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Transforming design through virtual reality

March 01, 2016

By Brendan Mullins

How virtual reality is helping clients experience their buildings in a whole new way

“Virtual reality” is a buzz word we hear a lot these days, but you may not realize just how relevant it’s become to the AEC industry. In fact, you can find applications at all levels of the design process. But first you might be asking, what exactly is virtual reality? You’ve seen it in movie plots and sci-fi novels, but may not have realized it exists today. As designers, we’re tasked with developing the best product while utilizing our most advanced and creative workflows. Virtual reality is that solution and we’re already embracing this tool to transform our design.  

My journey with virtual reality began in college. While studying architecture, I also pursued a minor in digital media and technology. I was designing video games in classes when it occurred to me that the Revit models I created were perfect candidates not just for video games, but for virtual reality. For example, think about “first person” shooter games like Call of Duty and Halo. You could create that same visual experience but instead of a battlefield or spaceship, you could be virtually touring a project…without the attack scenarios. At the time, unfortunately, the cost and time implications of virtual reality were too restrictive to implement.

Fast forward to 2015: I created construction documents for full-scale model patient rooms made out of cardboard for the Cleveland Clinic Cancer Building project. While modeling and documenting in Revit, I realized I had a highly detailed 3D model sitting right in front of me, so why couldn’t I navigate it in real-time? You know, like a video game? Even better, why couldn’t I navigate this space in virtual reality, and create my own full-scale “digital mockup?”

With the help of Stantec’s Research & Development fund, that’s exactly what I did. In the last year, working with my R&D partner, Aubrey Tucker, we’ve created numerous methods for implementing virtual reality in the industry marketplace, and have shared them with some of Stantec’s most important clients. We have streamlined methods for projects of any type and size. Exactly a year after drawing the cardboard mockups for the Cleveland Clinic, we are now providing 360 degree virtual reality renderings so they can share the project with patients and colleagues. Many other clients of all sizes are working with us to enjoy the benefit of this rapidly developing technology. We have given nurses a way to visualize patient rooms, property owners a way to share spaces with potential tenants, and building managers a way to provide digital tours of their facilities.

Although it’s been around for a while now, virtual reality is truly in its infancy in the design industry. At the moment, the technology mostly exists as a powerful presentation and review tool. In the near future we can likely expect modeling and collaboration with contractors and designers across the globe in a real-time, virtual reality environment. This is an exciting time for design technology and I am proud that Stantec is at the forefront of this design revolution.

To view sample Stantec projects in virtual reality click on one of the following links: 

Schematic Design
Construction Documents

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