How VR Enhances Architectural Design and Presentation

Virtual reality (VR) is being used in many industries, from entertainment to advertising, and adding some incredible functionality in architecture, too. With the development of new software and tools, VR is helping architects visualise their designs in new and exciting ways.

How does VR Work With Architectural Design?

Like BIM did before it, VR has the potential to make big changes in the architectural industry. The possibility of physically being in a design even as it’s being created could mean a massive shift in the way architects work. And, as more studios get on board with using VR both in the workplace and in the field.

Most VR setups consist of a headset or viewer, with the software generating what the user sees and experiences. When a user wears a VR headset, they’re transported to a simulated 3D environment.

The  headset comprises a couple of autofocusing lenses (one for each eye) fixed at slightly different angles, which creates a stereoscopic effect. This, along with visual effects rendered by the software, is what creates the sense of being in a 3D world.

Adding a gyroscope to the setup allows the software to detect and respond to the user’s movement. The gyroscope is a sensor that uses gravity to detect the user’s orientation and direction of movement. As the gyroscope senses movement, it transmits signals to the software, which then renders the appropriate changes in the 3D environment.

VR for Architecture HP VR Twinmotion
HP Mixed Reality Headset with Twinmotion 2019 – VR for Architecture

The software and hardware needs to be fairly powerful and high end especially in an immersive setting. Otherwise, the user may experience latency, where what they’re seeing and what they’re doing don’t match up. Latency and other issues can cause “cybersickness”, which is similar to the motion sickness some people experience when travelling. With cybersickness, this happens because the human eye is good at noticing details that aren’t quite right, such as latency. The presence of latency causes a conflict between other sensory systems, which leads to feelings of sickness.

VR in Design

There are ways to use VR at multiple different stages in the design process, it’s not all about viewing finished projects. For instance, early in the design process, an architect can use the technology to render preliminary designs in a VR environment. By doing so, they get a sense of how the design works spatially. At this stage, it’s not so much about how it looks, as how it feels, and how different parts of the structure work together.

‘VR is primarily used internally in studios for project exploration and validation. It’s never been easier for decision-makers to “physically” be inside the project and examine the design in their own way and at their own speed’.

Later in the design process, as the details start to come together, realistic renderings are the ideal way to present designs to a client. As the technology used becomes more advanced, it may even be possible to make changes to designs in real time, while immersed in the VR environment.

ARCHICAD for Visualising Models

As one of the most widely-used BIM programmes available for PC and Mac, ARCHICAD offers a number of important benefits to studios that adopt the software. It makes collaboration easier and more effective; it saves time and money; it helps avoid design and system conflicts; and it helps team members stay in control of the massive amounts of data project can generate. It produces accurate, detailed 3D designs and allows designers and clients to conduct walkthroughs of the designs that are created.

BIMx on ipad
BIMx – for Windows/Mac OS workstations, and iOS/Android mobile devices.

Low-cost VR with Google Cardboard

For architects and studios that use ARCHICAD and are interested in trying it, Google Cardboard is a great way to check out the technology without making a big investment. Combined with BIMx Mobile, this simple and inexpensive tool provides some highly useful functionality.

This free app allows the presentation of 3D models to clients, contractors and other team members. It can be accessed from anywhere, and once it’s linked to the studio’s file sharing, it will sync with projects as they’re updated. It’s a valuable source of data in the field, as well as 3D rendering, and offers features such as team messaging and others, to facilitate collaboration amongst the project team. Installed on a smartphone with gyroscope it is also possible to add cardboard VR into the mix for even more functionality.

CIAT VR Viewers
At the AT Awards 2018, all attendees received a complimentary cardboard viewer

This version of VR doesn’t have the high-detail graphics of more powerful VR options such as Mixed Reality. However, Google Cardboard offers enough that it’s an easy and effective way for studios to explore VR for presentations.

Twinmotion & Mixed Reality for Fully Immersive VR

One of the latest software developments comes in the form of Twinmotion. This software offers architectural visualisation in real time, with an immersive and explorable 3D environment. In its new iteration, the software is incredibly robust, with a powerful graphics engine that enables high-quality rendering too. A simple pictographic interface, giving it a user-friendly learning curve, even for people with little IT knowledge.

‘Twinmotion connected to the ARCHICAD model is exactly what we were looking for,’ says Ran Ankory, Managing Director, Founder of Scenario Architecture

Among the most useful innovations for Twinmotion is the ease with which users can move from a BIM model to the software’s VR environment. Optimised for direct synchronisation with GRAPHISOFT ARCHICAD and Autodesk Revit it takes just three clicks to get there, making for almost seamless transitions between design and visualisation.

One of the greatest things about ‘VR in Architecture’ is how easy it’s becoming for architects and their clients to actually experience design intent. New developments in immersive VR are making this both easier and more powerful. Twinmotion’s rendering is beautifully clear. With this kind of powerful VR set up, architects can design with greater confidence, and clients can get a detailed and accurate look at project designs before the building phase starts.

It’s compatible with Oculus Rift, HTC VIVE, and Mixed Reality, the Windows-based VR platform. It also supports most 3D formats, including .FBX, .SKP, .CD4, and .OBJ. Overall, it’s a versatile and powerful way to visualise projects in 3D, and a great option for studios that want to make full use of VR.

ARCHICAD and Twinmotion: a perfect pairing

A usual workflow of Twinmotion with any 3D modelling software is to export the 3D model to one of the Twinmotion supported formats and import to start an immersive real-time visualisation. The direct synchronisation with ARCHICAD is to simplify the workflow and avoid the “export/import” process that may result in lost time and possibly information.

For further information on ARCHICAD, BIMx and Twinmotion ‘VR for Architecture’ please contact our head office on 0121 447 7747 or visit our store for licence options and pricing.