Why use VR in Architecture, Engineering and Construction

Posted by Kate Barlow on 24th April 2019

Many people are already using VR for architecture and taking advantage of the stunning visualisation opportunities. They take AEC models in full into game engines to create immersive architectural visualisations which makes them accessible for non-specialists. This makes the models easy for anyone to understand and facilitate project reviews, real estate marketing, public hearings, presentations, etc.

We have become used to having visualisations of architectural projects that load almost instantly and then use these visualisations to rapidly load and present alternative design proposals. When you can quickly change colour schemes, materials and furniture layouts; VR models are as flexible as any digital representations of BIM. VR serves as an accessible common language between architects, clients and engineers – it can ensure everyone involved has a common spacial understanding of a project.

VR visualisations in real estate marketing are already commonplace. We create visualisations based on a point cloud scan for existing buildings or use a BIM for ones yet to be built and then we can share them with relevant people. From the customer perspective, it allows you to see the properties before you make a purchase, even if you have no opportunity to visit them in person.

However, using VR for architectural visualisations only uses part of the potential. The technology offers far more. Beyond flexible and immersive visuals, your model data can be accessed and represented in a digital format. With immersive analytics, we aim to visualise data that would otherwise remain unseen. VR is effective not only for visiting a 1:1 model, but also for interacting with information: construction phasing, structural element loads and tensions. Basically, anything that we can include in a data-rich BIM model can be accessed in VR. This gives us a solid foundation for constructive project reviews and adds far greater value than the simple “wow” factor of visiting visualisations of unbuilt projects.

We can use VR to simulate outputs in meaningful ways and create, for example, precise simulations of indoor lighting or the structural damage and effects of fire, wind or floods etc. Another benefit of these simulations is that they are not one-sided interactions. From public meetings and presentations, we can gather information based on how people interact with model in VR, what they find interesting, what gets ignored. This data is is gathered through VR headsets which track where the user is looking at all times, so people’s attention can be traced and measured.

With current BIM development trends it will soon be possible to design buildings from inside a VR environment. Currently, it is possible to furnish models with objects and equipment from online libraries, also with online collaboration. All stakeholders can be invited to an online VR environment to discuss and modify the model from inside. Designers can meet inside the model, and work on it together, even from different parts of the world.

However there are some challenges to this new way of working. Some people have concerns around using VR headsets for prolonged periods of time. We also know some people find the headsets uncomfortable if they’re unfamiliar with them and, at Tridify, we find that AR offers an excellent solution to both these issues. We deliver all the same applications with AR so people can visualise and collaborate without necessarily wearing a headset.

Increasingly, we see VR being used even for remote tools operation and who knows, maybe with widespread digital fabrication, even real construction will be done via VR soon…

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