Virtual Reality Rooms Fuse Technology and Imagination
Virtual Reality (VR) has been around for a while now, but for architects, it’s been thrilling to start to reap the full benefits of this powerful tool for design and communication. At LS3P, we’ve been beta testing a dedicated VR room in our Charlotte office which harnesses the latest in visualization technology to bring architecture to life for our clients. The program has been so successful that we have rolled it out to three more offices and we’re in the process of expanding our VR capabilities to our remaining four offices.
Using Virtual Reality (VR) headsets, 3-D modeling software, and specialized spaces to guide clients through the experience, our design teams are utilizing VR for design, client presentations, site research, and just plain fun!
We’re very excited about being able to share this capability with our clients and colleagues, and about getting our other offices up and running with the same hardware. This process has been a long-time dream finally realized with the convergence of today’s technologies across multiple disciplines.
VR provides an immersive visual experience for the user, who typically wears a headset with a stereoscopic display to simulate a 3-D image generated by a digital architectural model. As the user moves, the view shifts accordingly. Whereas clients in years past might have tried to envision the design of their building from a floor plan on a blueprint, today’s clients can experience an as-yet unbuilt design through a virtual walk-through.
This technology benefits not only the clients, but also the designers, who can share 3-D concepts with colleagues for feedback as the design evolves; engineering consultants, who can review the construction model from every perspective to check for common coordination issues such as conflicts between ducts and conduits; interior designers, who can manipulate furniture layouts in 3-D before finalizing; and fundraising teams, who can schedule a virtual donor visit to a future facility to generate excitement about the project.
LS3P’s beta VR Room currently uses the HTC Vive headset, a consumer-level product which allows the user to move freely around the room and translates the movement in real-time into the model. The Vive works with multiple software platforms including Enscape 3D, a program which is compatible with the firm’s Revit software for building modeling. Enscape 3D also supports live updates such as material or design changes while the client is viewing the model.
The dedicated physical space requires a 15’ diagonal dimension for the VR Room. This generous proportion allows both safe movement and adequate space for equipment, including the Vive’s infrared laser tracking modules “lighthouses” which track the headset to register motion. The user holds two wireless controllers that are used to interact with the 3D model by teleporting to desired locations in the model or used to control various options like the time of day or picking up and moving furniture around. Operators control the system with two video monitors, one displaying what the user is seeing, and one to manipulate the digital model.
We see this capability as a game-changer, one that will help us continue to raise the bar for design excellence while engaging our clients more fully in the design process.
Hal Shute, Assoc. AIA, is an expert on visualization and digital media. A graduate of Clemson University with both a Master of Architecture and a Bachelor of Science in Design, Hal has developed a diverse portfolio of designs for investment, office, hospitality, multi-family residential, retail, lifestyle and mixed-use projects, including extensive work at Charlotte’s Ballantyne development.