The old phrase of ‘needing to see it to believe it’ is a powerful mantra across all aspects of residential design. From architecture and property development to interior design, a strong a visual narrative is key. This is not only to convince clients, but also third parties, about the merits of unique concepts and ambitious designs.
There are a couple of ways this can be achieved. 2D plans, layouts and elevations are still crucial to any project, while 3D renders and flythrough videos have joined them over time. These are effective, to a degree, but they are only able to provide clients with an incomplete idea of a project.
The same problem applies to a home's interior design. In a showroom, one sofa might look better than another, but might not work in the context of a specific room. Large companies such as Ikea and Converse have used phone-based AR to show how their products look in situ, although this doesn't help when a property hasn't been built yet. In this scenario, VR is the perfect platform for bringing a project to life before a customer’s eyes.
“Rather than standing outside the window peering in, virtual reality places you 'in' a space, allowing you to fully explore and edit it to your tastes. In the years to come, no home will be designed without customers stepping into a virtual version beforehand. Residential design will be come reliant on VR as a powerful visual tool.”
Krystian Zajac, chairman of Andrew Lucas Studios
VR spaces can be built out of existing software that architects already use – such as Vectorworks, SketchUp and Revit. These are then refined through a gaming engine such as Unreal Engine to create realistic, explorable environments.
Once complete, the user can experience a 360° view on a specific property, product or place. Depending on the interactivity desired, this can be as simple as a single, static observation point or the freedom to roam inside and out. Different design elements can be made interactive so the user can see options or understand how something would work in real life.
As a proofing tool, a VR experience allows users to quickly and easily spot flaws in the design, which may not be apparent in technical drawings. From the client’s perspective, such an experience can help them understand the project better.
Equally valuable is the ability for designers to chart the user experience through an envisaged space. This feedback can then be used to inform and influence the design before construction begins. For commercial spaces where heavy footfall is expected, such as an airport, this could be incredibly useful.
For sensitive building projects where the community need to be engaged with, VR could be used to address concerns. By placing a property in context, interested parties can gain a more accurate understanding of what is being planned. This can quell the potential for emotionally-charged objections based on fear, rather than facts.
Is it time to embrace VR?
Many product designers and architectural practices now create virtual reality experiences in-house. Yet these are often simplistic and lack lifelike details. Simply put, they demonstrate the project but don't inspire the client.
A third-party VR studio that specialises in animation will be able to create truly lifelike environments. These feature realistic lighting conditions, dynamic weather and 3D audio, making for a much more immersive experience. These little details can be all the difference between impressing a client, or leaving them underwhelmed with a concept.
The price associated with creating a virtual reality experience will depend on how many elements need to be created from scratch. A property can quickly be built using existing design elements, but if a company wants their products created from scratch then these take longer to produce. However, once an object or space has been created in virtual reality, it can easily be reused, making VR a cost-effective solution mid- to long-term.