It has been almost a full year since Virtual Reality (VR) capabilities were first introduced to the Holland Basham team as an advanced method for visualizing unbuilt architectural spaces. The technology takes the idea of photorealistic computer rendering one step further, allowing individuals the opportunity to step inside a 3D model and walk through a designed space at a perceived life-size scale.
While the technology is still somewhat new to the field, architects at HBA have wasted no time learning and incorporating the tool into the design process, and clients are already experiencing the benefits. No matter the type, scope, or scale of the project, Virtual Reality brings clarity to discussions between the architect and owner.
The healthcare division at HBA already has a history of providing additional visualization services for hospital and clinic spaces. Services that once required the construction of room mock-ups from large cardboard sheets, can now be provided with a computer model and a VR headset. Kyle Miller, a prominent member of the HBA healthcare team, shared that the specialized nature of room functions found in healthcare facilities require critical consideration when it comes to the coordination of medical equipment layouts. If not visualized and coordinated correctly during the design process, physician and staff efficiency and patient experiences can be negatively affected. Sightlines in and between rooms need to be coordinated as well, so medical staff can maintain visual contact with patients, while still providing privacy when needed. VR allows potential issues to be identified and adjusted prior to construction.
The education sector is another area where VR has already proven to be beneficial for evaluating a design’s ability to meet end-user goals, prior to construction. HBA architect and innovation leader, Matt Neaderhiser, shared several related examples after integrating VR into client meetings for a secondary school renovation project. He described how getting stakeholders and decision makers into the VR headset to experience several spatial design options in rapid succession allows for quick decision making. When everyone experiences the same space in VR, it eliminates the opportunities for miscommunication or misinterpretation. Everyone is quickly placed on the same page regarding general project understanding, so confusion can be minimized. If there is a question of whether a classroom is sized appropriately for its intended use or if lab spaces should be separated by half-height walls versus windows, these options can be viewed and evaluated without much additional explanation.
Virtual reality has also found a role within larger scale corporate building projects. The design challenges for this type of project can range from high level building-to-building development context relationships to specific internal employee-to-employee interactions. Brittany McClure, a lead design architect at HBA, possesses recent experience introducing VR to corporate clients. She cites Virtual Reality’s ability to bring clarity to complex, big-picture concepts as a major strength of the visualization tool. When the client can see several months worth of design decisions come together against the lifelike backdrop of a recognizable community fabric, it can be a powerful experience.
Recently seen as an unfamiliar and unproven futuristic device, VR has quickly become an integrated and important design tool in the HBA project delivery process. The architectural staff’s willingness to discover and share the advantages of the system with an open-minded client base, has led to obvious benefits for both parties. What a difference a year can make.
As technology continues to alter our field, whether it be through further advancements in virtual reality, or the next big technological leap, HBA will strive to stay nimble, ready to learn and integrate such advancements into our processes. Our end goal will always be to ensure clients receive the best architectural services imaginable.
By: Justin Langenfeld, Assoc. AIA