Virtual Reality: Reshaping the Way We Experience Design

by Gareth Ratti
  Technology, Design

Design is changed forever when you can be transported to another environment without leaving your desk or conference room. It opens the door to endless possibilities – VR inherently expands the boundaries of creativity.

Virtual reality first touched my life as a child, marveling at the notion of an immersive technology that could figuratively transport you to another time and place. I saw it as an opportunity to explore a whole new set of boundaries – beyond my sofa, my house, and life as I knew it. Today, as an adult and a design professional, my childlike enthusiasm is reignited by the powerful potential of virtual reality to impact architectural design for the better.

The recent holiday season’s extensive advertising highlights the prevalence of virtual reality in the gaming and entertainment world, but its capacity is far greater, and I believe, more meaningful in business applications. Virtual reality in the design process has the power to transform the way we create, envision, and experience spaces, which translates to better design decisions and end results for clients.

The Benefits

VR is experiential. One of the greatest challenges in the design process is clearly conveying an idea when relying on models and drawings. Even with 3D renderings, it can be hard for someone outside the design world to fully grasp the real implications of a design solution. With the help of VR, both designer and client are able to experience the remarkable sensation of walking around a space, understanding its composition, viewing details from any angle, and reacting accordingly to shape next steps.

VR is intuitive. As a designer, the experience of creating and exploring in all dimensions has an instinctive and engaging quality. The ability to rapidly translate a vision to a virtual creation feels both natural and boundless, presenting limitless creative possibilities.

Further, VR presents unique opportunities for shared experiences. Recently, I got together with a group of colleagues to catch up. We all work in different industries – finance, medicine, government, and design – with contrasting vernacular and daily experiences. For them, architectural design is like a foreign language, so we decided to experiment with VR to explore the world of design. As a group, we put on the VR goggles and it was as if we were instantly able to relate in a new way. While I’ve always taken for granted the relative ease with which I could envision a design, I recognized that other people were challenged by trying to imagine a sketch in real context. With VR, I was able to help my colleagues experience design in an immersive manner, one that transformed their understanding of what I do. This experience also demonstrated the potential for VR to reach and engage a large target audience, offering a process that makes conceptual design relatable to the viewer.

VR enhances sensory design. As designers, we are constantly exploring the experience of space and considering different perspectives. We look at form and function, continuously challenging ourselves to create a concept that will have an emotional impact for the building user. VR provides us with the unique ability to try on new perspectives and better experience the environments we design as if we are someone else.

At a recent AIA convention, I had the opportunity to observe people interacting with VR for the first time as designers from throughout the world gathered to explore emerging trends, materials, and technologies. In person, VR is a compelling, powerful experience. You can be instantaneously transported to another world, and observing people experiencing this phenomenon for the first time was a powerful experience in itself.

I found myself contemplating how VR broadens our ability to communicate with many types of audiences, including clients. What if you could share a project as a virtual experience with a client, perhaps even changing some aspect of the design as it’s being presented? The potential impact is tremendous, and its ramifications for the design industry are broad. The virtual experience of an unbuilt project and the ability to instantly respond to client feedback changes the game in terms of delivering successful projects.

Design is changed forever when you can be transported to another environment without leaving your desk or conference room. It opens the door to endless possibilities – VR inherently expands the boundaries of creativity.

Implementation

With VR expanding creative opportunities in the design process, architecture and engineering professionals can implement this tool throughout design to clearly communicate ideas and enhance end results. Working with clients, this technology provides an immersive experience within a full model. Clients can virtually tour their project and provide targeted feedback based on the VR experience. Internally, VR elevates the design process by better demonstrating the proportions and scale of a building and by fostering collaboration during in-house charrettes. Further, VR can nurture junior designers as an instructional tool with regard to their understanding of space and envisioning design approaches that respond to client goals.

By providing clients with the ability to fully understand the design solution and explore design details, the end result can be enhanced immeasurably. Additionally, this VR-aided collaboration promotes trust between client and designer.

Models are a powerful tool in the design process, with 3D and physical models commonly used to demonstrate an idea or multiple scheme options. VR complements traditional modeling by capturing detailed project elements. By providing clients with the ability to fully understand the design solution and explore design details, the end result can be enhanced immeasurably. Additionally, this VR-aided collaboration promotes trust between client and designer. In our first experiences utilizing VR in client meetings, the benefits were immediately recognizable. Even an early model in the conceptual stages allowed the client to interact with and explore their space, leaving them eager for the next meeting and excited about the possibilities of what they may see.

As an industry, we are moving toward technology-driven design that leverages different tools to elevate the design process, making it faster and more efficient and allowing more time to invest in the design itself. Virtual reality, parametric design, scripting, and other technologies play key roles in facilitating the design process and enabling new levels of creativity. Candidly, my inner 10-year-old is pretty excited about it.


Gareth Ratti, AIA, RID, IIDA, is an architect in our Virginia Beach office and a member of our Tech Studio, a group that explores technology innovations to enhance design and operations. To talk with Gareth about virtual reality in architectural design, please call 757.455.5800 or email gratti@clarknexsen.com.


Photo by Nan Palmero via Wikimedia