How Virtual Reality is Changing Architecture


By now, everybody will have at least heard, or have an idea what virtual reality is. Movie fans would have heard the term when they watched Tron, or Matrix, or maybe Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Total Recall. Avid gamers would certainly remember its humble beginnings in the arcade down to its modern-day permutations like Beat Saber where you can pretend to be a Jedi Knight.

But, now, virtual reality is slowly gaining ground not only in the movie or the gaming industry but also in the AEC industry particularly in the field of Architecture.

What is Virtual Reality?

Virtual reality is defined simply as a three dimensional, simulated environment that is made by a computer wherein the person can interact and explore. Inside this virtual world, the person will be able to see, hear and manipulate objects thru a series of actions as if he is part of that world. The world in virtual reality can be very similar to the real world or can be as fantastical as you would want it.

The concept of VR is not new and had its humble beginnings in the 19th century Panoramic paintings of old where the viewer is immersed in the 360 degrees’ mural of a historical event. The term virtual reality as we know it today was conceived or some might say popularized by the founder of VPL (Visual Programming Lab) – Jason Lanier.  

Virtual reality is different from Augmented Reality, although sometimes these terms are used interchangeably because basically they involve projecting 3d images. However, they are not the same. VR involves immersing yourself in a virtual world, while AR (Augmented Reality) creates an enhanced version of reality by the use of technology to add digital information ( like pictures words) to the real world. The best example of AR is the insanely popular game of Pokémon Go where people go around the city trying to catch Pokémon’s which seem to appear in the real world thru their camera phone lenses.

To be able to access virtual reality, you would need a VR headset which comes in a variety of models made by several companies, VR controller, software and of course hardware to run it which can be your phone or a computer.

Virtual Reality and Architecture

Technology is slowly making its way in the Architecture. And its prevalent in the industry’s use in architectural drawing management system to streamline their processes. But, in addition to project management software, the industry has also begun to use 3d printing and is slowly incorporating Virtual Reality. Here are some ways that VR is slowly making waves in architecture.  

Virtual Reality and Design Presentation

Not a long time ago, architects used a model or probably a power point presentation to present their project to their clients. But sometimes, try as they may, the clients are not able to fully visualize what the finished project will look like especially if they are non-technical just by looking at the model or by looking at the presentation and blueprints no matter how well done it is.

Now, with the help of virtual reality, architects are able to present the project in 3d in a 1:1 scale to the client, allowing them to “walk thru” and see the finished project even before a single brick has been laid. This kind of VR presentation has been used by a few real estate companies in Canada to showcase their unbuilt projects to interested clients, and giving them a “tour” of the unbuilt projects.

In addition to being an impressive way to present the project, it’s also beneficial for the architects because it allows the designers to find and correct the problems before the project is constructed.

Creating Designs Using Virtual Reality

Visualization of the actual project in 3d is only one of the things that virtual reality is capable of doing. There is new technology that is currently being developed and perfected that will soon allow architects, designers, and engineers to build buildings and machines from scratch.

Making designs using VR rather than using a desktop allows the designer to use their hands to manipulate objects and create a more organic shape with higher levels of details.  Working with the design using your hands instead of a mouse allows the designer to be up close and personal with the design, and allows them more control on how the individual objects will look like.

Finding Design Flaws Before the Project is Built

Often times, there are design flaws that are not spotted until the building is already built, and fixing these mistakes can be costly. Now, with VR, with the help of BIM ( Building Information Modeling), designers can spot design flaws like beams not fitting right or electrical wirings not fitting properly, before the project even starts. These mistakes can then be solved as a safety in design issue as opposed to an issue that has to be solved by the construction team when they start building. This kind of efficiency can help save thousands of dollars not to mention valuable time.

Using VR Community Consultation to Solve Issues

They say that to see is to believe, and VR is doing just that in community consultations where VR is used to make the people “see” the proposed project before it is even built. Because, sometimes, people can be resistant to change if they don’t understand.

There was a case in Florida, where there was a large opposition to a large replacement bridge because it would impact a lot of people living in the local area.  VR was used to show people the design and in doing so made them understand that the project would not have the negative impact that they thought it would have when it was initially presented.

The AEC industry has only touched the tip of the iceberg on the ways that VR can be used to improve the way architectural designs are made and implemented. As VR technology progresses and perfected, it won’t be long before VR will become a staple in the