A Better Way to Design Buildings

picture of Hilmar Gunnarsson for DE article

Virtual reality (VR) continues to gain popularity in the business world, with many industries integrating the technology into their processes.

Architecture is one such industry that is set to be transformed by VR. The technology is changing the way the construction industry works, with teams using VR to collaborate and create designs together inside the technology.

“What VR uniquely brings to the table is that you can perceive the spaces that you're designing as if you’re actually there,” said Hilmar Gunnarsson, founder and CEO of the VR design tool Arkio. “You can get a sense for what you're designing in a much better way than when you look at things on a flat screen.”

Gunnarsson sought to create a technology that provides designers with an immersive experience of what a building could look like before it is constructed. By stepping inside a VR headset, users can collaborate, brainstorm and create better architectural ideas with others. 

“The real magic happens in VR when you're designing with other people,” he said. “You can go into a building with someone else, stand there and look at some design elements. People can see everything in the same way, you can discuss it and you can make design changes and move things around.” 

For project teams, this ability to step into the design is groundbreaking. 

“You don't need to imagine things,” said Gunnarsson. “You don't need to guess whether somebody understands what you're saying. You are literally inside the building as if it had already been built.” 

Instead of undertaking weeks of training to come up with a basic 3D model, by using VR within a span of 30 to 60 minutes someone can design something that is very detailed. It makes the process more efficient. 

It’s a significant step forward from the 2D designs that are the industry norm. In these models, people can only see what can be depicted on a flat screen and it is harder to get the same level of detail than what a 3D model or VR headset can present. This makes it difficult for team members to provide a good level of feedback and identify problems before the work has started, which can then be costly to fix. 

“It shouldn't have to be as complex,” said Gunnarsson. 

VR simplifies the design workflow and enables the project to be seen from all different perspectives. 

“Imagine you're working on some urban plan, and you are putting in a five-story building or six-story building and you're wondering what's the impact — how does it cast shadows on another building or park, for example?” said Gunnarsson. “Through VR it is possible to stand in the park and change the time of day and see the impact of it in real time. 

“Ultimately, the ability to use VR for building design will lead to buildings that are simply designed in a better way,” he adds.

“You can get a much better feel for what it's like to live or work in the building,” said Gunnarsson. “We hope it will lead to better spaces for people.” 

Gunnarsson believes VR will become such an asset for architects and designers that in just a few years there will be a VR headset sitting on the desks of all designers. 

“It will seem completely ludicrous to design a massive building without having fully experienced it first through the power of VR,” he said. “If you're about to spend tens of millions of dollars, or hundreds of millions on some construction project, why would you not demand to be able to simply walk through it before you start building? It seems kind of obvious.”