A little while ago, I wrote a piece for VR Tech about the multiple reasons our office had to go down the VR route, explaining what it could bring to our practice and my vision of its future in the architectural industry.
This time, I will give more precisions on our working process, what we use and how we use it.
First of all, we use VR mainly with computer generated images (CGI) in order to achieve a deeper level of communication with our clients.
For people who don't deal with plans, sections or technical drawing every day, it can be tricky for them to understand in relation to the resulting 3D spaces. VR allows them to fully immerse themselves in their project.
Focus on VR images
We are, for now, focusing on images and not on videos or an interactive environment because of two main reasons, the first one being a financial issue.
We're a small office, so an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive are still a bit much for our tight budget; and the computing power that we would have to acquire in order to be able to render 360° videos is also not conceivable. The second reason is their accessibility.
As easy, practical and cheap as it is to ship a Cardboard viewer with the images’ links to clients, it would be much more of a hassle to have them buy a Rift or come in especially to see a couple of images.
Furthermore, even with static images, we have already received really mixed feedback.
Customers 'put off' by interactivity
The majority like it a lot, some, however, are really put off by any kind of interactivity. They associate it quickly with a video game, seeing it as childish, not serious and therefore worth their time. Some would even go as far as seeing it as a smoke screen pulled up to hide mistakes and a poor design.
Using images also allows us to focus on one space at a time, giving clients enough time really feel the atmosphere and scale of the environment. It is also really difficult to see everything in one take with a 360° video, asking clients to spend more time on it with several viewing.
To design, model and render these images we use SketchUp coupled with Vray and several other plugins depending on the project. SketchUp, often regarded as too easy to produce anything worth showing, is for us quick, cheap and very versatile.
As we use VR in the early stages of the design, we have to be able to produce images quickly without having to switch software like most people in the industry do.
This integration is key and a lot of new plugins and apps are born every day to facilitates images and model sharing in VR.
A virtual showroom
Our choice to give visitors a space to explore rather than the usual scrollable flat page was made with the intention to have the website act as a virtual showroom. What better solution to showcase your work than your work itself, right?
With this approach, we had to design the very space showing our work and being totally virtual, that opened the door to infinite possibilities. We didn’t really need a floor or walls or even to keep any notions of up and down.
Light didn’t have to come from the sun or a light bulb or anything really, it could just be. Is it the right time and place to break free of all physical laws?
All these questions brought us to reflect a lot on what VR could and should bring. We finally took the decision to keep some sort of reality laws inside the space; we are architects working in the real world after all.
For now, at least.
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