Virtual Reality: Coming to an Architecture Office Near You

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By Josh Pabst
April 6, 2015, ArchDaily

Virtual Reality. It’s an old term, even an old technology, but it carries new weight – and it’s coming to architecture, soon. Its prevalence will be a result of its near universal accessibility; the experience can now be powered by the modern cell phone. It’s probably on your desk, in your pocket – you may even be reading on a virtual reality engine right now. The price point to participate, thanks to Google Cardboard and a device you already own, is less than twenty dollars.

Google Cardboard might be considered a wearable, but don’t think Google Glass and shiver. As it stands, the technology is more inline with a smart-tv or peripheral, not something to be worn in public. Before we get into what it is, let’s talk about what it can do. We as designers have gotten very good at showing what a space might look like, but in many ways we have come no further in demonstrating what a space feels like.

As a designer at smdpstudio and as an architectural photographer, this ability to virtually experience space is very attractive. The simple yet elegant technology gives the viewer – as we refer to it at smdpstudio – free will. You can choose where to look, and linger where you like. You are in the space and you yourself are ‘to scale’. It’s absolutely not the same as panning and orbiting while looking at your computer screen. Describing the experience is difficult for the same reason that it’s wonderful: it’s personal and almost tactile.

Using an image called a Photo Sphere in conjunction with Google Cardboard offers a unique experience to both designer and client. Creating and rendering Photo Spheres is only marginally more difficult than creating a traditional rendering. We model in 3D, yet continue to output 2D renderings or the occasional animation. Photo Spheres, like 2D renderings, take nowhere near the time or money required to produce an animation, but the impact is arguably even greater.

 

What makes me think this technology is going to take hold in our industry? Watching young and seasoned designers alike look around a rendered Photo Sphere inside Google Cardboard for the first time is like watching a YouTube video of a blind person seeing shapes for the first time or a deaf person hearing anew. It brings joy and excitement to their faces. It is a truly unique experience. Both designer and client equally enjoy seeing the design in such spatial clarity. As designers, this technology is a new tool in our arsenal to help illustrate sense of scale, adjacencies, context, and overall feeling of a space. Read more…

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