Virtual Reality and BIM: Client Engagement

Some of you may remember way back in the 90’s when Nintendo released the Virtual Boy. The device consisted of a headset and controller which is not too different from the virtual reality devices we see on the market today. Fast forward to today and technology has progressed to the point where are finally seeing the “reality” in “virtual reality” and the user experience has evolved into truly immersive environment is presented to users.

In recent years, the architecture, engineering, and construction space has taken a liking to this improved technology. With the exponential adoption of BIM, it’s no wonder why design and construction teams are reaching for ways to produce virtual reality using BIM. Teams are already generating a data-rich 3D model and virtual reality seems to be the next logical step in visualization.

VR and AEC

On the design side of our industry, virtual reality has primarily been used for visualization. Architectural designers have historically generated photorealistic renderings as a means to communicate their design with a pretty picture, but with the technological advancements of virtual reality and Revit, they are now able to take those renderings to the next level and create a truly immersive environment for their clients.

On the construction side, innovative contractors are beginning to tap into virtual reality as a coordination tool. This advancement in spatial coordination not only helps facilities managers visualize complex duct and pipe routing, but also gives the trades a clearer picture of the model, with the goal of identifying issues before construction begins in the field.

Photo Credit: MacDonald-Miller Facility Solutions

Getting Clients Involved

BIM has been changing the way we design and construct buildings for some time now, yet the industry is still committed to producing 2-dimensional drawings to communicate a design. During the early planning phases of a project, user groups are typically presented drawings which include diagrams and floor plans which can be difficult for a building owner to understand or truly envision the built product.

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Design teams may even be confronted with the challenge to generate a physical mock-up so that the end users can validate the design before it has been constructed. Prior to designers leveraging virtual reality and BIM, there have been many methods to engage the users to gather their feedback. Believe it or not, the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance actually built a life-sized cardboard mock-up of their spaces to validate the design of their clinic before moving into the construction phase.

Virtual Reality and BIM

Some of the most innovative design and construction teams have begun to dive into workflows around producing virtual reality with BIM. One of the most compelling use-cases is for client engagement. Rather than presenting a diagram, floor plan, or even a photorealistic rendering to a client, the industry’s leaders in VR are already inviting their clients to review their designs in a virtual environment. This immersive experience gives the end users the opportunity to truly experience the space before its built and furnish more accurate feedback to the design team.

Designers are no stranger to changes initiated by clients and BIM has helped alleviate some of the pain points when reacting to these changes. When combining virtual reality and BIM, project teams are given the power rapid iteration of their VR mock-ups. With the right tools, a virtual mockup can be revised in parallel with the design model. With Revit add-ins like Enscape, designers can make changes to their Revit models and see the changes immediately using real-time rendering.

Because these changes to the design model can be synchronized with the virtual reality mock-up, cost to update the virtual mock-up can be kept to a minimum. Quite literally, a single techie armed with the right software can eliminate (or at least greatly reduce) the amount of time spent revising a virtual mock-up.

Photo credit: Thomas Miller

What’s Next?

The combination of virtual reality and BIM is proving to be more than just hype, but what can we do with this new technology? Interactive renderings, spatial coordination, and virtual mock-ups are just the beginning. Could the next form of client deliverables be a true 3D model with the intent to be reviewed in virtual reality? At some point, we will need to evolve the antiquated processes around 2D drawings and perhaps virtual reality is the missing link. We will be discussing the future of Virtual Reality and BIM on our next webinar with Simon Manning, Co-founder at Bevel Space. We hope you’ll join us.

In the meantime, please let us know about the exciting projects you’re working on that involve virtual reality and BIM in the comments below.

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