Virtual Reality in Architecture


Even if you are not a computer techy person, you have probably seen those strange headset things people put on to be in a virtual environment.  Usually these are part of a gaming system that can create a very realistic digital environment called Virtual Reality (VR).  The gaming industry is pushing computer manufacturers to improve computer processing speeds that make it affordable for the general public, including smaller architecture firms, to purchase computers that can handle the VR demands.


Virtual reality is not new for architects though.  Drawings and models have been tools architects have used to develop their designs for centuries.  Perspectives, isometrics, and three-dimensional (3D) models are the traditional techniques architects have used to visualize a space and relay that vision to a client or community.  As technology has evolved, these visual representations have gone from hand drawings and physical models to three-dimensional computer-generated images and 3D printed models to fully digital immersive experiences (Virtual Reality) where one can almost feel like they are walking through a space.

The evolution of 3D representation allows designers more tools to help clients understand the design of a future space.  Each space and client are different and should be evaluated on the best use of technology to satisfy the owner’s needs.  Architects strive to design spaces that are functional for their clients, and the more the client understands the space and can understand the design intent the higher probability the space will perform as the client envisions.

City of Williston Public Works Facility Street View
Click to View | 360 Pano


A fully interactive virtual reality experience through a headset can be an unsettling or uncomfortable experience for some and designers must know the best approach for each client or community.  Depending on the building type and location, many people can see a 3D image and understand how it fits into a community.  A building owner might want to use a headset to walk the entire building and know how every room feels.  A 3D panorama can be a good middle ground for someone to experience a space without having to put on a headset.

For those not as comfortable with a headset, but still want an interactive experience, it may be more valuable to utilize a tablet, phone, or website in viewing a 360 image or walk though.  This is very similar to the headset experience, but the user doesn’t need to put anything on their head and they still have spatial awareness of the real world.  This is a good tool to get people use to the virtual experience without the full immersive environment.

Library Concept Design
Click to View | 360 Pano Library Concept Design

Just like architecture, every project is different and the tools that work best for one project might not be as ideal for another project.  Architects need to understand the visualization tool that will best help a client understand a project without making them uncomfortable.  As technology and general comfort with headsets evolve, more designers will use this technology to visualize their design.