On March 24th, I gave a presentation on real-time rendering and virtual reality (VR) at Midwest University 2016. Coordinated by CAD Technology Center and sponsored by Autodesk, Midwest University is a regional AEC conference held annually in Minneapolis. Straying slightly from this year’s central theme of BIM process workflows, I presented an introductory course on VR as many architects are just starting to embrace it, but they either don’t know how to get started or don’t know how to present it to their clients. Also, recent advancements in headset technology along with new software created specifically for the design industries have made VR much more accessible and affordable.

To define a few concepts and explain the three different VR experiences that we offer clients, I showed the audience how to use desktop VR to navigate a digital model in real-time at nearly a photorealistic level, how to use immersive VR to place yourself in a digital model at a 1:1 scale, and how to use augmented reality (AR) to let users navigate a virtual, scale model with a phone or tablet. With minimal effort, these technologies allow us to give our clients enough control to see and “experience” every part of their building, improving their understanding of the design and giving them a chance to make important decisions earlier in the design phase. Working with programs like Enscape, which interfaces directly with Revit, we can even send a standalone, executable file of a model that anyone can open, making it easier for clients to navigate our models on their own.

Virtual reality and its role in architecture

The presentation concluded with a few step-by-step workflows that CannonDesign has experimented with, including the interoperability of our Revit model with the Oculus Rift headset. Soon after, I showed the audience how to set up their own VR scenes and how to work with a few of the other VR headsets that are either currently available or coming out soon, including the very affordable Google Cardboard. Using the Google Cardboard, we’re able to render a stereoscopic panorama that you can open on a smartphone anywhere in the world, making it easier for anyone to experience VR without the need to buy an expensive headset.

The possibilities for VR in architecture are truly extraordinary. Its ability to help illustrate not only what a space looks like, but how it “feels” is already revolutionizing the way our clients understand and participate in the design process. As the technology continues to advance, I have no doubt interacting with a space virtually will become just as immersive as the real thing.

So what’s next for CannonDesign? We’re anxiously awaiting our shipment of the new Oculus Rift consumer version headsets, which we will continue to test and hope to make available for our project teams within the next few months. Stay tuned.

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Jacob Simanowitz is a Design Application Specialist working with our Digital Practice group in our Chicago office.