Architects are always in search of new ways to help clients inhabit an unbuilt space. Rowell Brokaw has been experimenting with Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset developed by Oculus VR. It allows the viewer to visually move through 3D spaces: spinning a full 360 degrees through a panorama and clicking to enter another space. Originally designed for video gaming, Oculus Rift is finding other applications in the movie industry, social spheres, and architecture.
Project Architect Frank Visconti has started using Oculus Rift in client meetings. After one of the first presentations, a client remarked, “It was the highlight of the meeting. It’s exciting to see the project and feel like you’re in it. You immediately get a sense of scale.” In addition to bringing a space alive to a client, Oculus Rift can be used as a design tool, allowing architects to move beyond the confines of a flat screen. Frank explains, “In terms of design, I find it a useful tool because it goes beyond knowing every corner, every inch. While usually when a design is built, you see more opportunities, alignments or views you never visualized. Oculus Rift gives you more of a hint of the space because it’s virtual reality and not a flat, composed image. When you make a still image, it has a compositional proportion to its frame, but with this experience you can’t rely on that.”
But the software still has some shortcomings. “Even though the price has come down and it has become a stable platform,” Frank says, “it’s architectural applications are still experimental, though useful.” The magnified resolution is not as clear as a movie screen; there is some pixilation. But Frank predicts that techies at Oculus VR will resolve this problem soon and that one day “…it will go wireless, so you will be able to walk around untethered. At that point (and it has already begun), firms will dedicate a whole room to the experience. It will be like the Holodeck in Star Trek.”
To read more on using virtual-reality to design for clients (including those with disabilities): Architect Magazine has an article "Honorable Mention: Empathy Effect VR Study" in its latest edition.