Architecture and VR: Mobile or static virtual reality?

(c)iStock/Jacob Ammentorp Lund

The previous pieces I wrote on VR were mainly focusing on its impact in the architectural and design field in regards to our everyday experience at the office.

While writing about the why and how, we went down the virtual reality road, I slightly touched on the subject of the two main categories currently present in the VR scene that I would call static and mobile VR.

As we had more opportunities to play with different apps and software on other projects, I started to see a real division between these two categories in the way they need to be approached both by designers and their clients.

What's mobile and what's static?

To define VR as static might be a bit contradictory, but I am more referring in that case to the output needed to interact with it rather than the interaction in itself.

I would then define static VR as all VR taking place inside a frozen environment given by an image. It might be a Cardboard headset, an Oculus Rift or a Vive;  the viewer is not as important here as the output.

Therefore, the client’s reception of the product/space regardless of the definition of the screen and comfortability of the viewer will still be the same on all of them.

CGI is a difficult enterprise because people have time to look all around the picture and analyse every aspect of it

Mobile then, is everything else, at least for the sake of this argument. A 360 video goes inside that category as well as any interactive experiences based on environments you can walk through, interact with or that move without any input from you.

One of the first interactions I had with mobile VR was during a design fair in which several tech and hardware companies were showing off their product with development kits of one of the goggles.

Let just say I was far from impressed.

In one of them, I was on a sort-of dolly going in circles around an apartment in the hope that I would have the chance -and time- to grasp the important elements (their products) while they passed by me (or the opposite, depending on the reference point).

The second was a showcase for a 3D visualisation software with which one can explore a project in VR controlling everything with a gamepad. After five long minutes spent flying around low-poly people’s repeating routines, the only parts of the project I managed to apprehend were ceilings and walls from the inside.

Another experience

Now from a more hands on personal experience, I recently used Kubity’s qrVR with their SketchUp plugin for a small and quite complicated project.

We did not have time to go through our usual rendering process and the really easy and fast setup of qrVR convinced us to give it a try.

While the navigation is more manageable than with a gamepad for the average user, the client was lost half of the time he had the goggles on. That being said, the possibility for the client to see and explore his future spaces seemed to overcome these difficulties.

Aside from basic renderings used during the design process in order to push the project forward, computer generated imagery (CGI) is mainly used in architecture for one purpose: selling.

On a side note, that doesn’t mean that any of what is displayed ought to be accurate in regards to the project, so much so that a really big percentage of those images are twisted, tweaked and slightly distorted in order to exploit any weaknesses or loopholes the clients' minds might have.

This selling step, as in most industries, occurs before the project is fully settled and when a lot of questions related to the design and budget are still omnipresent.

Which should it be?

So which of the two VR categories are then preferable in order to sell your product in the best way possible?

CGI is a difficult enterprise because people have time to look all around the picture and analyse every aspect of it. Framing and other techniques have then to be used in order to hide incertitudes, mistakes and inglorious or not yet decided details. How does this play out in VR?

Unless the client is only given a small amount of time to look at the material, my opinion is that, if used for selling purposes mobile VR should be used preferably.

But VR has the ability to show everything and as much as this is an advantage during the conception, this can really be too much for any architectural marketing endeavor.

I am of course talking from an architect’s point of view, and real estate or interior design may perhaps take a totally different approach.

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