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Five Reasons to Use Virtual Reality in Design

A VR screenshot supplied by BLT Architects of Penn State University’s Veterans Affairs Center in the Ritenour Building in State College.

By Michael Prifti 

Technology is moving quickly across many different industries. Architects are now using emerging technology like virtual reality (VR) to improve experience for clients, tenants and the general public. 

An architecture firm can use VR to accomplish many different goals. VR can be used as both a design tool and a marketing tool. As a design tool, one can create impressive virtual mockups with the technology. To be used as a marketing tool, it is important to figure out the overall goals of the project, such as how interactive and immersive the VR models need to be. 

For example, higher quality VR models require higher computer processing power. 

In general, VR sets have become much more affordable, and jumping into this emerging technology doesn’t necessarily require a large investment. Today, VR headsets can be found for under $500, and the software has become so intuitive that nearly anyone can be taught how to produce very basic VR ready models in about 15 minutes. 

While two-dimensional renderings will likely never disappear, the use of virtual reality is becoming more widespread throughout the industry. 2D drawings or 3D models can give you a general idea of a building’s scale, but VR can truly make you feel like you’re standing right in the middle of an already finished project.

We have recently used VR in some of our new projects, including work being done at Penn State University’s Veterans Affairs Center in the Ritenour Building in State College and renovations to the Philadelphia Federal Credit Union’s 1108 Chestnut Street branch. 

Here are five reasons to use VR in commercial building design:

1. Total Immersion

Using VR, firms can create 3D renderings and present building information modeling software models at human scale. The use of VR makes this total immersion architecture and creates a clarity of scale for users with limited ability to read architectural drawings. 

2. User Experience 

When presenting projects to clients, real world immersion allows multiple user groups of the client to understand concerns specific to them. For example, managers can explore and understand areas in a hotel lobby, facilities can review areas for equipment access and security can review camera locations and views. 

3. Internal Design

With VR, firms can replay and analyze how users traveled through and reacted to a space, such as the ease of the path from the reception desk to a meeting room. The internal design team can use VR in evaluation to confirm appropriateness to clients or users’ needs. VR also allows clients to review branding and signage to address where they want to spend money on directional signage, branding or graphics that will have the most impact visually on the project.

4. Increased ROI

The cost of a VR headset can be as low as a few hundred dollars, which pays for itself many times over by helping clients reach good decisions quickly. Use of VR by design teams can help to further educate and develop architectural skills, quickly develop schemes and evaluate how materials and spaces merge. VR also allows clients to pre-sell apartments, retail spaces and offices by letting prospective tenants “walk” through a space while it is still in design or under construction.

5. Simulate Emergencies

Clients and design teams can virtually review building layout and signage, simulating emergency conditions to design clear pathways and concise signage to help future occupants evacuate quickly and safely.

Michael Prifti is a principal at BLT Architects, a Philadelphia-based integrated design firm specializing in hospitality, education and residential properties. 

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