Virtual Reality: the Latest Frontier in Client Design Tools
Written by S2 Architecture
S2 Architecture has invested in state-of-the-art Virtual Reality (VR) hardware and software that allows our clients to fully immerse themselves into their designed building before it is built.
Virtual Reality in Architecture
Virtual reality provides clients with a tangible experience of being in the space as opposed to just a visual reference such as a 3D rendering or model. When a person uses VR they feel as though they’re in the space – they can interact with the space, walk around, move furniture, look up and around the room to experience the scale and really experience how the space will respond and work for the end user.
VR helps clients and designers to communicate more effectively and efficiently, saving time, minimizing surprises during the construction stage, and ultimately providing better solutions for the building design. This results in higher client satisfaction and happier end users. It is particularly useful in projects where there are unique spaces and operational challenges.
VR enables floor plans and layouts to be revised during the working drawing phase instead of during construction – saving time and money. It is also used by S2’s technical design team to find errors in the files so that they can be corrected prior to finalizing the drawings. It is about increasing efficiency and adding value to the client, resulting in a better, more cost effective and more functional building.
VR can be used to “walk through” a space and review the overall design and location of mechanical and electrical components before spending time and money on site mock-ups. This is helpful for clients to see the scale and proportions of a space, ensuring that the right “feel” and connection with the end user will be made through the design. My love for design is attributed to many of my adventures travelling the world; experiencing new cultures; and feasting on delicious cuisines. I’ve become a strong advocate for stepping outside of my comfort zone; exploring new horizons; and unpacking unique inspirations to help transcend me as a designer. Exposure to new environments has ultimately led me to discovering my voice as a designer; identifying my individuality; and generating a newfound sense of purpose. My ambition to acquire designations in both Interior Design and Architecture brings me one step closer to joining a global list of successful designers with the intent to make a difference in the world.
How it works
VR requires advanced hardware and specialized software. The VR station consists of a higher-end graphics computer, a VR headset (HTC Vive Pro) and a large auxiliary display for spectators to see what the individual inside the VR space is experiencing. This allows for communication between the VR user and all others involved – spectators can see what the user is seeing and pointing out. VR can be used to showcase space, proportion, scale, fine details and even incorporate material selections for the client to experience.
S2 is currently utilizing multiple software options to leverage this technology, from easy-to-use options such as Enscape and Twinmotion, to more advanced experiences created in Unreal Engine 4. Enscape is user-friendly and dynamically connected to our design and BIM software (Sketchup and Revit). While the client is in the VR environment the designer can make revisions and modifications to the 3D model in real-time for instant client feedback. This eliminates the back and forth delay that happens when communicating revisions via conventional means.
Twinmotion lacks the dynamic link and feedback of Enscape, however it allows for the addition of secondary animation objects such as moving people, cars, trees and other visual effects. Both software allow the export of standalone options for the client to use and share with others and can be experienced on any computer or smart phone without the need for a VR headset. This software allows the client to navigate the space in a game-like environment. Unreal Engine 4 gives even further control, making it possible for the client to interact with elements in the space. Any of the software S2 utilizes can be used at any stage of the design process.
Real Life Example; Accommodation Camp, Fort McMurray, AB
Our client Horizon North, together with the owner of a camp accommodation project, participated in a VR walkthrough at the S2 Calgary studio in the spring of 2019. Their project, for which we were Prime Architect, comprised nineteen three-storey modular buildings to house their staff, totalling more than 2,000 dorm rooms – a huge project. On a project of this size and scope, even a small change during construction can result in tens of thousands of dollars in budget overruns.
More than 20 people from the client, ownership team and S2 team members participated in the walkthrough, with the camp coordinator and Horizon North’s Architectural Lead donning the VR headset to “walk through” the dorm spaces to see how they would function in “real life”. They looked under beds for storage options and navigated the rooms focusing on housekeeping challenges, maintenance issues and safety concerns. The VR walkthrough brought up a number of talking points and some concerns, which ultimately led to layout improvements and design enhancements.
“Horizon North hired S2 Architecture to create a tour of an accommodation in Virtual Reality to determine that the design met the requirements put out by the operators of the complex. In doing so, the impressive results provided more than what was expected in terms of verifying space requirements and furniture placement. The model was so realistic, an actual prototype of a bedroom was suggested as being unnecessary due to the interaction that the VR model provided.” – Andy, Architectural Lead, Horizon North Logistics Inc.
About S2 Architecture
S2 Architecture is an architectural, interior design and master planning firm with more than 26 years of award-winning experience. S2 is a full service firm with studios in Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver. Its work spans a broad range of building and project types and the foundation of S2’s success is deeply rooted in the delivery of creative design solutions for its clients, its communities and the environment.
S2 is led by seven partners who bring their individual talents and expertise to each project. Their combined experience across building types, sectors, clients and locations results in design excellence and a commitment to continuously raising the bar on innovation and creativity.