If you’re solving spatial problems, collaborative VR is the start of that solution.
VR in architecture has been around for years — often used as an impressive showpiece with nubby textured carpets and light glinting off impossibly shiny floors. These experiences are impressive–we make them ourselves–but what excites us most about VR is its use in early stage collaborative design experiences.
The idea that VR should be reserved for when a building is completely modeled is a huge lost opportunity to iterate design and create people-centered buildings. By getting more than one person into the virtual space, you can start with something more elemental, less designed and flesh it out collaboratively — rather than just assessing something already complete.
Particularly now that multiuser software like IrisVR exists, Virtual Reality can improve design by experiencing the feel of it from the project’s earliest stages. With more interested stakeholders in the space, you get better feedback and the client feels involved and confident in the process.
Having supported hundreds of architectural VR meetings, we have some tips for getting the most out of Virtual Reality.
The Soft Skills of VR Collaboration
- Know what VR is good at.
VR can answer spatial questions better than anything short of actually constructing a full scale model.
It’s uncanny how quickly and confidently questions are answered when you’re in the virtual space. Less time is spent trying to interpret renderings, drawings, and verbal explanations, and more attention is given to sensing and experiencing.
VR can feel so natural that our average time in the headset is usually less than 15 minutes — not because the meeting is cut short, but because generally, that is all that is needed to move forward with confidence.
This is why VR is excellent for any time you want your clients to focus on the feel and quality of a space instead of on the numbers. If you have a conversation in front of a spreadsheet, they’re going to tell you to reduce square footage. But if you’re having that same conversation in VR, your clients are much more likely to favor a quality end result.
Some of our favorite meetings have been watching clients happily increase the budget to make a better building.
2. Have an Agenda.
Before any client meeting, you probably have an agenda about what you want to talk about and which problems you want to solve together. A meeting that incorporates VR is no different. Use VR’s strengths to help you answer questions like:
- Does the entry feel inviting?
- How is the ceiling height?
- Does the kitchen feel cramped?
- Is it too isolated from the living room?
- Is the signage clear?
- What are the sightlines from the director’s desk?
Decide on your goals for the VR experience, and share the plan with your client before you get into VR. Once in VR, continue to lead the meeting by keeping focused on problem solving those important questions.
3. Set up your file to do the job.
Once you know which issues you would like to solve with your client, you will be able to set up your design files thoughtfully to support the meeting.
For example, unless you’re making a decision about materials, display your building in line work. It’s a simple trick, but it completely reframes the conversation to convey that the VR experience is a draft for collaboration not a finished product. Another example: If you’re trying to make an A/B decision, have those options ready to go.
File setup needn’t be tedious or a huge time suck, but make sure it is set up to help answer the meeting’s questions. A good way of not spending too much time on file cleanup is to do a quick VR test run to note anything obvious that might get in the way of your client’s experience, but don’t worry about perfection, particularly in early stages.
4. Go for Multiuser whenever possible.
I am now used to wearing a dorky looking computer on my face, but I never forget that it can be a big ask for people when they first put on a headset. Take the lead and put on your headset first. And when they get inside of VR, there you are — much more friendly than being alone in a virtual space.
Aside from just being friendlier, multiuser is a must for collaboration. The conversations in multiuser VR are more natural, and it is much easier to guide your client’s attention when you are there in the space with them.
5. Know VR’s limitations.
VR is not particularly good at enabling note taking and documentation of decisions, so factor that in when you plan your meeting. You may want another person to attend the meeting out of the headset just to take notes or get your client’s permission to record the meeting.
Of all the turnkey CAD to VR softwares we have tested, IrisVR Prospect does a better job at this note taking piece, but it is still limited. You can export the highlights made or take 360 photos to document your drawings. But erasing the drawings isn’t possible except through “undo” and there is not currently a layer that can be turned on and off for drawings.
Regardless of which software you use, it’s worth doing a practice run without your client so you are comfortable with the tools and know their limitations.
As we assist architects using spatial computing like VR, we see a lot of hyperventilation about the design files not being “complete enough” or we see hours of time devoted to cleaning up or adding materials for one VR meeting.
Usually this is overkill. Some cleanup might be helpful, but properly introducing the VR experience is the best and easiest way to manage your client’s expectations. Try something like this:
“We’re going to go into a working draft of your building to check the sight lines from your new office and see if we want to keep the upper cabinets and skylights.” It’s simple. It’s reassuring. And it directs the focus of the meeting.
We also see a lot of unnecessary worry from architects that once their clients are in VR they will get distracted on the “wrong” thing or explore an area of the building that isn’t modeled yet.
Relax. It’s okay.
VR is a fairly new medium, so your clients will take your lead. If you’re not worried, they won’t be worried.
If you manage your client’s expectations, have an agenda, and proceed confidently, you will lead effective VR collaboration.