New buildings begin in the imagination and migrate to the physical world. But before ground breaks, an array of stakeholders invest upfront in the projected outcome. As a result, reliable, predictive, physical information and simulation provides necessary utility through time and cost savings.
Here’s a look at how the pre-visualization offered by virtual reality (VR) — and the extra layers of vision provided by augmented reality (AR) — increase investor confidence and boost efficiencies for architects.
Architects and 3D models go hand-in-hand. The advent of VR means they no longer have to Alice in Wonderland their way through dollhouse models. Visualizing two-inch versions of themselves peering into tiny windows and walking through tiny doorways–there had to be a better solution.
Retailer, Treehouse, partnered with an architectural VR software company to help them design their stores. With VR, store designers could walk through a virtual version of their store, discovering flaws and revising architectural elements. For example, Treehouse had originally planned to build a staircase with solid walls, but by walking through the model using a VR headset, the team noticed the solid walls blocked out significant natural light. To solve this issue, they decided to build with vertical wooden slats, spaced far enough apart to let in plenty of natural light.
More light is a great user experience benefit, but this discovery and correction is also an example of a business cost reduction. Calculated savings, from that staircase alone, totaled $50,000. Treehouse didn’t have to wait to see the actual structure to know a change needed to be made. Additionally, it led to the use of less expensive, labor-intensive materials.
Many unbuilt commercial interiors exist in the form of blueprints or on-screen expansions. It’s not possible to give untrained volunteers this kind of access or trust a 2D interpretation without a trained eye. Another advantage offered by a VR prototype is that stakeholders are able to join in the discussion before significant time and money are spent.
An increased, higher fidelity feedback loop not only includes customers, it also offers product owners the opportunity to collaborate more constructively upfront. The immersive nature of a virtual experience solicits more instinctual feedback from users because all of their senses are being engaged. All of a sudden the question “How does this element or overall experience make you feel?” becomes much easier to answer. Treehouse, for example, invited shoppers to use VR headsets to experience the virtual store. Customers were able to give their feedback to the design team, describing their reactions to various elements of the prototype virtual store.
In addition to customer feedback, project owners and other key business stakeholders gained confidence about upfront investment and feel more informed and included in the building process.
Building Information Modeling (BIM) has been around for decades. The term refers to representations — now in digital form — of the entire construction process, including the systems that drive the building. The technology used for rendering these representations has transformed completely in recent years, but the essential principle remains: Each element of the future building carries attributes, and the BIM is a way of seeing how these attributes interact with each other.
Engineers and architects use BIM to retain and socialize information. Various participants in the process add to this cumulative information bank. Now, with virtual and augmented reality, BIMs are being applied to Virtual Design and Construction (VDC). Once a BIM model has been created, it can be converted into a realistic walk-through environment in a matter of hours.
With VDC, building teams no longer have to construct a section or component of a project in order to test its behavior. Predictive systems render models with VR, and cost savings are realized on numerous fronts:
Virtual reality has also brought new efficiencies to the business of selling residential properties, as well as commercial visions. Arranging for and supervising open houses can be hard even when clients are local — and for listings in a different region or country, it poses even more difficulties. Redfin reports that one in three homebuyers in 2017 made offers without seeing the home in person. Virtual tours walk clients through properties anywhere in the world.
One real estate company even mails out cardboard headsets to its potential clients, so they can download a VR app and put their phone inside the headset to have an immersive experience–they won’t be the last. Matterport, one of the suppliers of 360-degree walk-through experiences, notes that potential buyers spend three to six times as long on listings that offer a virtual experience.
Real estate agents have long urged sellers to “stage” their homes, filling them with furnishings that help a buyer envision themselves in the space. Although less of a focus with commercial spaces, some potential buyers struggle to see the potential of a business space without interior context.
Augmented reality apps like Pair and Virtual Apt allow architects and project owners to drag and drop 3D models of furnishings into interior spaces. Office furniture, lush plants, art and wall coverings can all boost the appeal of an empty commercial space when viewed through an AR app.
Matthew Hood, of Sotheby’s International Realty, comments on the fact that some young tech companies are developing entirely virtual real estate search and tour functions. “Once that happens, you’ll look back and say, ‘How did we do this before?’”
Construction Dive affirms: “VR and AR technologies have the potential to revolutionize all aspects of design and build … processes. Down the road, these tools will arm every stakeholder with immersive visuals that can generate confidence, drive efficiency and increase accuracy.” Although AR and VR are still in the innovation and early adoption phases for many industries, these technologies represent the path to a remarkable transformation in the architecture, construction and real estate industries.