Virtual reality snuck up on us. The technology has long been the stuff of science fiction, the ultimate merger of spectator and spectacle, man and machine. Rudimentary forms of VR have been around since the 1850s, when fashionable Parisians were delighted by the stereoscope, a binocular device that immersed viewers inside “3D” images. As time wore on, VR entertainment became more sophisticated and included movies, video games and more, all of which approximated the ideal of a fully immersive virtual environment.
However, true VR — the kind dreamed up in films like Tron — remained elusive until the past few years, when a number of high-quality VR headsets hit the market in quick succession. This coincided with the appearance of inexpensive smartphone accessories like Google Cardboard, which made fully interactive VR experiences as accessible as YouTube videos. These accessories work with apps that cleverly utilize motion sensors embedded in smartphones to approximate the responsiveness of high-end virtual reality headsets. If a 19th-century stereoscope enthusiast could try out one of these apps, they would say it was a case of science fiction come to life.
The impact of the VR revolution is just beginning to be understood. While people tend to think of VR headsets primarily as a platform for video games, this only scratches the surface of what this technology makes possible. Architects in particular can benefit tremendously by incorporating virtual reality into their practice. And this isn’t some far-off dream: many architects are doing so already.
The learning curve for VR is not as steep as you might think. Toronto-based technology firm Yulio offers software that allows you to transform your 3D renderings into fully navigable, hyper-realistic virtual environments. There’s no need to learn any new technical skills, as Yulio is compatible with the industry’s leading rendering programs including Sketchup, Revit and 3DS Max. Just upload your renderings onto Yulio and voilà: Within hours, you and your clients can visually teleport inside of them. From here, you can edit and refine your VR experiences even further to ensure they closely match your vision. You can even create virtual tours of your projects and host them on Yulio’s cloud-based content management system, an exciting new way to publicize your boldest, most innovative ideas.
Yulio is not just great for showcasing finished plans, but can also help architects communicate with their clients about ongoing projects. The intuitive nature of VR allows it to open barriers of communication, making for a more seamless creative process.
“Designers are able to do design iterations very quickly, share ideas to get feedback from friends, colleagues or mentors from wherever in the world they happen to be,” explained Robert Kendal, Yulio’s CEO in an interview with Warable. “VR also enables those looking at new building and interior designs, possibly overseas property buyers, to ‘experience’ an unbuilt or remote space virtually in a way that gives a true sense of its scale and style.”
Remember: High-quality VR is now as close at hand as the nearest smartphone. It’s not just possible, but actually easy to share your VR experiences with people on the other side of the world. The only equipment necessary is a smartphone, the Yulio app and a low cost VR headset like Google Cardboard. A higher quality headset, like the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive, can take the experience to the next level, but isn’t necessary for basic functionality.
At Toronto’s Ryerson University, architecture students have found Yulio to be an extremely valuable learning tool. “It’s not just simply new tools to make things look pretty,” professor Vincent Hui stated in the Ryersonian. “It’s actually about getting inside the designs and realize that you could have done a better job here or you could have fixed this.” Jessica Gu, a second year student in Professor Hui’s course, says that using Yulio made her more critical of her own projects, as the software forced her to confront issues of scale and proportion that wouldn’t have come up in a static rendering. “Without VR, you would never be able to get all that information so fast,” said Gu. Indeed, what architect hasn’t wished they could peruse their own projects while they were still in the planning phase? With Yulio, they can.
To date, one of the most impressive projects carried out with Yulio is the 4,800-square-foot Information Center that was used to preview Brighton, an upcoming community development in Saskatoon. At the Information Center’s opening, visitors donned VR headsets and experienced over 800 acres of future development, taking virtual tours through model homes and gaining a rounded, nuanced sense of what was in store for their community. This project was created in collaboration with Norm Li, Toronto’s premier architectural visualization studio. Norm Li, the firm’s eponymous founder, describes VR as a “huge game changer in terms of how architecture is presented.” He predicts that high-end headsets like the Oculus are on a fast road toward portability, a development that will make VR ubiquitous. “I think at this point, VR has finally reached a tipping point where it’s here to stay,” he says. “I don’t think it’s like in the past when VR was a novelty. VR is a viable avenue for architectural presentation now with the hardware and the infrastructure that’s available.”
Yulio is here and it’s here to stay. Check out Yulio’s website for examples of the amazing VR experiences architects have created with the program.