As recently as five years ago, integrating virtual reality (VR) into design workflows required custom programming using a game design engine—that is, building a video game to take users into immersive 3D worlds. The cost and technical challenges involved in converting BIM into VR environments prohibited all but the most digitally savvy firms from investing the resources to make it a core aspect of their practices.

However, with availability of low-cost VR headsets, third-party hosting sites, and VR experiences created directly from BIM programs, including Autodesk Revit and Trimble SketchUp, more firms are leveraging the technology as a design and presentation tool. Here, several architects discuss how to incorporate VR and AR into the design process to make projects come to life for clients while saving significant project time and costs.

Develop a Strategy
Bryan Chun, a senior associate architect at Hickok Cole in Washington, D.C., says firms of any size should consider using VR for several reasons. First, these mock-ups can help clients visualize the depth and scale of spaces with greater clarity than with 2D drawings or renderings. These descriptive capabilities were important in guiding Chun’s client’s decisions in 80 M St. SE, a proposed mass timber addition to an existing seven-story building in the district’s Navy Yard neighborhood. By seeing a range of ceiling heights at scale (the two floors of office space in the project have proposed 17-foot ceiling heights), the client was better able to assess “the value of an additional foot of floor height and make good financial decisions,” Chun says.

For younger clients who “grew up on video games and are now becoming the decision makers,” Chun adds, the visceral sensation of walking through a virtual environment might be the differentiator that wins their business.