How to use VR for design & pitching in the construction industry

by | Sep 21, 2022

Virtual reality engages stakeholders like nothing that’s ever come before.

Unless you’re an architect or engineer, 2D floor plans are nothing but lines on a page. 3D renders are better, but even they can’t capture the feeling of a space like Virtual Reality.

A VR space is as easy to understand as looking around the room you’re in right now. You can see how far away the wall is, tell if enough light is coming in through the far window, and gauge the clearance of a doorway or the distance from the kitchen island to the adjacent wall.

Textures and the relationship between textures is obvious. For all these reasons, there are immense and immediate benefits to using VR to pitch, plan, and present designs and concepts in VR. Let’s talk about it.

VR for community engagement in construction

Strong opposition from the community can drag a project out for years before construction has even started.

VR empowers you to engage non-technical people and alleviate their concerns. Anyone, from the concerned grandmother to the software engineer, can understand a VR simulation without exerting mental bandwidth.

It’s not a chore, on the contrary VR is an interesting experience. People will go out of their way to try out a virtual tour in VR.

You can create a scenario where users walk down the virtual footpath, in a digital copy of their neighbourhood, and see your proposed building standing tall in the context of the street.

Government projects, like Brisbane’s Cross River Rail, or Melbourne’s Level Crossings Removal projects, are all using VR to engage with stakeholders. These visualisations can demonstrate the convenience of an integrated bus stop a few steps from the station, or give that first person perspective of stepping off a train and into the proposed station. You don’t need to be a deep-pocket government project to leverage VR. A few years ago you did, but now the barriers to entry are low enough that office fit-outs, apartment blocks and family homes are planned and pitched in VR.

Woodhouse Workspace is an office design firm that leverages VR technology to interface with clients, and plan office layouts.

IAG created a 3D visualisation to engage stakeholders when moving their offices to Darling Park 2 in Sydney.

It’s important to note that VR isn’t the visualisation, it’s just another way to view it. Visualisations can be viewed on a phone or a laptop screen just as easily. The advantage of the headset is greater immersion.

When the virtual environment takes up your entire field of view, you get a real feeling of presence. It’s not something that can easily be put into words. You need to experience VR for yourself, and if you haven’t we can all but guarantee that day is fast approaching.

The key takeaway is that any 3D visualisation is already a VR experience.

To further the immersion, developers and digital artists can add hand tracking, physics and interactivity to a visualisation, gamifying it. They can typically do this with all the same models and the same environment, which saves a lot of time and money.

How VR simulate construction environments

Architects, engineers, and stakeholders can benefit from overlaid data on top of 3D models and environments.

It’s a tremendous planning aid to visualise how a design will respond to floods, fires and other disasters. Not every simulation needs to be life or death. AEC firms are using VR to simulate crowds, test the amount of time it takes to find an exit, or study the line of sight for nearby traffic as it rounds corners and the impact that your project might have on that.

A VR simulation could ask a subject to virtually navigate an airport and monitor the decisions they make. What architects thought was an obvious path from check in to security, might be counterintuitive to most people.

The funny thing about VR simulations is that all this information already exists. It’s just hidden away in numbers and high technical documentation. Even the people who can read this stuff, can’t keep it in their heads long enough to see it all together, make the connections and grasp the big picture.

3D visualisation, and VR, are all about breaking data out of these silos, and seeing it in context. Anyone can understand VR, so just imagine what an engineer can do who’s trained on this data for years. What does he or she notice on that virtual walkthrough of a proposed development?

Overcoming distance

There’s no better way to build confidence across borders and oceans than a VR simulation.

Virtual reality lets anyone view a construction site from anywhere in the world. When making design decisions, VR saves money and carbon on flights, lets you access a global talent pool, and keeps overseas financers in the loop.

Again, a virtual experience, tour or walkthrough can be viewed on a screen or with a VR headset.

We are the first to acknowledge that VR is a few years from true wide scale adoption. In the meantime firms are making VR devices available in local branch offices or shops. If you’ve been to a shopping centre anytime in the last few years, you would have seen these VR outposts. From their booths they offer digital trips to hotels in Fiji, and walkthroughs of the soon to be built apartment complexes.

Optioneering and rapid design iterations

Design decisions are easier to make in context. From small decisions like which couch to put in the downstairs foyer, to big ones like what shade of glass to use on a building’s facade, VR helps. It helps because you can simulate both options and flick between them like you’re settling on a prescription at the optometrist.

You can see one and then the other. You can scale seeing one and then the other to hundreds, or thousands, of people and tap into the collective intelligence to make decisions backed up by objective truth. Then you can overlay all the data you’ve collected to see how the decision stands up when the space is crowded or the light changes.

Let’s wrap this up

Virtual reality is immensely useful for design and pitching in the construction industry. This technology is cheaper and better than ever. In the six years since the first consumer VR headsets hit the market, the industry has grown to sell well over a million units a year. A figure which is predicted to 10x within the decade. The tech is proven, but it’s still new and it’s novel. This presents us with a rare opportunity to surprise prospects. To grab their attention and keep it by blocking out everything else. What other medium lets you capture the entirety of a target’s vision by strapping a screen centimetres from their eyes? You’re burning your brand into their retinas. Not only is VR exciting, but it’s also useful. It can provide a hyper-realistic walkthrough of a building before the first brick is laid. It can connect with the local community or an overseas investor tens of thousands of kilometres away. If you’re in construction, and you’re not considering VR, why not?

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