Virtual Reality (VR) has finally arrived! Yes it has been around for ever (since the 60’s), and attempts to commercialize it in the 90’s failed miserably, but now the technology has advanced to a point where it’s both usable and affordable. Now that we have it how is it relevant to architecture and what do we want to do with it?
Architecture at its core has always been about the design of space and Virtual Reality allows people to experience space virtually before it exists in the real world. The communication of architectural design is fundamental to the architectural process and the discipline has always utilized drawing, model making, and visualization as tools to enable this. For me the relevance of Virtual Reality to Architecture as a visualization tool seems pretty clear. As the head of visualization at BVN I see VR as a natural evolution of our visualization field. It represents a shift from a visual communication tool, that utilizes imagery and animations to “show” architectural design, to a new platform that allows the design to be “experienced”. For anyone who hasn’t yet tried VR this distinction may not be very clear and the only way to really experience virtual space is to pop on a headset for yourself.
The two key things that separate traditional visualizations from VR experiences are presence and scale. Presence is simply the idea of feeling present in a virtual space. It’s the feeling that transports you from your physical surroundings into a virtual world that can literally be anything or anywhere. Feeling presence in VR provides the basis for a positive experience and when it’s absent the experience tends to be negative. While presence is probably the key fundamental quality of VR in general, and is very important and relevant to architectural VR, scale is probably even more relevant. Whether it’s a 10 story internal atrium space or a 100 story tower being able to experience a design at scale represents a major step forward in architectural communications. Scale in VR however isn’t without its difficulties and we will look at both scale and presence in more detail in later articles.
At BVN we have being doing quite a bit with VR for architectural visualization and this blog will take a look at what we have achieved so far and what we are aiming to do moving forward. The following key findings and experiences will provide the basis for initial future posts:
- Pre-rendered and Mobile: more relevant for now?
- Apps, Viewers and Virtual Tours: control is key!
- Navigation and UX: seamless is hard!
- 360 Movies and VR for existing spaces
- Running demos: key user feedback!
- Multi-user virtual tours: VR is better together!
- On site VR: back to basics proves best!
- VR storytelling and architecture: lessons from Northside festival!
This list is not exhaustive but should give a good overview of what we have achieved and learned to date. Later we will look at what we are planning to do/try next (this changes on a rolling basis as we test) as well as having a look back at what we have done so far in real-time VR and how the VR industry as a whole might impact on architecture.
The VR industry outside of architecture is currently receiving billions of dollars in funding as it searches for its killer application. Gaming companies are on-board and are starting to release good, albeit experimental, content and movie makers are trying like crazy to figure out how to tell decent stories on this new platform. In this context architecture would appear to have the easiest entry into VR of any industry. Simply by adding scale and presence VR already adds considerable new value to architectural communications.
While this blog will look at VR and architecture primarily from a visualization perspective, there are potentially more interesting avenues for the architecture industry to utilize VR’s potential. The ability to design directly within a VR environment is not too far away and could prove quite disruptive to some existing design processes. If however we look beyond the architectural design process completely and consider the needs of the VR industry as a whole there could be some exciting opportunities for the design of virtual spaces and environments. As a profession trained exclusively in the design of spaces it would make a lot of sense for architects to get involved.
And for the record, I do not believe this will result in a reality where humans live in bunkers and google into the virtual metaverse for kicks. If you want to know why please read all future posts (hopefully I will have figured it out by then).