Architectural design has always valued traditional methods of visualization for their artistic quality, as well as their ability to make us experience something at a slower pace. This is important because architecture requires a thorough level of understanding of buildings and the spaces they produce. Processes such as mayline drawings and model making are examples of media where hand-eye coordination presents its own means of scale and understanding of space that only partially overlaps with images and models produced on a computer.
Virtual Reality (VR) is a nascent technology that is only beginning to see its application in various disciplines. The current research centers around hypothetical environments or altered self-identities. While these applications are usually associated with entertainment, many professional fields are finding innovative and valuable uses for VR. How does Virtual Reality aid an architect’s design process?
To find out, I created a workflow for architects using common software tools, including a rendering engine and modeling software. In the first phase of the project, I found the best way to import 3D models into the virtual environment. Next, an avatar was created to be able to walk through the space as both first and third person viewing. To make the tool useful to the building industry, I created networking features that would allow two avatars to see each other’s motions and walk through the same space. Finally, I imported one and then several complex building information models into the virtual environment, releasing the prototype software and instructions to several teams in the Project Based Learning AEC Competition.
In my exploration of the unbuilt environment, I found that virtual reality allows its user to feel the space, as opposed to simply seeing it. The way in which virtual reality mimics distortion of the eye, spans the viewer’s peripheral vision, and moves with the head motion of the user, translates into highly realistic environments and stimulates certain real-world reactions and emotions from the viewer. One might unconsciously lower their head when walking past a low ceiling or become tense when walking through a hallway. These responses are feelings that are inherent in our perception of the world.
While drawings convey part of this sentiment, the ease with which the mind be convinced of the virtual environment allows anyone to share what an architect might understand from still images or planar projections. Whereas architects might be able to guess that an auditorium feels wrongly proportioned from the drawings, a typical person would likely need a virtual experience too feel awkward spaces. The virtual reality environment has the potential to make planned spaces more accessible to a wider audience without much experience with drawings and plans.
As such, the virtual environment is important to many interdisciplinary teams, especially when an architect’s contributions might be harder to understand. In addition, it allows members with limited spatial coordination to easily understand the complex intersecting geometry of building systems. As such, clash detections become much easier to see.
We can see how virtual reality can become a highly valuable tool in the field of architecture through its ability to convey the qualities of a space. My research does not propose to replace the tools of age-long traditions, but instead, tries to find value and definition for virtual reality and other newly introduced forms of media. We are already witnessing many disciplines integrating these new media into both the didactic and professional experiences, and I would like to document these values and test and propose future useful implementations for architects.