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VR Is Totally Changing How Architects Dream Up Buildings

A virtual depiction of the USS Intrepid Sick Bay by SHoP Architects.SHOP ARCHITECTS

FROM THE LOWER Manhattan offices of New York architecture firm SHoP, you can explore buildings around the world—including ones that don’t yet exist.  You can walk along the edges of an under-construction building in Botswana, then toggle over to the torpedo hold of the USS Intrepid on Manhattan’s West Side. But be careful, when you reach out to touch a missile you might just poke an architect, standing just beyond you and your VR goggles.

This year, the commercial release of powerful, PC-driven headsets like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive pushed consumer virtual reality to an inflection point. And the world of architecture has noticed. In VR architecture, the difference between real and unreal is fluid and, to a large extent, unimportant. What is important, and potentially revolutionary, is VR’s ability to draw designers and their clients into a visceral world of dimension, scale, and feeling, removing the unfortunate schism between a built environment that exists in three dimensions and a visualization of it that has until now existed in two.

“You can’t help but say wow,” says George Valdes, VP of technology at Iris VR, one of several software companies that have popped up to facilitate such scenarios— viewed on hardware like Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift or HTC Vibe —for firms large and small. “It happens every time a client or an architect jumps into a project for the first time. You can literally bring them into the project, and that makes design a more human experience.”​

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