Visualizing a future building has always been a challenge, especially if it’s not your area of expertise. If you’ve ever been part of a new building or renovation project, you’re probably familiar with the stacks of drawings, material samples, and the occasional rendering that architects and designers push your way throughout the process. Often, these documents are great for describing the technical aspects of a project, but aren’t great for showing you equally important aspects—like what it’s going to feel like to actually stand and work in a space.
The last two years have been a really exciting time full of advancements in how we talk about architecture and design. The most notable advancement has been the recent breakthrough in affordable, 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 of decades past. Nintendo Virtual Boy ring a bell?
At Perkins+Will, virtual reality has been a big game changer. It helps communicate design and answer questions about function and emotion in ways we never could before. It lets us place our designers and clients in incredibly realistic, full-scale experiences of their spaces.
I can’t emphasize enough how much of a difference this makes in how we communicate design. You can actually 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 or 700 square feet, but what does that really mean? VR lets you step into that space and instantly understand it.
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 your lobby? VR answers these questions in minutes without having to decipher plans and models.
The pace of advancement in this field is staggering, and the excitement continues to grow. The fundamental technology VR experiences are built on is opening the door to a new generation of tools for real-time visualization.
What we are seeing now is a convergence of the gaming world and architectural visualization. Gaming tech has always been about speed and interactivity, and design visualization has always been about precision and quality. The convergence of these two fields means it’s now possible to create rich, quality models with which you can interact. You can move through these models on your desktop or smartphone, not just in a VR headset.
Live tags and interactive controls allow a user to swap out different design options, get more information, or experience a guided tour. Instead of traditional animations and renderings where you are locked into a static view or pre-set camera path, you can now explore the model on your own terms. You can check out what the vantage point will be from your desk in a new office, or see the lobby as your receptionist would.
Even futuristic technologies like augmented reality, where holograms are superimposed into the real world, are now possible through tools like Microsoft’s HoloLens. 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.
It’s a really exciting time to be in the design world. Every new advance in how we communicate and visualize design allows us to see our work from new perspectives and be better designers. We can’t wait to see what the future holds as we explore and create this new generation of tools.
Daniel Creekmore is Media Lab Manager and Associate with Perkins+Will in Dallas.