In my last article, I discussed some of the benefits of virtual reality (VR) in healthcare design. With an understanding of what it can do, I’d now like to talk about how to effectively use VR in architecture and interior design reviews and what I believe the future holds for this technology.
How to Have an Effective VR Presentation
The first time someone views an architectural design through a VR headset, there is often a “wow” factor, but once the initial excitement wears off, the user is still presented with the challenge of navigating the model. Like many presentation tools, VR’s value lies with the presenter’s ability to wield it. You could have the most technically accurate model possible, but if the user doesn’t know where to go and what to look at, their experience may be memorable for a different reason than intended.
1. Act as a Guide During the Experience
My goal in VR presentations is to be as helpful as possible; this is best achieved by determining how much freedom a user has in controlling their own experience to make them the most comfortable. Some users are apprehensive or not experienced with using physical controllers. In these instances, I like to use preset locations and viewing angles, to guide the user through the model. As a client gains comfort, it can be beneficial to increase their amount of control and freedom to roam. It is, after all, their space and they may find something to comment on that we may not know to ask about.
2. Limit Modeling to What is Necessary
Another way to be helpful is to consider what is being shown and at what level of detail. I have found the best strategy is only showing what adds value to the space in review. If the space being reviewed is a lobby, I will model only the content visible from the lobby and nothing else. Or, if sightlines are in question, for example, “Can I see the patient bed from the nurse station?” I likely won’t model any finishes that could be distracting and inaccurate. This brings efficiency in model creation, focuses the conversation, and gets decisions made faster, saving time for all parties involved.
3. Determine in Advance Which Tools to Use
When giving VR presentations, I encourage presenters to think through as much in advance as possible as it can be difficult to adjust things on the fly, especially when deciding what equipment to bring. In the past, using VR meant you had to be tethered to a computer. With the advent of products like the Oculus Quest, we are now only required to bring a standalone headset. We could even bring multiple Quests and have numerous people review the same digital space at the same time. If you’ve never tried VR, the quest is an affordable and fun introduction to the technology. Challenges can arise, however, when determining what to present with this tool. If a client wants to see a handful of rooms or medium sized space, the Quest is a great option. But say the client wanted to test wayfinding and experience the sequence from entry to destination inside a hospital. At a certain point, the digital model may get too large and require more computing power. This just means a computer will need to be brought along to load the experience. Whatever set up you decide will fit your presentation best, above all else, test ahead of time.
4. Consider the Experience of All Meeting Attendees
With every presentation, I learn something new to keep in mind for the future. In the earlier days of VR, only the person in the headset could see the model, so when they would say something like, “what’s this here?” no one else would have any idea what they were talking about. Now, if I have one person in a headset, I will take their direct feed and put that on a screen so I and others can see what they’re seeing. This is helpful for discussion but can be a negative experience for everyone else if you don’t have up-to-date software. I’m sure you’ve been on a Zoom or Microsoft Teams call with someone and seen how quickly their eyes can dart around from left to right. When it’s your eyes, you don’t really notice, but when its someone else’s and you’re not controlling the movement, it can make people viewing the screen feel a little nauseous or disoriented. To combat this, my preferred method of VR presentation is to use software that allows multiple people in the model at once. By allowing everyone to talk about the space together it facilitates better collaboration. The caveat is that this requires a separate computer and/or headset for each person. There are lots of little things like this to consider and the more VR presentations I give, the more I learn what works best.
The Future of VR
As EUA’s resident VR enthusiast, I’m often asked what’s next. I believe we will soon be able to physically interact with VR models. This is a big hurdle, but I think it’s coming relatively soon. To illustrate what I mean, l will use one of my earlier examples. In my previous post, I mentioned how we used VR to show surgeons what their new OR will look and feel like, where equipment will be, etc. Down the road, I think the surgeons will be able to reach out and grab pieces of equipment in a model and move them to where they want them to be, rather than a lot of back and forth via email and presentations until it is right.
In a similar vein, the other big technological development coming will be with Augmented Reality (AR). AR is the ability to overlay digital information into the real world. When this become mainstream, it will change the world in the same way the iPhone did. Already, most smart phones can utilize some of these capabilities. A simple example is the ability to see what a couch will look like in your living room before you buy it. The phone camera can detect floors and walls and overlay the couch into your view. That use of AR still leaves you viewing flat 2D image in your space. When we have consumer-quality augmented reality headsets, that’s when things will really change. Architects could be able to go out into the field with only footings in the foundation and overlay the entire building to see what the final space will look like on day one of business. This could also allow contractors to do clash detection live while they’re working in the field, placing objects not by measuring but by aligning them with the AR headset they are wearing.
There is so much about this field that gets me excited, especially for the possibilities it holds for architecture. I’d like to hear what your thoughts are or questions you have. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or feel free to check out some of our projects via VR.