Tomas Millar introducing VR at a RIBA Gloucestershire event

How VR Models are Transforming our Clients’ Understanding of their Unbuilt Buildings

Those who really gain from Virtuality Reality designs are the clients.

Millar + Howard Workshop has been using Virtual Reality (VR) to aid the process of conceiving buildings for a few years now. Its impact has been positive and instant. As a design tool, it pushes the boundaries of construction techniques as well as assist with how buildings flow and function at the optimal level for its eventual occupiers. It quickly became apparent however that while VR is incredibly useful for architects at the design stage, the real beneficiaries are clients.

What is VR for Architecture?

VR programs create a life-size model of the building and surrounding space that, with the aid of a specialised headset, users can physically walk through. Not just imagine manoeuvering around a building while watching its walls move past on a screen but actually, physically wander around it. VR gives a real sense of the space that will eventually become a building. What is seen, is not just images of walls and examples of finishes, but it’s possible to experience what it will be like to actually be in, beside and within the finished walls of the unbuilt building. VR allows clients to gain a sense of what it will be like to be inside the space. When inside a real building, humans respond emotionally and it’s the same with a VR model; clients can gauge, in real terms, how they will feel when they are in the space. The software used by Millar + Howard Workshop is interactive too, colours and materials can be changed, walls moved and different furniture or fittings installed. It’s possible to add or remove windows or doors, allowing users to see the adaptations in natural light and assess how they will impact on the rooms. The building’s orientation to the sun can be altered too, demonstrating how changes to the natural light source will affect the space and those using it.

Be in your Finished Building From The Start

From a client experience perspective, this has been a game changer. For those wanting to build a home, it’s a midway point between your dream and reality. Because you can pace out the space it’s easy to see if the bedroom really can fit a super-king sized bed or if a kitchen island can accommodate a sink or not. And of course, for non-domestic clients, it can be invaluable too; is the space really accessible for wheelchair users, should the atrium be taller? Millar + Howard Workshop clients can test these hypotheses out. They’re able to assess whether the folding doors separating meeting rooms provide the flexibility they want or if the lights in the exhibition units are positioned effectively for the museum visitors or not. VR allows architecture clients to focus on the details that are so difficult for most people to ascertain from drawings.

Easier to Interpret than Drawings

Deciphering a technical drawing and imagining a three-dimensional version is hard. Translating lines on a page into what the building will ultimately look like is not something everyone is able to do. The VR models created by Millar + Howard Workshop give clients instant access to what architects can visualise. Since introducing VR models to clients, so far, there’s always been “that” moment when the client puts the headset on, steps into their building and truly understands it for the first time. There’s more often than not a bit of swearing to accompany the moment when it all clicks into place and the drawings they’ve been trying to interpret are now virtually tangible. Clients can relate to the VR models in a much more meaningful way than they can to pencil and paper. This also means that everyone involved in the build has the same starting point. It eliminates ambiguity so very little time is wasted explaining how things will eventually look. This improves communications with clients from both their perspective and that of the architects.

One of the things clients often find difficult to visualise correctly is the scale of the spaces. Often if the client is a couple or a committee, at least one person cannot conceptualise how a two-dimensional drawing on white paper, crowded with labels will be in reality with walls and the furniture they already own and know. They are simply unable to visualise how their kitchen table will be in their new but as yet, non-existent, home because there is little physical point of reference. This, combined with the tendency most people seem to have which is a natural misconception of imagining spaces being bigger than they are in reality, mean that complications often arise during the building stage which can prove expensive to rectify. With VR, it’s the opposite; clients can rapidly get to grips with the new spaces and don’t fear their own disappointment in the finished product. This means they can make decisions regarding layouts and finishes quickly, which ultimately saves time and money for all involved.

Transforms Decision Making Process

Once clients are certain of their spaces, materials, textures and finishes, decisions can be made very quickly. This is obviously great financially: time is money as they say but the clients who used the VR service were happier with their decisions and more convinced of their suitability further down the line. They’ve had insight into what the space will look like and feel with a variety of options so the decisions they make are more informed.

If there are several parties that need to see the plans and contribute to the final decision, then the walkthroughs can be viewed remotely either simultaneously or at different times. This has proved invaluable for building projects that involve committee decisions or votes. Providing access to an immersive experience of their project at times and locations that is suitable to them is phenomenal — so much time wasted on getting to meetings and the hassle of having to arrange meetings is saved too.

Five Takeaways — What VR can do for you

  1. Saves time and money — adjusting a model is simpler than adapting a building.
  2. Allows for physical movement around a full-sized building and an emotional response to it.
  3. Allows for a greater understanding of the building itself in a way 2D drawings can’t convey.
  4. Speeds up decisions and empowers clients to make more informed and gratifying decisions.
  5. Enables clearer and more efficient communications between clients and architects.