Virtual conversations

Virtual reality is allowing designers to do more with clients
Thursday, January 5, 2017
by Hasan Burak Cavka

There’s always uncertainty in how a client will interpret an imagined space and that is why virtual reality is becoming an increasingly important tool to convey design details. Traditionally, designers used drawing and renders to bring their ideas to life. While great tools, traditional 2D representations have limited ability to convey perspective, scale, or out-of-the ordinary design constraints. In this day and age, renders and sketches simply aren’t good enough. The applications that are becoming a part of the common practice or already are part of the current practice, enable designers with more powerful ways of communicating their design to others.

Fast forward to the future
A financial service client recently came to Dialog’s Toronto studio with two problematic projects. The client had a “branch standard” which included ceilings with a 14 foot height, however the two existing branches in question were quite unique and needed significant redesign. Communicating the feeling of space was essential to make informed decisions about the proposed design. The design team used 3D modeling and virtual reality (VR) to invite the client into the imagination of the designer to better communicate with them. The process enabled by the technology also reduced the time to make design decisions, and helped with better management of time.

One space, located in a heritage building, was confined and had no lighting, ductwork, or sprinklers and had a finished ceiling height estimated to be eight feet’. The design challenge meant reducing the standard 14 foot ceiling height down to eight feet, all while keeping the branch design pleasing.

The second branch had glass walls and 21 foot high ceilings. We needed to make numerous decisions based on a grand sense of scale. Traditional or 2D drawings would have been inadequate to convey this challenge, so 3D Revit project models were leveraged instead.

Our design team used a Revizto platform to run their Revit based project models while the actual design was visualized through VR headsets. Revizto lets you export a Revit model into a video game engine. The VR headsets allowed the client to “see” and understand the design as if they were in it. They could actually walk around the model using an Xbox controller. Headsets were especially useful to examine areas with challenging scales. While the VR headset provided a more realistic experience of the space, the digital representation of the design was also made available to the other individuals within the meeting space. We also leveraged a Google cardboard headset to provide a surprisingly impressive and immersive VR experience. While the level of fidelity was not at the same level as with the VR headset, it was also not as easy to move around the model using the cardboard headset. However this was a significantly more accessible setting for reviewing model information, without the requirement of a laptop to support applications.

The feeling of a space as users walk around in it has significant impact on the way people relate to that space. It is one thing to imagine what a 21 foot ceiling looks and feels like, it’s another thing entirely to be able to look up and see 15 feet of space above you, and actually experience the vastness.

Using virtual reality is not only an incredibly cool way to start the conversation between person and space; it’s also a great way that designers can quickly convey design challenges and offer possibilities where the feeling of space is essential for decision making. The result of using VR drastically reduces the time a client needs to make decisions – they have all of the information they need at their fingertips. Meanwhile as the use of building information models for design and production become more common, we are able to leverage these project models for other uses such as creating building and construction simulations, running building performance analyses, or for model based quantity takeoff.

In the case of the financial service client, virtual reality enabled them to experience their space and be in conversation with it, albeit electronically. They also had a lot of fun!

Hasan Burak Cavka is BIM manager / design technology specialist in the Dialog Vancouver Studio.

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