Visualizing an unbuilt building has always been a challenge, especially if it’s not your area of expertise. Stacks of drawings, material samples, and the occasional rendering are great for describing the technical aspects of a project, but for showing equally important aspects—like how it’ll feel to occupy the space—they fall pretty short.
The last two years have been an exciting time for advancing how we talk about architecture and design. Probably the biggest shift has been the recent breakthrough in affordable, high-quality virtual reality. You’ve probably seen people use virtual reality headsets at demos in the mall, or maybe you even own one. These modern devices have come a long way from their clunky ancestors.
At Perkins+Will, virtual reality (VR) has been a big game changer. It’s actually hard to to overemphasize the difference VR has made in how we communicate design. We can essentially stand in a proposed space, walk around, pick up objects, and move them. It’s one thing to say a space is 500 square feet, but VR shows what that really means from the user’s perspective. Does a column block your line of sight? Is that ceiling too low? Is it really worth the cost to add 1,000 square feet to a lobby? VR answers these questions in minutes, without having to decipher plans and models.
VR’s pace of advancement is staggering, and the excitement continues to grow. VR experiences are built on a fundamental technology that is now opening the door to a new generation of tools for real-time visualization. We’re now seeing a convergence between the gaming world and architectural visualization. In the past, gaming technology emphasized speed and interactivity, while design visualization focused on precision and quality. As these two fields move towards each other, it’s now possible to create precise models that are fun to interact with. And you can move through these models on your desktop or smartphone, not just in a VR headset.
Live tags and interactive controls allow users to swap out different design options, get more information, or experience a guided tour. Instead of traditional animations and renderings that locked users into a static view or pre-set camera path, people can now explore the model on their own terms. Check out the view from your desk in a new office, or see the lobby as your receptionist would.
With tools like Microsoft’s HoloLens, which superimposes holograms onto the real world, even futuristic technologies like augmented reality (AR) are now possible. We can use these tools to show clients, who are standing in an unfinished and empty shell, what the completed space will look like. Users can slip on a HoloLens and see desks or furniture holographically added into the empty space where they are standing. Even Perkins+Will has gotten into the app-development game.
Every new advance in how we communicate and visualize design allows us to see our work from new perspectives and be better designers. It’s a tremendous time to be in the design world.