Small architecture firms will need to understand virtual reality

Virtual reality is everywhere, and it is quickly gaining traction in the architecture industry. VR is in the early stages, but larger architecture firms have already begun to make major investments in it, establishing departments to manage the creation of VR models plans to help clients more easily see an architect’s vision.

VR is likely to become increasingly important for architects in the very near future. It is a natural extension of the growing use of three-dimensional modeling/building information modeling (BIM) software. Younger architects have come up using these tools and are more comfortable working in 3D, which helps them better understand the whole space in which they’re designing. VR can take these 3D models and convert them into something that enables the layman to see what a design will look like in real life, without having to understand floor plans, elevation, and other traditional media of architectural design.

By providing clients with a VR model to experience, the design process can be a more collaborative, successful venture. Clients can get a better sense than before of what the final product will really look like, and it is an incredibly useful tool for setting expectations and tackling conflicts in the early stage of the process. For this reason, big firms are moving fast and investing a lot to incorporate VR in their design process.

But what about small architecture firms? Smaller firms face both pros and cons to investing in VR right now.  Let’s discuss some of them:

Cons of VR for small firms

Using VR models means adding another step to the design process, taking a BIM design and converting to a VR model for the client to experience. That adds more time and labor to the project, which can be a deal-breaker for small firms.

Staff have to take the time to research, identify, and implement the best VR software option, again stretching limited resources. In addition, VR technologies for architectural design are evolving rapidly, and small firms have to be careful not to invest in a solution that limits growth. There are plug-ins to existing software that can convert a 3D model to VR, as well as standalone options that require additional software licenses and often a more powerful computer.

For small firms that focus on very small projects, VR might not be a worthwhile option. Projects such as small kitchen and bathroom renovations may not be worth the investment in VR.

Pros for VR for small firms

In spite of such obstacles, VR still holds a lot of promise for small firms. Small firms that sell themselves as more collaborative and innovate relative to big firms may benefit by using VR.  The tool can draw clients into the design process, help them understand and visualize the project, and set expectations for final results.

VR can also help architects in the design process by allowing the design team to experience the space they are designing while better understanding the user experience. This kind of perspective has the potential to lead to better design solutions.

Another small firm benefit of embracing VR is the capability compete with bigger firms, or even tout a competitive advantage. If a client’s review of a VR model uncovers an unexpected need for a change, smaller firms can often be nimbler in responding to the client request.

VR will be a big part of the future of architecture

In the future, VR and augmented reality may enable a client to stand in an empty construction space and experience the proposed design through the use of VR goggles. This technology continues to evolve, and its potential is strong.

VR and AR are impacting many industries, as well as on the daily lives of many people, and that impact is sure to grow. Small firms would be wise to note this trend, invest in VR to stay competitive, and prepare for future demand. Small firms should consider mapping out a path to integrating VR into their design process, as it will become an important tool in providing better service and communication with clients.

Stephanie López de Veraza is an associate at saam architecture who specializes in the analysis and coordination of finding architectural design solutions.

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