Visual representation has catapulted to an entire new level with the introduction of virtual reality technology. Virtual Reality (VR) technology propelled dedicated headset hardware and smartphones, especially the Samsung Galaxy line, to the forefront of user interaction and experience.
On the other hand, when it comes to software, apps like Pokémon GO introduced Augmented Reality (AR) – the combination of real world imagery with a layer of added imagery for a ‘holographic’ effects – to the masses. Both are examples of mass-market technological pioneers in the realm of VR and AR.
It’s not only individual users around the globe enjoying and using these technologies; private entities are also beginning to introduce these tools as a way to incorporate innovation and education in the firm-to-client relationship. The architectural design disciplines are no exception.
Today we live in a time of great change, and it’s imperative to be aware of emerging technologies. Just a couple of years ago, I wrote about the trend of incorporating gaming platforms to enhance the field of visual representation as part of my master’s degree. At that time, CryEngine 3, Unreal Engine 4, Unity 5, Frostbite 3 and Source were all promising platforms vying for leadership for architectural design applications. However, no firm was truly paying attention to these platforms since each requires hiring professional game developers or people fluent in gaming programming language in order to achieve the desired effects.
Unreal Engine 4 is currently a potential leader in the field of visual representation since its maneuverability and level of realism permit designers to present their projects with photorealistic effect in real time (RT) (Interior Example, Exterior Example, VR Example). Currently, Unity has the upper hand. Regional and national firms are incorporating the Unity platform because of its simplicity and flexible interface (VR Example).
On March 22nd the AIA LA Healthcare Committee showcased VR experiments at the Herman Miller Showroom. Hosted by CO Architects, three architectural firms were on hand to present their projects incorporating VR: Perkins+Will, ZGF Architects, and HGA. During the event each firm shared the hardware they use to communicate VR experiences to their clients, including:
- Google Cardboard ($15.00)
- Samsung Gear VR ($80.00)
- Oculus Rift + Touch ($598.00)
- HTC Vive ($800.00)
- Microsoft HoloLens ($3,000)
We recently produced our first VR panorama in partnership with ZGF Architects – a project showcased also at the aforementioned event. Lumion 7 offers the ability to generate static 360° scenes for clients to experience virtual project immersion using MyLumion or through the use of a VR headset.
It is unclear whether Lumion, Twinmotion, and Lumen RT will attempt to compete with Unity by incorporating a full walkthrough VR experience. For now Lumion allows developers to only generate 360 panoramas. Still-image render engines like V-Ray and Mentalray are out of this race…for now.
The question is: Will gaming platforms like Unity and Unreal Engine be the future of VR visual representation in the architectural design field? Everything seems to indicate so.