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How to get started with Virtual Reality in Architecture & Design?


Virtual reality in Architecture and design

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Virtual Reality in Architecture & Design

Virtual Reality has come a long way from the days of clumsy hardware installations, long development cycles to prepare 3D models & hard-to-install software on VR headsets. The hardware is wireless, affordable & of great quality today. The software is easily available for download and getting models into VR can be done in a matter of minutes.


In this blog, we will have you navigate through how to use Virtual reality in Architecture and Design effectively. Before we dive in deep, let's understand How Architects are using Sentio VR


How are Architects using VR?

In our own interviews with more than 100+ Architecture firms across the world, there is a consensus that clients have a hard time understanding floor plans, 2D walkthroughs of a space which is not yet built.


Architects and Designers all around the world are using VR for:


  • Client Presentations: Architects and Designers can easily create light weight client presentations by exporting 360 panoramas from Revit/Sketchup and create high-quality, photorealistic walkthroughs using rendering software like Enscape, Twinmotion, Lumion, and V-Ray which allows them to visualize the final product in a real world application, the way 2D renders cannot.

  • Design Reviews: Sentio VR allows project stakeholders to conduct immersive design reviews and interact with 3D models in virtual environment, which makes it easier to identify design issues and spatial conflicts earlier, reducing costly revisions later.

  • Real-time collaboration: Sentio VR allows collaboration in real-time with multiple users from different locations. These are the interactive sessions where Architects, designer and other multiple stakeholders can collectively walkthrough and review design while taking feedback in real-time with the design review tools such as annotations, notes, screenshots, measurement etc which helps making informed decisions, identify potential design errors saving costly revisions and rework before the construction begins.


This testimonial from Ken Mahood captures the benefits really well:

“Using Virtual Reality not only blows the minds of our clients when we show them their project but also surprises us as designers.”


How to select the right VR headset for Architecture and Design workflows?

In the dynamic field of virtual reality, selecting the right headset for architectural applications involves understanding the latest developments. As of 2024, the market trends continue towards lighter, wireless devices with improved resolution and processing capabilities. We have written in detail about the best VR headsets for Architecture and Design firm. Architects have often had to choose from a wide variety of categories:


  • Standalone headsets: Standalone headsets like Meta Quest 2 or 3, require no physical connection to a computer. They are valued for their ease of use and mobility. Ideal for architects and designers, these headsets allow for easy sharing of 3D models and designs with clients and team members in various settings, facilitating easy presentation and collaborative sessions from offices to construction sites.

  • PC-tethered headsets: PC- Tethered headsets like HP Reverb G2, Valve Index, HTC Vive Pro need to be connected to a PC. They are typically powerful and have better resolutions but also cost more than wireless headsets. They are built to offer complex architectural visualization with high fidelity and process heavier models (more than 2 million polygon).

How to integrate Virtual Reality in Architectural & Design software?

If the number of VR headsets can be overwhelming to choose from, it can be even more complicated to understand how your design & modeling software integrates with Virtual Reality. We recommend thinking about the design stage and communication intent to determine the right workflow for your requirements.


Looking for photorealistic immersive experiences?


Think of rendering software like Lumion, Enscape, VRay, Twinmotion, and how to get your content into headsets like Meta Quest 3? The proper workflow can be setting up your scenes in the rendering software, exporting 360 panoramas to your desktop & importing them to your Quest. The import process can be manual, ie, uploading the files directly to your headset or via a 360 tour software that has a cloud-based viewer for Meta Quest.


Looking for 3D walkthroughs for conceptual design reviews?


In early design development, walking through a 3D model can be really beneficial for stakeholders to understand the intricacies of the project. Typically, this can be done via software that offers plugins in order to export models to the cloud and render them for viewing using a VR App. SketchUp also offers its own Virtual Reality viewer using a cable to view the models on the Quest. We have built plugins that integrate directly with SketchUp & Revit that makes the process of uploading and viewing a 3D Walkthrough a single-step process.


How to use Sentio VR for immersive VR client presentations?

Meetings with different stakeholders in a design development process can be done in various modes. In-person meetings with clients have been the most common way of introducing VR to clients as most clients do not possess their own headsets. This workflow typically requires uploading the design to the cloud, ensuring the walkthrough is properly set up for a client presentation & bringing a VR headset to the meeting.


Here are the four key presentation scenarios:


  • Set-up casting for In-person meetings Ideal for in-person meetings, you can cast the VR view to a larger display so multiple stakeholders can share the immersive experience simultaneously. This setup is perfect for interactive sessions where clients are new to VR

Casting for in-person meetings

  • Guided PC Collaborations: Use the SENTIO VR PC app to guide clients through VR experiences during collaborative meetings. This method allows detailed control and interaction, where you can manage your clients VR experience directly from PC.

Guided PC collaboration

  • Multi-User Collaborative Meetings: This scenario supports real-time collaborative meetings with multiple participants in VR, making it possible to conduct interactive sessions with several stakeholders, making collective and informed decisions.


  • Offline 360 Panorama Walkthroughs: For situations with limited internet access, downloading 360 panoramas for offline viewing allows presentations to continue smoothly, ensuring that all design details are accessible without dependency on live connectivity.


What are the limitations of 3D to VR software?


While it is true that significant improvements have been made in the field of virtual reality for architecture, there are still certain challenges that need to be addressed. A few limitations that exist today can be summarized as follows:


  • High-polygon 3D models: Models can vary from small houses with a few thousand polygons to big projects with millions of polygons. Additionally, there can be files related to materials, textures that add to the complexity of rendering in real-time on headsets like Meta Quest 2 or 3 - which has a limited capacity. This turns out to be frustrating for Architects who do not want to spend a lot of time cleaning up models. Significant improvements in this area have been made, but there is always a threshold beyond which complex models may not work in a plug-and-play fashion.

  • Photo-realistic experiences: Most of the popular rendering engines like Lumion, Vray, Twinmotion, Enscape still do not have a direct VR integration option. The popular way of getting these photorealistic scenes into VR is via 360 panoramas which can be viewed in headsets and provide an excellent immersive experience - but a lot of the content is lost in this process which is a limiting factor for high-quality VR experiences.

  • Usability for clients: For most clients, managing the VR headset experience is not a very intuitive process at the beginning. This can be a challenge in meetings and requires careful planning in preparing a good walkthrough that can be viewed by all stakeholders and easily managed in order to focus on the design content and not on how to use the headset,


3 considerations for successful VR implementation

As we saw in the above sections, most of the 3D to VR workflow directly integrates with the software used currently by Architects & Designers. This implies that the costs in implementing VR at the firm essentially depends on two additional factors:


  • Hardware costs: Most firms begin with acquiring 1 or 2 headsets to start with and measure the ROI of VR for design review workflows. This helps to get initial results with clients and internal stakeholders before rolling out a wider implementation of the technology in the organization. In this case, initial hardware costs begin at $199/headset for Meta Quest 2.

  • Software costs: Like most software acquisitions, there is a range of options to choose from for our VR requirements. Typically, for 3D to VR integrations and showing off panoramas, SketchUp, or Revit models, software prices range from $500 USD/year to $2000 USD/ year per user as a starting point. Also, these are typically monthly subscriptions which can be disabled at any point in most cases. Sentio VR's pricing starts at $99 per month for the Lite plan. Check SENTIO VR pricing here for more information.

  • Mobile Device Management Costs (MDM):  If you have more than 3 VR devices, deploying an MDM solution like Arbor XR or Manage XR helps manage apps, updates, and security. These solutions typically start at $10-20 per device per month. Read about how to manage your XR headsets in detail.


Therefore, with an initial investment of less than $1,000 USD per year, any Architecture, Design, or Construction firm can get started with VR and measure the ROI before making company-wide adoption and bigger investments.


Conclusion

As we explore the dynamic capabilities of VR in architecture, it becomes clear that this technology is essential for modern design practices. VR is revolutionizing client interactions and project visualization through realistic, immersive experiences. VR not only enhances client presentations and design reviews but also promotes efficient, collaborative decision-making across various stages of architectural projects. By integrating VR, firms can significantly improve design accuracy and client satisfaction, ensuring that the visions is aligned with all stakeholders and effectively communicated and understood before any physical construction begins.


Feel free to leave your opinion & reach out if you have questions about your VR setup. If you’re interested in trying out SENTIO VR for efficient and cloud-based collaboration, Sign up for a 14 days trial.


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