Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality for Architects? / by Scott A.


We are at the tip of the iceberg for what augmented reality and virtual reality can do for AEC professionals. With that, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are essentially on the same spectrum. They exist on a continuum – on one end you have virtual reality, on the other end you have the real world and in the middle lies augmented reality and other mixed reality experiences.

Referring to an immersive or virtual experience, the value of being immersed in a virtual version of your building project at true-scale allows you to fully appreciate the project and interact with the project in a natural way. Although augmented reality brings virtual elements into the real environment, presenting a different value for architects and the real estate professionals. Let’s dive into how both VR and AR truly apply to architects and the AEC industry. 

Virtual Reality

For architects, it’s likely that they’ve heard too much about VR and its applications over the past few months. The advantages in leveraging this type of innovative in the AEC industry has been fruitful for those who have taken the plunge. Designers can rapidly prototype and more effectively convey architectural concepts through design development and a holistic point of view.

Virtual reality is not just a trend, the competition is quickly rising especially within the AEC use case. With that said, providing a competitive advantage can make all of the difference, for both software and hardware. These advantages could range from better rendering of the virtual environment to group collaboration.

Shorten the approval process

Virtual environments are usually created through rendering engines like Unity or Unreal Engine. It’s then exported through software like Revit, SketchUp, ArchiCAD, or other BIM applications. Before VR and AR, the 3D depictions of houses and buildings used by architects have only been seen on flat pieces of paper or computer screens. But these very same 3D models can be used in VR and AR to create a real-world experience for the end consumer. Thus saving a great deal of time when creating the prototypes to meet your client’s standards.

This interactive environment allows clients to also see what they do and don’t like by interacting with the virtual world as if it were their actual home. Turn lights off and on, move certain elements into other areas to see how potential changes could look.

Simulate life-like experiences

Floored is a company that creates 3-D graphics for the real estate industry. One of their pitched companies was Sage Realty Corp. who would later become a client and invested believer in how innovation can shorten their design and sales cycle. Sage has since started to use the technology for its own offerings. In the spring of 2015, Sage hired Floored to develop 3-D mock-ups of some of its commercial spaces; the brokerage would then show the spaces to prospective tenants through an Oculus Rift.

Firms are also testing how people experience different locations, VR allows someone to become immersed and professionals have been able to gauge behavior of these not-yet-built homes or commercial buildings. What if you want to test how easily your elevators or emergency exits can be found? VR is a way to test how potential tenants will behave in different environments.

Small barrier to entry

Many real estate firms are beginning to deliver tours in a client’s own home or the office for more expansive experiences via an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive ($600 and $800 respectively). It’s very easy to see the what’s possible in an otherwise empty space and these hardware options are a relatively low barrier to entry given the enormous returns various firms have seen.

Augmented Reality

Some consider augmented reality to be an advancement that is much more practical on the field when it comes to value in the AEC industry.

Visualization in real environments

AR integrated with BIM has brought changes that streamline the process for designers, engineers, and builders. Architects use augmented reality to interact with their virtual models, making “what if” design scenarios much easier to manipulate rather than a physical model that has to be remodeled if any construction changes are needed.

Project stakeholders have used AR to interact with ongoing builds. Augmented reality headsets are already being used by project managers for on-site walkthroughs to see virtual BIM overlays or completed property even within the developing build site. They can see the infrastructure of the BIM system through augmented reality ﹣exactly where it’ll exist ﹣and catch any issues before it’s too late. Most of the time these errors are caught in hindsight and it would lead to long rebuilds and renovations. 

Interactive Marketing

The visualization that AR presents is also useful when it comes to design. An AR mobile solution allows designers to visualize how building elements will look when constructed.

This added dimension of visualization gives life-like insight into the design details which can’t be achieved through a 2D image or even the current uses of 3D models. Overall, designers and builders have found a greater ROI when using augmented reality to streamline the modeling stage. Augment is an example of a mobile solution that seamlessly integrates with Revit and SketchUp, allowing developers to easily launch their 3D models right before them at true scale.

LSI Architects is a British company in the real estate and construction industry.  The company’s goal is “to produce buildings and foster environments, which are modern and innovative”.

LSI uses Augment to showcase new projects, like student residences projects. At project events, the firm uses Augment’s app to allow prospects to change their static 2D blueprints into interactive, virtual standing buildings on top of the blueprint map. Marketing in architecture finds a perfect use case with augmented reality. 

Where is AR and architecture headed?

The future of architecture and construction in augmented reality will boom with the advancement of AR hardware. The market already has working products like DAQRI and the Microsoft Hololens and their adoption in the field is on the horizon.  

Imagine using 3D models through augmented reality to give architects and the builders an exact idea of the relevant dimensions, size, texture, and shape of a particular building element such as a wall or ventilation system, for example. It will be much easier to determine the amount of raw material needed to build building elements, allowing for accurate estimations and avoiding unnecessary waste of resources. The forthcoming years in these industries could evolve to where workers on the field are all equipped with AR headsets.

Augmented reality may become the biggest influence in the coming year in the architecture and building design industry. Yet, virtual reality also poses some valuable use cases that architects can find useful. Augment is a software solution that is active among the AEC community. Find out how Augment helps architects today.