• NWD Architects

Augmented and virtual reality – how they can help the design process

The concepts of Augmented and Virtual Reality have become ever more integrated into our daily lives.

The idea of the immersive experience that’s created by these created realities has become a major part of the entertainment and leisure sector. They have particularly taken off in cinema and gaming, for example, where players and viewers can control the narrative, make decisions and move within worlds that are entirely or partially artificial. It also allows your imagination to run riot and, as a designer, create buildings and structures that can push the boundaries of what’s possible.

Altered states

The two realities of Augmented and Virtual are often grouped together as a single entity, but they are actually two quite different aspects of computerised design technology.

Augmented reality (AR) is an experience where designers enhance parts of a physical world using computer-generated input. The real world is the basis for this type of design. To create these augmented worlds, designers create inputs – ranging from sound and video to graphics and GPS overlays – in digital format, which responds in real time to changes in the user’s environment.

Virtual reality (VR) is a computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment, which can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person. To do this, the person must use special electronic equipment, such as a helmet fitted with a screen inside displaying the environment, or gloves featuring sensors. The world here can be entirely created from scratch, with no physical or real basis – it is entirely at the control of the designer’s imagination.

Walking through the future of design

From designing 2D drawings on paper for decades, CAD and computerised realities have allowed construction design to become something much more immersive. 3D design provides clients and stakeholders with a very real sense of what a building may look like in reality, and often with context, from all angles, once it has been constructed. By using technology that draws on advancements affiliated to virtual reality, designers can take a concept and create immersive experiences that demonstrate exactly what it might feel like to walk around the exterior, or through the building, before construction has even begun.

When used in design, AR and VR software can transpose that immersive experience to a real-world situation and provide a glimpse of what the future can look like, before it arrives.

By allowing clients to walk around and review spaces virtually, the design can be reviewed and the arrangement of rooms, their orientation and location of critical elements can be visualised accurately. For all parties, but particularly those clients that are not used to reviewing and visualising 2D drawings, this technology can allow far greater and better access into the journey of design, allowing for a more much engaging experience.

A shared experience

Such virtual walk-throughs provide insight and experience that can offset the unlimited possibilities of design, with the more accurate practicalities of its construction in the real world. AR makes it easier to demonstrate both to clients and local planners how the finished buildings will look, in-situ in their environment, by merging a digital model with a real physical space. This can include overlaying a new design over an existing building. It is also useful for identifying problems and clashes within the construction at an early stage and these can be ironed out or addressed in due course, without becoming disruptive to the project’s overall progress.

The way digital information can be shared across multiple devices – such as laptops, tablets and smartphones – means AR data and designs can be accessed easily on site and in-situ, as well as with all those involved in the design process. The fact that VR requires the use of a headset to fully experience the virtual environment makes it less practicable on site but does offer a much more realistic experience of being somewhere else. It can also be used to bring remotely located individuals and team members together into a virtual environment.

The way digital technologies are advancing at pace means the accessibility to all is becoming wider and wider, which is really aiding the construction industry as a whole.

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