With the advent of augmented reality, and the accessibility of headsets and software, more and more architecture offices are beginning to use virtual reality as part of their daily design process. Dutch firm mecanoo provides its clients with a multitude of vr experiences — ranging from viewing spaces via smartphone, to fully immersive engagements through 3D headsets.
To understand the advantages that vr has in comparison with more traditional options, we spoke with Mecanoo’s johan hanegraaf, an architect and design technology specialist. Read our interview below, and see the vr images currently available to view on Mecanoo’s website.
Designboom: how were you first introduced to the world of virtual reality?
Johan Hanegraaf: I have always been a bit of a tech geek that wanted to step inside our digital building models, so you can imagine my excitement when oculus triggered a new era of vr headsets and made this technology accessible for our daily work.
DB: Can you outline the main advantages of using vr within an architecture studio?
JH: As an architect, you are often imagining a space based on your personal experience. We have many creative ways of presenting our ideas with diagrams, renderings and animations, but nothing quite beats seeing the actual space yourself. Our human sense of scale and depth just adds something to the experience that no flat image can capture. With vr, we now have a technology that allows us to digitally visit and tune our spaces before any bricks are placed.
DB: How often is mecanoo’s design team using headsets to experience buildings in ‘3D’?
JH: The architecture industry is not known for its fast adoption of technology. But since we automated and facilitated most of our in-house VR tools, they have quickly become a fun and well used tool in design meetings, user sessions and promotional events. It’s great to see that VR even helped our architects to embrace other technologies like building information modeling (BIM) in a more enthusiastic way.
DB: Are you able to make changes to projects more quickly as a result of using VR?
JH: VR allows us to communicate with space itself, making it a lot easier for everyone to see how the space feels when changing ceiling heights, void spaces, or furniture dimensions. Like Francine often says ‘architecture must appeal to all the senses’. With VR, design decisions are not limited to experience, expectations or our imagination. We can make virtual simulations of our ideas, share them and improve our general understandings and agreement about the design.
DB: How do you think VR will change the way that architecture firms engage with clients, the media, and the broader public?
JH: VR is particularly powerful in allowing your clients to interact with and better understand the unbuilt design. It shows how changes affect space, allowing us to better advise and engage our clients and raise the overall quality of our designs. I see VR developing into an increasingly popular communication device in the years to come. Imagine how VR tours of buildings could show the spatial and organizational aspects of our work to a much wider audience. VR will ultimately grant a more immersive way to preview buildings than traditional 2D media.
DB: Do you feel VR headsets are going to soon be a common tool for all architects?
JH: I think VR is already becoming more common in architecture. It is much more accessible then most other design technologies and the ability to immerse yourself in a simulated space is particularly useful in our field. People are still getting used to wearing these headsets and disconnecting from what others around them are experiencing. This will however improve over time, as headset technologies mature and experiences get more collaborative and augmented.
Prince William and Kate Middleton visit the site of manchester engineering campus development
DB: How can students and architects start using VR as part of their work?
JH: Many current architectural design softwares can already generate stereo panoramas. So it’s quite easy to extend your traditional 3D design process to VR using a smartphone and mobile viewer like a Google Cardboard. If you want to go for full immersion, there are many online resources that can teach you about the different hardware and tools needed and how to make use of real-time simulations for your architectural work.
ArchiSpace is a design application being developed by Hanegraaf and tested at Mecanoo
DB: What do you think is the potential of VR over the next few years?
JH: I think VR has the potential to change the way we design. Our digital design tools are getting more complex and powerful every year, they automate design tasks, improve collaboration and extend our 3D productivity, but we almost have to be computer programmers to harness their full power. I dream of tools that are more simple and intuitive. This is why I started to develop a design application called ArchiSpace that we are currently testing at Mecanoo. In this VR application I try to integrate architectural methods like sketching and model-making with today’s computational tools. Spatial interaction with our digital content will become more natural with VR/AR, so I hope my application will inspire architects to see beyond the visual simulations and understand the future potential of this technology.