Many movies have showcased grim, dystopian future in which Virtual-Reality (VR) pervades our everyday existence. In actuality, designers today are consistently exploring potentially beneficial ways to employ Virtual-Reality technology. As a result it eases, and in some cases, adds a layer of innovation to their creations. Design professionals, Architects, have been quick to implement Virtual-Reality. Largely because it offers an excellent platform to showcase their visions to clients. Building professionals have leveraged 3D modelling and digital true-to-life renderings to display their designs. While these technologies have the ability to simulate walkthroughs, they lack custom components that provide an immersive element that enables the user to experience the space as they choose.

Lumion, for instance, allows designers to feed in their 3D models and render it into Virtual-Reality by offering enhanced tools, such as furnishing and lighting adjustments. While some Virtual-Reality applications are desktop-based presentations allowing the user to interact and navigate their way through the design. Recent advances in technology and lower costs have enabled use of head mounted devices, such as the Oculus Rift. Used properly, this technology transports the user into the design space. In simple terms, Virtual-Reality gives control to the user instead of depending on the designer. This creates a pathway for a truly immersive experience. Here are five ways in which Virtual-Reality and Augmented-reality (AR) could impact the building design industry in the near future.

1) Virtual Reality provides a Cohesive Approach to Design

When the movement and use of the design space are handed over to the user, Virtual-Reality has the potential to offer a great deal of information to the designer, specifically how the space can and will be used. Observing the user move around and interact with the space may largely differ from how a designer conceptualized it. This opens avenues and possibilities, as it puts the designer and the user on the same page. For instance, a space may feel too big or too small when the client has the opportunity to walk through it, thus highlighting the need for additional room or eliminate aspects they are not likely to use. The more information that can be input into the virtual model, not only architectural features, but also structural, mechanical, plumbing, lighting, etc., the more informed the interaction can be between the user and the designer.

2) Perform Risk Assessment in Buildings During the Design Phase

The user experience also helps the designer identify any code related issues such as egress or accessibility. Issues that highlight fire safety and potential exit could become a vital component of Virtual-Reality simulation. The designer can simulate an emergency situation by converging Virtual-Reality with Augmented-reality using high-fidelity real-time environment development tools such as Unreal Engine. The designer can observe how the user reacts, allowing greater understanding of building design components. This can assist in identifying areas of improvement in early stages of design when they can be easily adjusted.

3) Ability to Identify Conflicts through Virtual Reality

The addition of Building Information Modelling (BIM), enhances the ability to identify layout conflicts between various professions such as plumbing, electric, interior etc. in the building design. Virtual-Reality helps identify conflicts more easily and improves co-ordination. Furthermore, this aspect could potentially save significant redesign and remodeling costs when identified during the design phase instead of the construction phase.

4) Enable the Construction Team to Become Involved Sooner in the Design Phase

Going along similar lines, involving the construction team to experience the building design can help add a realistic perspective to the building design since they have hands-on experience in bringing designs to life. By having a complete picture of the building components modelled in a virtual setting, contractors can alert teams in the early stages of conflicts they see while performing virtual walkthroughs. Furthermore, this process also allows the contractors to pre-plan stages of construction saving valuable time and meeting delivery deadlines effectively.

5) Real-time Monitoring and Effective Inventory Management

The amalgamation of Augmented-Reality and Virtual-Reality technology can allow construction contractors to identify potential equipment failure. Thermal recognition integrated into devices can allow building managers to spot areas of regress such as pressure build-up, blockage, potential leakage which would be difficult for the naked eye to spot until it’s too late. Taken a step further, the AR data collected through wearable devices is fed to the Virtual-Reality model in real-time allowing tracking and updating the inventory of the model. VR and AR can therefore play a significant role in streamlining the transition from design to construction. It could diminish or even eliminate the clear delineation that exists today between the two phases.

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