How to use Virtual Reality (VR) in architecture?

Virtual reality has seen rapid developments in design and this is most apparent in the architectural, engineering, and construction industry. Over the course of the last three years, I’ve spent countless hours with specialists from the AEC field exploring the possibilities and the use of virtual reality in architecture. With time I have noticed a pattern of questions and problems that emerged from these case studies. I’ve compiled a list of these below with my best answers and understanding based on the current state of the industry. This will help you decide whether the benefits of virtual reality in architecture will pay off to you.

#1: How is virtual reality used in architecture

Virtual reality helps to represent objects in conditions as close as possible to real ones, and as a result to spot problems and avoid costly mistakes later on in the construction phase. enabling the user to fully immerse himself in a 1:1-scale, 3D model which can be manipulated and provides an incredibly accurate sense of presence in a space that’s yet to be built.

Moreover, with VR you can bring to life some of the environmental factors that may impact even the whole building (not just interiors). For example, overlay VR environment data with your project to test safety elements, sunlight, heat exposure and so on. It will make possible to use environmental data to check out how the sunlight looks in a specific room. Finally, this visual feedback can be recorded and incorporated into the final design.

#2: Why would an architect need virtual reality?

One of the most difficult challenges could be visualizing a space. Properly visualizing not only helps bring ideas to reality but appropriately helps tackle other must-do things like construction logistics, proper types of materials, and the reality of your design concept. in the process of project approval and management, you might have got familiar with the situation when your client paid attention to one detail and didn’t want to see the rest. For example, he was irritated with the color of the floor, so didn’t want to accept the whole concept. Virtual reality makes this process far easier, allowing you and your client to ‘step into’ a building or a room, get the whole picture, and change details.

Application of virtual reality visualization in architecture allows you to check out specific elements, materials, environments, and construction needs. Virtualist app allows you to change lighting, texturing and object attributes in real time and interact with the virtual world. 

Floor plans, 3D renderings, and models are often used to convey an idea for a particular space within a design, but even these approaches — a staple of architectural design — can fail to effectively communicate ideas with clients.

TMD Studio

Using VR for your designer portfolio is a great way to showcase your design skills and also confirm that you have experience with some of the latest technologies in this industry. The idea of having a VR-based project means that you can take it anywhere without lugging around heavy equipment, folders, or other briefcases – you can simply use your phone (our app also runs on Android and soon iOS) or a pair VR glasses. It works as an extension of your digital portfolio with the added advantage that your audience can view the spaces in 360°. This creates a feeling of presence and enables a better understanding of your work. 

#3: How is Virtual Reality different from 3D rendering?

No matter how beautiful a rendered image may be, it will never be able to fully convey the scope and feel of a project. […] The immersive environment gives a much more accurate and representative feel, providing them with a real sense of scale, depth and spatial awareness that cannot be matched by traditional renders, scaled models or animations.

Bee Breeders, Architecture Competition Organiser

3D Rendering is a process that largerly replaced drawings in architecture. Architects use 3D authoring tools like Blender or 3D studio to produce beautiful still shots of their architecture projects. It’s an established way to communicate designs to clients but it has several drawbacks. It’s great for communicating vision and general mood but doesn’t have the same strength as virtual reality to place the customer in the center of your project and experience it in real scale. While renderings focus customers attention on selected details, full virtual reality walkthroughs allow to quickly communicate complex spatial dilemmas. Hours instead of days of weeks when compared to renderings.

#4: Is it expensive to showcase my project in Virtual Reality?

In the early days of virtual reality the only way to showcase projects for architects in virtual reality was to hire a specialist or learn a real-time engine. Right now it’s much more streamlined with the selection of software packages designed precisely for this activity. Costs dropped from thousands of dollars to convert the project manually to just $29 per month.

#5: How realistic can Virtual Reality in architecture be today?

Realistic rendering have long been a golden standard for visualisation. Today virtual reality and real time rendering have catched up with the requirements that architects have. Virtual reality offers the ability to view photorealistic textures, often based on photogrammetry, in 4k or higher if required.

Material editor in Virtualist tool offers advanced texturing options

#6: Is Virtual Reality helping architects win clients?

One of the most common challenges faced by architects and designers is convincing a client that a design works, before receiving valuable  feedback that can be integrated into a finished design.

One of the best features for architects is that virtual reality creates an immersive environment for the client. The client can engage, explore and react to the virtual space. They can mark-up, annotate and provide design feedback which can be relayed back to the design team to advance the design. The end result, the client gets to visualize and experience the designs we create.

Parkin Architects Limited

Of course, floor plans, 3D renderings, and models are often used to convey an idea for a particular space within a design, but in comparison with VR, even these tools can fail to effectively ‘communicate’ with clients.

VR technology has so much potential for architects and designers. From initial design mock-ups, to project collaboration, through to the finishing touches that make a building design go from good to great, virtual reality possesses the capability to really sell an idea better than any other medium.

TMD Studio

Virtual Reality software such as Virtualist allows users to walk around the objects and inspect them from every angle and feel the real scale of an object.

#7: Is Virtual Reality in architecture the same thing as augmented reality?

No. Virtual Reality separates you entirely from the world around you and offers entirely virtual surroundings. Augmented Reality overlays virtual objects on the real surroundings presented on your device camera or head mounted display.

Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality is a fully virtual scene where no objects from the real world are shown. It’s ideal for immersive projects and real-scale reviews..

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality allows to mix virtual objects with the real world surroundings. It’s ideal for on-site inspection of your project.

#8: How effective is Virtual Reality to teach architecture to my younger colleagues and students?

Professors at NYIT School of Architecture and Design have already established a functioning protocol for exporting architects digital models. Students from Project Integration Studio test out their own designs by “walking through” the compositions with the VR tool. Of course, it helped them to evaluate projects more carefully and find out what mistakes might have been made. Moreover, due to VR students and junior architects can investigate various architectural strategies. e.g. environmental conceptualism, building function, user interaction, and construction techniques.

#9: What do other architects and designers think about Virtual Reality?

During the Interior Design Show West 150 participants (Interior Designers, Architects and others) were asked to experience four different scenes that showcased different elements that can be integrated into a custom VR experience: the kitchen scene, the living room, the panoramic views, and the modular space.

97.4% were very satisfied overall with the experience. 83.8% of participants rated the experience a 4/5 or 5/5 in terms of “how realistic the quality of the scenes”.

Relevance of VR in ArchitectureGraphs by LNG Studios

Occupations of VR users

As you can see, the virtual reality technology in architecture allows clients to interact with a proposed model, e.g. be able to open and close doors and windows, switch lights on and off, and move objects around the space. As a result, you receive a detailed client’s feedback and can make your model even better before the release.

#10: How easy it is to start my architecture project in Virtual Reality?

Complexity depends on which software package you choose. You have three options:

Dedicated software

No learning curve

Starts from $29 per month
no consulting costs

Example: Virtualist

Real-time engines

Very high learning curve

No license fees,
medium consulting costs

Example: Unreal Engine

Hired specialist

No learning curve

No license fees
High consulting costs

Example: Pixel Legend

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8 thoughts on “How to use Virtual Reality (VR) in architecture?”

  1. Great write up – thank you! It is indeed very true that “the emergence of virtual reality applications for architecture has been one of the big stories of the past few years ”. Virtual reality in architecture solves many problems including:
    1. Poor design visualization
    2. Multiple design iterations
    3. Dealing with different design tools
    4. Poor coordination with other project stakeholders
    I’d like to add one more to the list of startups here: is the latest to have come up with a VR-based fully immersive product that dramatically improves design collaboration between all stakeholders – architects, clients and building product manufacturers. They’ve been helping people overcome these problems across markets in the last year and merit a deeper dive.

  2. Thank you for the good writeup. It actually was a entertainment
    account it. Look complex to more added agreeable from you!
    However, how could we communicate?


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