By Steve Johnson, Vice President of Product Development at Vectorworks, Inc.
*Editor’s Note: Some of this content originally appeared in Metal Architecture Magazine’s September 2016 article, “Bringing Buildings to Life.”
With Pokémon Go’s quick rise to fame showcasing the accessibility of augmented reality (AR), it’s clear that immersive technologies such as AR and virtual reality (VR) are here to stay. AR technology superimposes a computer-generated image on a user's view of reality in real time, while VR technology generates a 3D simulation that allows users to “walk” and “explore” designs. However, these technologies are used for more than just games.
The AEC, landscape, and entertainment industries are using these technologies, especially VR currently, to revolutionize how designs are presented to clients or judges for competitions. The way I see it, there are three huge benefits to adopting VR technology.
- Attracting clients: Virtual reality software will give firms a leg up on competitors who don’t have the same technology, as clients will be intrigued and excited at the opportunities the technology presents. Providing an additional immersive experience via virtual reality on top of high-quality renderings is likely to sway clients to choose a firm that showcases their designs this way.
- The development of designs: Designers are making use of virtual reality’s immersive capabilities to better experience how all the different facets of a design come together to define that space. As a result, they’ll be able to better evaluate and make updates to perfect their designs prior to the final presentations to clients, which will leave designers confident and positioned for success.
- The presentation process: Never before have we been able to actually put our clients right in the middle of a design. They can walk from room to room, even up and down stairs in a completed structure. With this in-depth experience, not only will clients be much more likely to be pleased with the presented designs as-is, but they’ll be able to voice any objections prior to the construction to ensure the final design is exactly what they want. They’ll see how different colors, shapes, textures, etc. work together in context to voice any other concerns earlier on.
So really, no matter what niche market you serve, you can clearly see that there are big benefits to VR. In particular, more complex and bold projects will benefit from virtual reality technology because designers will be able to test that the elements of their design work together prior to presentation, as well as better emulate their desired vision in the final presentation. Additionally, if you’re ever dealing with a tough client, presenting your design to them in virtual reality could tip the scales in your favor — they’ll be able to experience how the presented design works and imagine the elements coming together in real life.
Whether or not you’ve been exposed to virtual reality, I truly believe that one day most designs will be presented to clients and judges of competitions using virtual reality, in addition to the traditional methods of sharing models. Architecture wasn’t meant to be experienced only through a flat computer screen, as it doesn’t always do a design justice.
Currently, designers looking for a better way to pitch their designs might get stumped by the expensive price tag surrounding Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, but there are other options out there worth considering. That’s why I’m so excited about our web view and virtual reality features in Vectorworks 2017. All you have to do is use the new Export Web View command to access your 3D information model on any web-based browser and then generate a shareable link to your model. Then, the model can be viewed by anyone on a computer, iPad/tablet, or any mobile device without additional hardware. On these devices, the model can be viewed in normal 3D where the viewer can click or use their finger to orbit around the design. On a mobile device, all one has to do is activate stereoscopic or 360 degree view to enable virtual reality-like functionality where every step you take in the real world is reflected in the model. With a Google Cardboard headset and a mobile device, the viewer is guaranteed the best virtual reality experience with the model. Get a taste for the new feature with this video below.
Excited about this new feature yet? We sure are here at Vectorworks. This technology will take the industry to the next level and really lowers the barrier to entry for VR technology. Firms don’t have to spend thousands on headsets and upgrades to their computers, all you need is a pair of Google cardboard goggles, Vectorworks 2017 software, and an Internet connection.
Otherwise, the only other limits to virtual reality with our software is the need for a 3D model, challenging designers who still do not model in 3D to convert to model-based workflows in order to exploit the benefits of virtual reality.
So, now that you know you have access to virtual reality with one simple command in Vectorworks 2017, you might ask: what’s next? I think virtual reality’s capabilities will continue to expand and become much more accessible and common, resulting in experiences no longer tied to a computer mouse. I predict that more senses will be incorporated besides just sight, such as touch, smell, etc., as more content is captured in 3D models to create a more immersive 3D experience that better communicates a design. Being able to feel the difference in texture between a metal, concrete, or wood façade without having to execute the actual construction will change the world of architecture.
And I don’t think Pokémon Go is just a passing phenomenon. I think that augmented and mixed reality is the next frontier for VR technology, as illustrated by Pokémon Go’s functionality where you can see your location-specific information in your current reality. Moving forward, this will translate to the design industry in various ways. One obvious medium is through using a mobile device to experience an exact proposed design while standing in the pre-existing site. And, like Pokémon Go, it will be fun!
You can try out a Vectorworks model in web view and virtual reality here. If you’re on a desktop computer, you can click and drag to move around the model in 360-degree mode. If you’re on a smart device, enable mono mode where the model responds to device movement to orbit the model. Alternatively, you can click first person to use the arrows to move throughout the model. Only use stereo view if you’re viewing the model on a mobile device and have google cardboard goggles.