The use of advanced technologies, such as virtual reality, in the architectural scene is becoming increasingly important. No matter how beautiful a rendered image is, it will never fully convey the scope and feel of a project as a whole, reinforcing the need to incorporate the use of these technologies at a professional practice level. Architects who choose not to incorporate virtual reality technologies into their design process are at a significant disadvantage, and the issue is no longer one of accessibility, as VR is now a viable option for architects of all backgrounds.

Head-mounted displays , such as the  Oculus Rift, have the potential to change how architects and designers create and communicate their ideas long before structures are built. Clients can easily be transported into three-dimensional representations of the working design to further immerse themselves, almost similar to the emotions evoked when engaging in a virtual built environment in video games.

Virtual worlds aim to temporarily transport consumers to another reality, a well-constructed environment capable of transmitting subtle things such as emotions, feelings, and sensations; thus, if clients are able to experience the influx of those emotions prior to physically standing in the building, it opens up opportunities for changes to be made before committing to a build. In comparison to traditional methods of rendering, scale models, or animations, the immersive environment in nature provides a much more accurate representation of scale, depth, and spatial awareness. When you as the designer have the ability to provide the client with the immersive experience and sensation of actually inhabiting the space, your ability to communicate design intent becomes immediately apparent and much clearer.

The benefit of using virtual reality is that it can be used early in the conceptual stages to further explore the relationships between different spaces, light, construction, and materiality. In comparison to simply looking at a scale model or visual render, the use of an immersive representation allows for greater immediate understanding and comprehension of these design elements. Individuals who are not familiar with the profession of a designer or architect may be unable to understand spatial relationships and scale when viewing a two-dimensional render; however, the use of virtual reality is more universal and can elicit a positive reaction in the same way that physical architecture can.

So, how is virtual reality technology currently changing the field of architecture?
Ennead Architects, based in New York, has used virtual reality to help clients visualize both space and data in three dimensions. During the conceptual design and planning stages of the Shanghai Astronomy Museum (2021)VR was heavily used to display various color blocks showing where the building will receive the most light, with redder blocks indicating more light exposure. The building raises awareness of the fundamental relationship to the sun and the earth’s orbital motion through the use of scale, form, and light manipulation, creating an immersive experience that places visitors in direct engagement with real astronomical phenomena.

Since 2015, ZGF Architects  in Portland has used a VR specialist on more than 50 of their projects and counting. The team’s design principals provide feedback on projects while they are actively in VR, allowing the staff to make changes to the designs in real-time.

In healthcare facilities, where the goal is to reduce stress and allow caregivers to spend more time with patients, virtual reality (VR) can have a significant impact on our ability to improve wayfinding and reduce waste, such as travel distances and time spent looking for supplies. This video walkthrough demonstrates the precision of VR technology when used as a modern design tool.

Urbanist Architecture , based in London, also aspires to be a pioneer in the use of virtual reality to assist clients in achieving ultimate realism in experiencing what their proposed development will look like, even while the property is still under construction. The goal of Urbanist 4D Reality is to immerse you in the property from their office so that clients can not only “talk the talk,” but also “walk the walk” with the architects.

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, based in Chicago, has been using virtual reality software for several projects, including the MFE Concept Community (2018), looking at how virtual reality can start influencing residents’ education, informing them in an engaging and entertaining way about what’s behind their apartment walls, and the ways in which it can affect their health. The instinctive nature of VR allows architects to get feedback faster, giving designers and architects alike the ability to make changes that can improve or detract from the design. “Virtual reality is a way for our industry to communicate beyond just pretty pictures of homes and get into meaningful metadata about the home and community,” says Paul Cardis, founder of Avid Ratings.