Project visualisation through Virtual Reality - a new customer experience

Virtual Reality conquers architecture firms

The BIM hype has not yet reached its peak, and the next megatrend is already catching up with the world of architecture: Virtual reality, VR for short.

Until recently at home in the spheres of animated films or the gaming industry, VR is finding its way into the reality of working life – architecture firms are no exception.  

At IttenBrechbühl Architekten und Generalplaner, VR is used in the planning process. To allow clients to better assess their projects, they receive uncomplicated VR glasses, so-called cardboard boxes, which convey a simple spatial experience. When wearers move their heads, the illustration of the space follows their gaze and shows it from a fixed location. Colour concepts, materials, and furnishings can be depicted in detail.

Spatial experience rather than reading plans

The advantage is clear: Virtual reality lets people experience a room that won’t actually be physically built until months later. «For people who are not used to reading plans, this is enormously helpful,» one client praises the new technology.

Virtual reality will change the work of architects forever, Héctor Alamar Tamarit and Joel Carter, VR specialists at IttenBrechbühl, are convinced. «We are only just scratching the surface of what is possible with VR, and the hardware is evolving at lightning speed,» Carter ads. And cardboard boxes are currently the most basic thing VR has to offer.

Technology is developing at lightning speed

Tours of virtual rooms on all sorts of displays are also standard. In contrast to the cardboard box, the viewer now leaves his fixed location and navigates freely from room to room. IttenBrechbühl first used this technology in an interior fit-out project. "The virtual reality saves unnecessary planning rounds, because open questions can be addressed and reliably clarified early on,” Alamar Tamarit explains.

However, VR glasses like those by HTC or Oculus offer the most spectacular experience. They build a room around the wearer point by point. He can walk around the room and experience it in its «real» dimensions. IttenBrechbühl used this technology, for example, to allow the clients to experience and tour the operating rooms of Lausanne University Hospital before ground was even broken.  

There is another technology that will probably make its way into architecture firms in the future: augmented reality, or AR. In contrast to VR, AR uses non-enclosed glasses that show the real world, but «overlays» it with additional information, such as placing virtual furniture in an empty apartment. Here as well, the architect uses the realistic visualisation as a decision-making aide for the client.  

Virtual reality and BIM

And what does VR have to do with Building Information Modelling (BIM)? Both BIM and VR are based on 3D building data. BIM simplifies the communication among all involved during project management and implementation. Virtual reality creates a realistic image of a building.  Augmented reality complements the real view with virtual elements. IttenBrechbühl assumes that these methods will merge in the future, and the firm will certainly be on the forefront of this fascinating new technology.