Like so many other industries, virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality are taking the world of design by storm. From architecture to interior home design, VR and related technologies are changing the way we create the places we work, live, and play.
The uses of VR in this field are innumerable, and range from applications for professional architects creating a new stone masterpiece, all the way down to a college student wondering if that used couch will fit in their room.
Virtual reality is quickly becoming mainstream, and soon the VR or AR headset might be as ubiquitous as the smartphone in American homes. It’s not surprising that the worlds of architecture and interior home design are taking advantage of this new technology, its popularity, and its widespread availability and affordability. What is surprising is the degree to which VR has already entrenched itself in design. Apps and programs for every kind of VR and AR hardware exist to aid architects and interior designers, and more are appearing all the time. Here are some of the most popular VR and AR applications, and the ways they help people in all walks of life who are hoping to build homes, improve their homes, or just live in homes.
To the architect, VR is a dream come true. Until the advent of this technology, architects would have to wait weeks, months or more to see their work truly bear fruit. To an architect, designs and blueprints on a page are akin to musical notation to a composer. They may express the architect’s vision, but they are not how that vision is meant to be truly experienced. For that, time, money, and skilled labor is required to execute on the plan.
Scale models, although useful, are no substitute for the real thing. A toy-sized replica is more helpful than the printed page or 2D computer monitor, but it cannot express the scope and majesty many architects have in mind when they work out their designs. Models are expensive and time-consuming to create, and cannot easily be iterated upon as an architect makes changes and improvement.
On the other hand, VR is life-size, fast, and inexpensive. A CAD design can be brought to life almost instantly in the virtual world, and a simulation of sufficient quality is effectively indistinguishable from the real thing. Architects can walk through their creations, see them as they are meant to be seen, and even make changes to them in real-time. In the virtual world, anything is possible, and architects can use software to add or remove elements as they see fit. No construction crew or building permit required.
The SmartReality app is a fascinating convergence of smartphone, virtual reality, and augmented reality. Designed for architectural professionals, users upload their plans to the service to be converted into SmartReality-compatible files. Once the file is loaded into the smartphone app, users can scan in paper plans and translate them into either virtual reality or augmented reality.
The software is compatible with a variety of VR and AR head-mounted displays. In VR, users can literally walk through their plans. This type of interaction is invaluable to get a sense of scale and an understanding of how people inside the building would move around.
In AR, SmartReality creates an instant 3D model on a tabletop or other surface. Both functions of the application represent an exciting new way for architects to interact with their creations before they are built. By relying on paper plans, the software allows architects to skip the learning curve, and use their already-developed skills and knowledge to update their designs in the virtual world.
Leaning more heavily on the concept of translating paper plans into the virtual world is Augment, a startup firm creating plugins for existing CAD and 3D design tools. Augment was created to help sales professionals better communicate with their clients, but is especially useful in the architecture and interior home design fields.
Essentially, the software overlays 3D models into the real world. It requires no hardware other than an ordinary smartphone or tablet, and is very accessible and easy to use. Looking at a physical space through the device screen, the user can seamlessly add 3D models, sizing and rotating them as needed.
In the architectural space, site visits become very easy. The app has no limits on the scale of the objects placed, so architects can show their clients how an entire building will look compared to its neighbors. For interior home designers, the app is even more useful. An empty room can be virtually decorated, and the client can peer through a tablet screen, moving around the room to see the proposed furniture and décor from every angle.
VR and AR are, if anything, becoming even more prevalent in the world of interior home design. After all, while architects are by necessity trained professionals who study their craft for years, pretty much everyone is at least an amateur interior decorator. The field runs the gamut from high-end experts at creating a perfect feng shui, to the average apartment dweller who just wants to add a little color to their living room.
The rise of virtual reality means that there is more opportunity than ever before to experiment and play with the look and feel of a home without spending a dime on furniture, much less moving it around. Here are some of the best examples of the technology at work.
Swedish furniture giant IKEA has a long history of embracing the latest technologies to make their stores better and customers happier. The brand has jumped onto the augmented reality train with the latest version of their freely available catalog app.
The app pairs with the printed 2017 or later IKEA catalog to create an experience that is nothing short of magical the first time one sees it in action. Open the catalog to the item of your choice, and lay it on the floor. Point your phone or tablet at the catalog, and the item displayed on the page will spring to life, full-size and 3D. Walk around the furniture, approach or move away from it, and even rotate it using your device controls.
Anyone who has ever struggled to bring a piece of furniture up a flight of stairs only to find that it simply cannot fit next to the other furniture in the room will immediately see the wonderful utility of this function. The app is amazingly effective at reducing the headache and stress of a redecoration or move.
Outside of the retail space, professional interior decorators are also embracing VR and AR. There are a number of apps available to help designers convey their ideas and progress to clients.
Design firm Decorilla employs VR to communicate with clients in flash and style. The firm is an online-only business. Clients send in the dimensions of their rooms, along with photographs. The designers send back a digital proposal complete with a branded Google Cardboard viewer. The client inserts their phone into the viewer and can view a 3D walkthrough of their new furnished room.
A more traditional design firm leveraging VR is DIRTT (Doing It Right This Time). The company regularly employs Oculus Rift headsets to provide virtual walkthroughs of proposals. Presentations incorporating the virtual world are highly effective, as they can essentially show the client the finished product before they spend a dime. In this way, designer and client can agree on every aspect of the project beforehand, saving time and money down the road.
VR and AR are already making a huge impact on the architecture and interior home design spaces, and have been for years. The recent mainstreaming of the technology will only serve to speed the rate of adoption, and soon it will likely seem strange not to receive a virtual walkthrough of a building or room, or to see how a new couch will fit before it ever enters the home.