Virtual and Mixed Reality meets Architecture and Design

2016 marked a pivotal year for virtual and mixed reality.  New headsets came to market and consumers began to experience the power of immersive technology.

Last year also saw a marked increase in the amount of content made available on the major platforms and headsets - HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Gear VR, Playstation VR and HoloLens.  Most of the virtual reality content however, was focused on gaming and entertainment and the mixed reality content was limited.  

This post explores how architects and designers leverage virtual and mixed reality and exploit this emerging technology.

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VIRTUAL REALITY

For years architects have built 3d models and have been using programs like Autodesk's Revit, Sketchup and 3d Studio Max to visualize space.  Spending a great deal of time in a 3d models all day is nothing new to many architects.

Jumping into virtual reality for architects is a natural transition.  Companies like Autodesk, Iris VR, InsiteVR, Unity and Fuzor are working on providing a smooth transition from 3d modeling programs to VR, so that architects can easily transport their designs into a variety of headsets.

This has huge implications, both on the design process and on architects ability to share their designs early and often with clients and builders.

GEOMETRY DECIMATION

One of the challenges that many architects face is building their 3d models efficiently so they can be easily experienced in VR and MR with high frame rates and low latency, in turn, providing users with a more enjoyable experience.

Inexperienced 3d modelers have difficulty keeping frame rates high and the result can often lead to users feeling sick when traveling through virtual space.

Software like Simplygon and Umbra remove polygons and geometry making models lighter and more efficient for use in immersive environments.

Example of how programs like Simplygon and Umbra can simplify complex 3d geometry.

Example of how programs like Simplygon and Umbra can simplify complex 3d geometry.

SHARED EXPERIENCES

After these environments are created correctly, it is also critical to be able to share these experiences in real-time and remotely.  

Sharing a remote experience in a VR headset is a little different than sharing a remote screen.  Some VR startups like Pluto VR, Alt-Space, Morph are working to create a social experience where avatars can meet in virtual space and share virtual experiences.

Shared avatar experiences among design professionals, builders and their clients will become much more mainstream as more virtual content becomes available.  This will make collaboration on projects much easier for all parties.  It is common for architectural drawings to be misinterpreted; catching mistakes and aligning expectations early on will make the building process much more efficient and timely.

Studio 216 collaborate on the Skanska's 2+U Tower in Downtown Seattle using multiple HoloLens'.

Studio 216 collaborate on the Skanska's 2+U Tower in Downtown Seattle using multiple HoloLens'.

MIXED (AUGMENTED) REALITY

One of the new technologies coming to market is Mixed Reality, sometimes referred to as Augmented reality.  Mixed reality is different from virtual reality.  Rather than being transported to a completely different virtual place, architects and designers are able to augment the real world with digital objects.

Digital furniture libraries can be created and dropped into physical spaces to simulate interior design options in real time.  Digital holograms of walls can be placed in the real world and then moved around to give clients an understanding of how a space might be impacted.

Microsoft's HoloLens is one of the first mixed reality headsets that is commercially available and designers are already using the technology in their studios.  Architect Greg Lynn is using HoloLens for his work on the US Pavilion at the Venice Biennale and thinks that mixed and augmented reality will revolutionize the architecture and design profession.

Augmented reality technologies on job sites and in factories will, with absolute certainty, change the way buildings are constructed. Therefore it will change the way architects work and will change their role.
— Greg Lynn
Greg Lynn explores his Venice Biennale Pavilioin in mixed reality.

Greg Lynn explores his Venice Biennale Pavilioin in mixed reality.

WHATS NEXT?

I am already starting to see some of these changes take place in the architecture, construction and engineering industry and it is happening very quickly.

It wasn't long ago that Facebook and Oculus jump-started an entire immersive industry that had been waiting to emerge. 

Architects and designers have been engaging with clients, trying to justify their design approaches, for a very long time.  Now they can walk through and transport their clients directly into their creations, collaborate, catch mistakes and reimagine the future.


Boaz Ashkenazy is co-founder of @Studio216.  Studio216 is a immersive technology agency focused on VR AR MR for the enterprise.  Boaz can be reached at boaz@studio216.com or on twitter @boazashkenazy