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Virtual Reality and Architectural Practice

By Mario Pistone, Vice President, Parkin Architects Limited

I still remember the childhood experience of magic with the View-Master – a red handset with two lenses for viewing stereoscopic slides bearing photographs and images of real and imaginary places, mounted on a rotary disc.

As I placed the unit to my eyes and the peripheral view of the world was cut off, I was transported to a new world, projected into a vision of a place I hadn’t been before. The image was static, but a child’s imagination is a powerful force and able to overcome the realism demanded by the blunted imaginations of adults.

A short few years ago, I was privileged to experience that childhood magic again. A modest little cardboard box, with two lenses and an awkward head strap was able to unexpectedly transform my iPhone into a teleportation device that would transport me into spaces I had previously only been able to experience through my screen. Sketchup was immersive and interactive, but the field of view was limited to a screen, the view angle controlled by mouse and the image, flat and two-dimensional.

Figure 1 – 360 rendering prepared for VR. The algorithms of a VR headset or app translate the image above into an immersive rendering.


I created some views (like the one above), loaded them into my iPhone, strapped the cardboard contraption to my head and was unprepared for how realistic, vivid and transformative the 3D image was.

Virtual Reality (VR) is powerful technology. In an instant, one grasps the size of space, the relationship of forms, the impact of light and shadow and the connective power of views. VR allows us to create a totally immersive virtual visualisation of a potential space. It can be difficult to fully appreciate the qualities of an architectural space through drawing media. Renderings, illustrations and animations have limited success in conveying the properties of space, but are unable to make one feel what it is like to be in the space.

Parkin now uses InsiteVR as part of the design tools available to our clients. This cutting edge software creates virtual environments that can be navigated with a VR headset and joystick. We are able to visualize spaces and building components with a range of colour and texture detail. Models can vary from schematic blocks to photorealistic detailed components – all navigable and explorable by VR.

By varying the degree of detail, colour and texture, we can tailor the VR experience to suit the design stage and goals of each particular session. Schematic design and planning can be presented in a monochromatic environment, allowing for focused discussion about spatial relationships, or in highly detailed, photorealistic environments for near-mock-up quality experiences.

Within the VR environment, we can share notes, add VR photos of existing spaces photographed with a 360° camera, and share the VR experience with others on line, or in the room through a desktop window. This collaborative approach creates a more empowering design environment for clients by allowing them to experience design decisions well before construction.


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