While virtual reality technology has been in the news for some time now, its practical applications for architecture remain largely untested. The ability to immerse a client within a given design could have incredible benefits from both a creative and a business standpoint, but few are ready to make the investment that transitioning to such a presentation process would entail — unless, of course, the technology already existed inside your design software. For Ion Webster, principal of architecture firm Pults & Associates, LLP and a beta tester for Vectorworks software, jumpstarting his move to virtual reality was as easy as going to work in the morning.
A Pults and Associates, LLP rendering of the Cayucos Mixed-Use project from a pedestrian’s perspective to demonstrate sky access from the street level. Image courtesy of Ion Webster.
With a background in software engineering and architecture, and a B.Arch degree from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Webster started out as a technology consultant for designers and architects early on in his career, providing design-specific IT support as a consultant, as well as freelance 3D design work and Vectorworks training. It was this early interest and skill with Vectorworks software that led Webster to an eventual role as a beta tester for the program, giving feedback that helps Vectorworks, Inc. push the limits of their software development year after year. One major result of this community-tested process is the web view and virtual reality feature in Vectorworks 2017, which enables design professionals to share their designs with a link that allows anyone, anywhere to view and experience models in 3D on any device that’s connected to the internet.
Cayucos Mixed-Use project showing adherence to neighborhood scale using Vectorworks’ Camera Match feature. Image courtesy of Ion Webster.
Web view and virtual reality not only give clients a stronger feeling of involvement in their projects, it also gives them the opportunity to provide up-front responses to architects early on, reducing miscommunication and minimizing changes during the construction phase. Better yet, it saves time and money. Webster cites one of his projects, the addition of a gathering space for a sorority house at Cal Poly, as a perfect example: “We had a meeting on site for an ongoing project. I’d done the initial programming with a 2D sketch of a floor plan,” he says. The project was about 900 square feet, but the question was how to make it feel more spacious. Webster had generated a layout for a large gathering space with kitchen area for a caterer, a library nook, a number of powder rooms and storage. Already in agreement about the basic floor plan, he met with the clients to talk about the volume of the building and its height.
Another street view rendering of the Cayucos Mixed-Use project done with Vectorworks’ Camera Match feature. Image courtesy of Ion Webster.
That was the feedback loop. The clients reviewed the floor plan and agreed that it met their programming and layout desires in a face-to-face meeting. Before Vectorworks 2017, Webster would then have generated some sections and interior elevations to communicate how the volume would read. The problem, though, is that they would have been 2D, and many clients don’t always see the depth represented in them.
Rendering of the Cayucos Mixed-Use project. Image courtesy of Ion Webster.
But with Vectorworks, Webster was able to provide a model they could put themselves inside of and experience the changes firsthand. “I went back to the office and in two hours took the floor plan and modified the door and window objects that had been drawn in Vectorworks, adjusted the fenestration and modeled a roof based on the floor plan once the structural engineer and I worked out a truss system,” he says. “I added a little more 3D modeling to the ceiling so that the vaulting from the scissor truss would read properly when the client walked through the project.”
In essence, Webster had taken a floor plan that had been drawn in Vectorworks and quickly added a number of modifications. Still in Vectorworks, he saved the entire model as a web view file, which automatically uploaded, and generated a URL to be sent to the client. The entire process freed up time for him to work on other projects.
Project example of Vectorworks’ new web view and virtual reality feature. Image courtesy of Ion Webster.
Once his clients received the link, they could enter the front door together, zoom in or out and wander through the model, not having to depend on the architect to generate a drawing to see it, but rather they could “walk” right up to and look at it from any angle.
“I was not trying to develop a finished render with proper detailing and entourage for this situation. I wanted to simply have a nearly immediate chance to experience the volumetric qualities of the design after the meeting,” he says. “That’s what was new about the maturation of the Vectorworks product line: all the pieces to create the model were there, and it was this ability to throw out a fully formed 3D ‘sketch’ to the client that they could virtually walk through with a very short time investment.”
Interior finished and outfitted awaiting a client to virtually explore at their leisure. Image courtesy of Ion Webster.
A decade ago, when Webster was using a standard imaging program, it merely created a static-line view for the client. “They were seeing the ramifications of decisions earlier in the design process, rather than later, during the construction documents or worse, after construction started,” he says. “That’s how I feel this interaction directly impacted the tightness of the final design.”
Web view and virtual reality in Vectorworks software is not about how the architect sees something, but how the client views it. “It’s a new way of working and a new form of listening. I heard things I hadn’t heard before,” he says. “As we went through the process, it improved the final product in a way I was not able to before.”
A collection of views showing an earlier design iteration. Web view and rendering capabilities allow Pults & Associates, LLP to share the essence of a design directly with the client throughout the design process. Image courtesy of Ion Webster.
Vectorworks 2017 involves the client experientially. It’s designed to give them control over what they’re looking at rather than tell them what they’re looking at. There are no time constraints as clients can go back to their office or home and review the project with no one looking over their shoulders. Then they can make up their own minds about the project.
That’s the result of an evolutionary process that Webster engages in as a beta tester. Each new version of Vectorworks, the global design and BIM software, depends not only on user suggestions, but on a team of beta testers from the AEC community — actual industry professionals who explore new features in the software before it’s released to inform developers about how to improve key functionalities. And now that Webster has had a chance to perfect the development of the web view and virtual reality features of Vectorworks 2017, they’re available for his peers to use, too.
Immerse Yourself in the Vectorworks VR Experience
Virtual Reality (VR) has quickly proven its importance in the AEC industry by allowing architects to easily share designs and visions with clients. Leave your contact information below to step into sample projects and experience Vectorworks VR firsthand.