Architects Weigh in on VR Use in Their Industry

Nearly every science fiction book, movie, and video game features some element of Virtual Reality (VR) or Artificial Intelligence (AI). Whether it’s the terrifying character of HAL9000 or the game world of TRON, these technologies, and their ultimate complexities, have fascinated us for the better part of a century; only now, we have access to them in our pockets. VR, AR, and AI have all seen exponential leaps in development and capability to the point that the digital assistants on our phones and the tools we use at work all contain elements of science fiction.

Some industries are finding more uses for this technology than others, to the point that the tools and techniques used today look nothing like what was used only a few years ago. Architecture and design in particular have found industry-changing uses for this technology.

AR, VR, and AI are impacting architects and designers in every phase of their career and work flow, from the design and testing process, to how they interact with their clients. Virtual reality allows for lifelike digital models to be created and explored in almost perfect detail before ground has even been broken on a project. This tech is also having an impact on the way in which architecture is taught around the world.

Gabriela Graim, a recent graduate of Faci Wyden University’s Architecture program in Belem, Brazil, is very excited about VR, noting that much of her recent program’s curriculum was moving quickly away from traditional classes like drafting that have been a feature of architecture programs for years.

“Before this kind of technology the architect had to be very good at drawing everything by hand, which, besides the fact that not everyone in the field is very good at it, also took much longer to produce and clients are always very eager to see things done faster. When it comes to university programs you can see that many schools are reducing the number of drawing classes and focusing more on the use of new technology, Graim said.

Beth Gaby, an architect and designer with over 20 years of experience, has even more perspective, and excitement, since she has been able to witness its evolution.

“I started in a time in architecture where we didn’t have these technologies, so project models had to be hand-made, and it’s just simply not the same thing,“ Gaby said. “As someone who started her career having to slave over line drawings, and using 10 different kinds of rulers to make a model that would still never come close to a real finished project, I am very impressed by the speed with which technology has evolved. It has allowed us to deliver high quality, detailed work to our clients.”

Both Gaby and Graim emphasized how VR in particular was allowing them, and their clients, to find problems and make changes to their models before ground was even broken.

Graim stressed presentation in particular.

“I think VR, AR and AI are helping architects a lot, especially when it comes to presenting projects to clients. It becomes possible to see what your vision is for the space in a much more realistic way. So now the client can imagine themselves inside the finished product easily as opposed to just showing them a blueprint, for example,” she said.

Gaby particulalry appreciates how VR has helped in the development and troubleshooting process.

“It is impressive how much more clients have become involved,“ she said. “Many times you believe something is working perfectly in a project, but then you transfer it to an augmented digital version and you start realizing the possible problems. It gives you a better approach to the project and the possible changes that need to be made. I find that it is now impossible for me to do my best work without it.”

Even though she is trained as a traditional architect, Gaby does not know how she could go back from VR.

“I don’t think I can work anymore without the use of digital models. Even if I don’t show the digitized project to the client, I still have to make it because it allows me to also visualize and build the client’s vision more efficiently,” she said.

In any case, thanks to VR, AR, and AI, this is an exciting time to be an architect and designer.

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