Virtual reality (VR) once seemed like magic. Initially esoteric and novel, VR, or immersive multimedia, has worked its way out of research facilities and has become integrated into everyday life. Have a smartphone? Scores of free games use this once-seemingly magical technology. But VR isn’t just for games and special effects. It’s also a perfect tool for interior designers—one that is seeing increasing traction.
Not only are designers able to visualize spaces and test realtime changes, they also can actually immerse themselves in a space. They are able to “move around” in virtual space using a handheld controller—much the same way one plays a video game, but with a headset that virtually puts a user in the middle of an environment that reacts to his or her gestures and commands.
Along with other firms, Autodesk, the company that put computer-aided design (CAD) on the map in 1982 when it released AutoCAD, continues to develop powerful new VR tools. Such technologies can enhance not only the practice, quality, and speed of the design process, but also the relationship between designer and client. This prospect for better relationships between designers and clients excites Rick Davis, Autodesk’s design visualization industry manager, as much as the VR technology that his company is constantly developing.
“With the virtual- and blended-reality products that we’re currently using, designers have design-accurate models,” says Davis, noting that these models are similar to the tabletop models that architects are used to working with. “Only with these models, they’re scalable,” he explains. “You can examine something as vast as a city plan, where you have the perspective of a giant, and within a few steps, be inside the kitchen in a condo. It’s really amazing, and all of the data is design-accurate.”
Tabletop views of a San Francisco apartment interior and the city skyline, using Autodesk Stingray animation software, show the macro-to-micro functionality of VR tools.
Davis adds that at 2015’s Autodesk University, a users’ event held each year, attendees were “blown away” after experiencing hands-on experimentation with Autodesk’s VR tools, which are powered by the company’s Revit, 3ds Max, and Stingray technologies. “With these sorts of visualization methods, designers can virtually inhabit their spaces, giving them actual feedback on potential problems, as well as what works or could work better,” notes Davis.
Another key advantage of VR tools is the speed of staging. It’s easy for a designer to make real-time changes or to offer multiple options to present to a client. “The designer can present options—a lot of options—to a client, and this gives the client a greater sense of ownership, although most of the control of the design remains with the designer,” says Davis. The client has more choices and more opportunity for input. “And, the ability to actually put your client in the space is priceless.”