VR Will Revolutionize How We Design Architecture
As an architectural visualization (arch viz) artist, over the years I have seen many new technologies come along. Most recently drone technology, and 3d printing have added new ways to visualize designs. However, I believe virtual reality technology to be the biggest game changer we have seen in the industry for many years, maybe decades. I believe it will not only change how we visualize our designs, but it will change how we design altogether.
Right now, there are a couple of different reasons that computer generated renderings have become so ubiquitous in the field of architecture. One is that clients aren’t typically adept at reading or understanding 2d plans. Thus, there becomes a need to visualize projects as something that they can relate to better, namely a photo-realistic rendering. For many years now, this method has been the go to for designers communicating their ideas to clients and potential clients. There is another way that renderings are used as well, though. An often-overlooked benefit of having 3d graphics is that designers can use them to iteratively develop their designs. Computers make it relatively easy to push, pull, adjust, tweak and improve designs until they are “just right.” Of course, the client can see endless iterations as well, so the design process becomes much more of an interactive process between the architect, the client, and the computer.
HOW DOES VR FIT INTO ALL OF THIS?
Virtual Reality (VR) will take all of this to the next level. I have no doubt about it. Anyone who puts on a premium head-mounted display (HMD) and explores a not-yet-existing building will certainly agree. It’s akin to the difference between looking at a picture of the Eiffel Tower vs. walking underneath of it and climbing its stairs. You can look at pictures of it all day, but you won’t grasp its magnitude until you simply go there…or experience it in VR! If you are using a HMD that can track your head location and rotation (I use HTC Vive), it is seriously that good. When you add in the ability to track your hand’s location and rotation, and the ability to pick things up and interact with them, the possibilities become ever more interesting.
HOW I’M CURRENTLY USING VR IN THE DESIGN PROCESS
There are two main ways I have used VR in the industry. I will list them below with some of their key features:
BASIC VISUALIZATION THAT YOU CAN WALK THROUGH
This technique is used just like traditional renderings, to communicate a project to someone as effectively as possible.
The “walk through” part is important because it means the viewer will instantly understand scale, proportion, and the overall feel of a space.
Here you can see the realism that can be achieved, plus some nice interaction
USER TESTING A BUILDING
In this example, there is more interaction with the virtual space.
Entire spaces can be built, filled with virtual furniture, equipment, etc., then everything can be rearranged interactively. Materials can also be changed interactively.
This works for figuring a good flow for your furniture layout, finding just the right materials for your space, and designing in a more iterative way.
This is a simple example from youTube showing what it is like to go into a virtual space and start rearranging or changing things.
MORE WAYS IN WHICH VR CAN BE IMPLEMENTED
Imagine a time when, in order to check your designs with your team, you simply need to slip on your VR headset and from anywhere in the world you can collaborate together while walking around, looking at, and interacting with your designs. Or, if you want your client to know exactly what their building will be, invite them to jump into VR. They can comment, move furniture around, choose paint colors, all while “standing” in the room. As more tools develop, the implications will become more and more important to the arch viz field. Below you can see some of the basic tools that I believe will be important to those using VR for architecture, but really the possibilities are endless.
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WHAT ABOUT TRADITIONAL 3D RENDERINGS
Well, I think those will eventually be replaced entirely by VR technology. The reason is because of fancier GPUs and real time render technology. Game Engines, where VR projects are created, make use of both technologies. As the quality of image gets better and better, the need for static renderings will become less and less.
With real-time rendering, there is no render times. Everywhere you look at any given moment is being rendered that instant, like in a video game. That means that once you have a fully developed model in a game engine, like Unreal Engine 4, you now have the option to walk around that space, OR generate any camera shot you want INSTANTLY! That includes both static images and animations. For example, if you want 5 seconds of animation, it will generate in 5 seconds, and your done. Compare that to 10 minutes per frame to render, at 30 frames per second, which is pretty typical for an animation with 3ds Max and V-Ray (that’s 25 hours of render time). The only thing lacking right now is the quality. Static renderings are still better looking overall, but GPUs and real-time render engines are coming on fast. Here are some examples of some really nice-looking projects using real-time:
VR technology is exciting, and it will change the way we do a lot of things in the architectural industry. Perhaps the biggest change will be the designer’s and client’s ability to see, interact with, and modify their project at every step of the process. This will continue the shift away from simply having to trust your architect that everything will be great in the end, and towards design as a collaborative and iterative process. It should make for a lot less surprises when the project is finished, and hopefully a lot less mistakes as well.