How this architecture firm is using VR to engage clients with its work
Being a young architectural and design firm, we are very keen on innovations and new technologies that can help us do our job better, more efficiently and to answer our clients' needs as accurately as possible.
We started using VR extensively about a year ago when the Samsung Gear VR was released. At the time, we were starting our design process on an office refurbishment and having briefly tested the device in a nearby shop, we were immediately convinced that it was the right direction to take.
We had a sufficiently powerful smartphone in-house with a large enough screen, so we ordered our first Google Cardboard.
The first tests we did for ourselves were pretty amazing - but that is still too weak of a word to describe our clients’ reaction when they took the headset. They were impressed before when playing with a 3D model during a meeting, but that was nothing compared to when they saw the full effect of VR.
The recent release of bigger players such as the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive is really appealing and as much as they would be nice toys to play with, the investment wouldn’t be very realistic for our office right now.
Moreover, our current use of VR is limited to static 360 degree pre-rendered 3D models and the scale of our projects wouldn’t require the interactivity or walkthrough capabilities of the Rift or Vive.
How we use VR
Inside our workflow, we mainly use VR to confirm intuitions about certain design decisions regarding particular view settings, lighting or atmosphere and to make more precise choices based on a true on-site first person perspective.
I believe that VR will bring back the human dimension in architecture and design.
Although it could be seen as a painful and slow process for a neophyte, it isn’t. We made absolutely no change to our computing power - which can be considered classic leaning towards low-end - and were able to fit the process inside our workflow without disturbing it.
Regarding client communications, we use VR at all stages of the design. Be it clay renders (plain usually white renderings with no material maps) at the start, focusing on lighting and overall feeling of the space, or full renders delivered towards the end of the process focusing more on materials and giving more of a touch feeling, they are extremely helpful for clients who can't easily mentally construct a 3D representation of the space from 2D drawings.
Photo credit: Bessard Studio
Having several VR panoramas also eliminates the need to waste time and resources constructing physical models, in which once again, not everybody can project themselves.
The affordability of devices such as the Google Cardboard also allows us the ship viewers to clients with the 360 images and let them play with them as much as they want. That, in return, gives us a much better feedback and pushes the design forward more quickly than before because of the time saved in communication and useless design iterations.
On the subject of communicating spatial experience, we recently released our new website in which the first and main space is itself a three dimensional space.
The visitors can explore and interact with it (to some limited extends for now to be able to satisfy the great majority of people’s devices) and navigate between projects inside an environment that we designed.
What better way to show your work than from inside your work? Having never seen this kind of web design, we had to come up with our own UI and solutions but it is based on the Marzipano viewer.
Concerning architecture now, in a broader sense, VR will have a number of advantages in regards to the current way of working - if it becomes standard use.
It will allow architects to be more precise in their design development and help (hopefully) to reduce the amount of poor architecture with obvious functional issues.
3D modeling has the main disadvantage, if not properly mastered, to tend to show the designer and external viewers the building from a distance and usually as a satellite or a bird would see it.
I believe that VR will bring back, and that is quite paradoxical, the human dimension in architecture and design.