What is the (Virtual) Reality of Architecture?


If you are a human (or a yuccie) living in a somewhat technologically progressive area, then you’ve probably heard the term “virtual reality”, or VR for short. But what is it, and why is it so great?

Let’s provide a definition first. Virtual reality is described by the Oxford Dictionary as:

The computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors.

In other words, it’s a virtual world humans can jump into simply by strapping on an accessory or two. So far, VR is used for both entertaining and serious pursuits. California-based Jaunt VR specifically produces films that viewers can experience virtually. Head to the runway with Oculus Rift and watch Rebecca Minkoff models strut their stuff from hundreds of miles away. Hospitals and clinics create simulations for training, therapy, virtual surgeries, or phobia treatments. Virtual reality has a plethora of other applications as well, and with the direction it’s heading there will be many more to come.

A hospital patient using VR while recovering from wounds (via Daily Mail UK)

But how does virtual reality relate to design? Instead of using 3D modeling, could we use VR to build a home using VR gloves that we can “walk through” and look at using VR goggles? Designer and visualizer Olivier Demangel says absolutely. Demangel has taken several 3D and 2D models and reimagined them into 90% accurate virtual models, which have proven to be incredibly useful given their realistic scale and ability to instantly transform. In an interview with Dezeen Magazine, Demangel relates the technological breakthrough of VR to television and the Internet and says its future power will be “more powerful than cocaine.” A 3D designer himself, Demangel relates many of his predictions about virtual reality back to his own work.

Real kitchen (left) & VR kitchen (right) (via Dezeen)

“…Estate agents are going to use 3D goggles. There will be no need to physically visit the house. Also, architects will be able to send files to clients and they will be able to take a virtual walkaround. Or perhaps you could have an empty room in your future house dedicated to VR? You could choose a different interior every day, like the Star Trek holodeck.”

Real dining room (left) & VR dining room (right) (via Dezeen)

Arch Visual is a company that develops virtual reality applications for Oculus Rift with a variety of purposes, including architectural visualization. The agency describes its virtual renderings of homes as an “affordable alternative to 2D blueprints.” Using Arch Visual, clients are able to use the visualizations as a part of their design development process to get a sense of space and see how colors, styles, and objects work together.

A capture of one of Arch Virtual’s homes for Oculus Rift (via Arch Virtual)

While there is much virtual reality potential for the architectural design world, there still is progress to be made. Advances in resolution, speed, field of view, affordability, and access are mandatory before VR becomes ubiquitous. However when that day comes, the entire world of design will be (virtually) flipped on its head.