terms of safety, it will always contain a certain amount of both physical and financial risk. Using a VR logistics simulator, architects and contractors alike can interact with full-scale virtual equipment, record their simulated actions, and gauge the feasibility of actually erecting a structure based on the existing design. If a specific aspect of the design proves to imperil the virtual workers, it can easily and quickly be adjusted, saving money that would otherwise have to be spent on downstream rework. “Measure twice, cut once,” is one of the most well-worn adages of the construction industry, but with VR, the adage now falls within the purview of the architect as well.

6. Better Design Collaboration

All but the smallest projects usually make use of a team of architects, making communication and collaboration key to success. VR allows architects, engineers, owners, building users — anyone whose input is desired — to participate in design walk-throughs and contribute to the process, even when they’re separated by thousands of miles. Moreover, since many VR platforms incorporate real-time, dynamic data, each architect can see any changes their colleagues make right before their eyes, making for remarkably sophisticated collaboration in the design editing process.

7. Hyper-Realistic Virtual Experiences

As VR technology continues to improve — both on the hardware and software side — it’s officially made the transition from a fun “novelty” to a practical and impactful architectural tool. For example, wireless VR facilitates a more immersive, realistic experience, enabling users to disconnect from the real world and truly lose themselves in the virtual space; advancements in 3D rendering have made virtual environments appear more realistic than ever before; the ability to optimize 3D objects and reduce polygon counts has helped reduce the load on graphics cards, which in turn has made for a smoother, more realistic VR experience — i.e., better tracking and fewer glitches.

The point is, VR has blossomed into a mature and impactful AEC technology, and with predictions of widespread adoption within the next five years, it’s likely we’ll see it continue to advance at an exponential rate going forward.

Protected: Knowledge Digitization: A Game-Changer for Construction Outcomes

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