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Virtual reality gives clients true, real-time feel for their facilities

by Stephen Held, Chief Information Officer

If you have been a decision maker on a ground-up or renovation project, you know that to this point, no renderings or models – traditional or digital – can truly show you how the space will look, feel and function.

That is, until virtual reality (VR) entered the architecture and engineering industry.

“Instead of looking at still images, clients experience their space,” said Linn Bjornrud, senior architect and building information modeling manager. “We can use VR to validate clients’ expectations. We’re using it as a translation tool.”

VR expedites the project lifecycle, cuts costs

Nathan Novak, our VR advocate, said there are multiple ways we’re using VR.

“We use it during the design process to better visualize a model,” he said. “We can use it during QA/QC to answer whether there’s enough clearance around an object. We use it in collaboration with the client. We can put a nurse in a nurse’s station to see if he or she will have the right sight lines. Some of the technology is even smart enough to know the height of the user, so we can have her sit in a chair behind the nurse’s station in VR and she is at the correct height.”

To that end, we are able to make real-time design changes to digital models as clients walk through their projects and tell us what’s working and what isn’t. We then tweak the design, have the client take another look, and continue this iterative process until we deliver on the client’s outcomes.

These processes go a long way toward cutting down on major design changes late in the project – in turn, reducing costs and expediting the entire construction process.

But even before the client experiences a virtual model, VR is helping our staff get design closer to final.

“What’s most interesting is on the internal side,” Bjornrud said. “We’ll model a space and jump right into a test. ‘Do I have a view from point A to point B? How long does it take me to get from here to there? How is the wayfinding?’ We’re making corrections before the model gets to the client. There are interesting things we can confirm now that we couldn’t before. And VR isn’t replacing any existing tools. This is an entirely new design tool that will no doubt impact the solutions we develop.”

Simple, Fast and Benefits are Immediately Clear

Simplicity and speed have been key in the adoption of VR both across our firm and by our clients. There are multiple ways to launch into an immersive VR experience, but when accessing a model directly from Revit – building information modeling software – we are only two clicks and two minutes from a virtual walk-through, Bjornrud said.

For all its benefits, virtual reality is daunting for some people. Novak said it can be a challenge to get people to put on the VR headset the first time, but as soon as they do, the hesitation is gone and they see its advantages right away.

In the end, we are sold on VR as a technology that will enhance our architectural and engineering deliverables. We also see the future of this technology and are positioning to allow our clients to experience their space interactively with us, virtually, from anywhere in the world. These are some of the most exciting possibilities turning into reality.

Stephen HeldAbout the author

As chief information officer, Stephen Held directs a team of 24 IT professionals in the continual maintenance, updating and adoption of technology in 30 offices and five countries. In more than a decade with the firm, he has championed an aggressive strategy of innovation for the sake of competitive advantage.