Virtual reality (VR) has many applications, but architecture and design are a sector where it is already revolutionising the way buildings, homes and retail stores are being designed. There are various tools such as HTC Vive’s and Immersion’s Truescale, Epic Games’ Unreal Studio, LUX Walker, or Unity’s support of PiXYZ. VRFocus recently spoke to Founder and CEO of AVR Studios and IR Architect about how he started to look at VR as a solution to help provide their clients with a way of exploring their product before even building it.
Anybody that’s attempted to refurbish their home, buy or build a home will have looked at numerous layouts of building work, drawings and sketches of the floor plan. However no matter how thoroughly you go through them, you might still get something not quite right. When it comes to luxury homes in California, Rodriguez deals with homes that are worth $5 million USD to $200 million, and nine-out-of-ten clients aren’t quite sure what the architects, designers and construction workers are doing which can lead to delays in construction, changing of orders and series of revisions that ultimately lead to a massive amount of expenses.
Rodriguez is a licensed architect, and AVR Studio is an architect firm that does both interior design and structural engineering. The concept of bringing VR to architecture and design came to Rodriguez when he played SUPERHOT VR on his brother-in-law’s Oculus Rift. He realised that the lobby of Oculus Home was similar to an architectural environment. “I quickly realised I could use this as a tool, build it as a service for my clients and that’s kind of where the idea started,” Rodriguez says.
AVR Studio has created its own technology to enable two users to view their building project in VR with the use of an HTC Vive. With a team of around 12 members, AVR Studio has to date managed to sell three houses worth roughly over $12 million in total simply by bringing clients into the homes in VR. VRFocus has previously covered how AVR Studio is cutting down on costs by using VR, however didn’t fully go in-depth just how valuable the process of digitising a project can be to both the client and all those involved. That story came about during the meeting with Rodriguez.
“VR is now a standard in IR Architect, clients expect it.” Rodriguez says that clients, “Are embracing it and most importantly they are starting to see the benefit of it. Because we’re finding that for them it can be a cost savings of anywhere between 5% and 10% of the construction cost, which is a significant amount of money.”
Constructing a luxury home isn’t a simple task
A luxury home can be 73,000 sq ft, which will often include twenty bedrooms, a pool, a garage that can hold twelve cars, and Rodriguez says that they’re essentially building an entire videogame or world to give the client the ability to view the property from all sides. AVR Studio uses all the tools architect firms use, incorporated into Unreal Engine and then additional unique coding to enable features like opening bespoke design doors.
At the moment the software supports two HTC Vive’s, allowing a client to be a ‘passenger’ as Rodriguez gives them a tour of their future property. This is done in AVR Studio’s VR room where they have a 70 inch television on the wall to showcase to everybody what is being discussed and shown. The client is asked to bring along all the important people involved in the building, designing and construction of the building, and he or she will be able to highlight various objects with colours. Should they want to change or alter material, colour or furniture that can be changed in real-time from a library. The whole experience is fully recorded as well for further discussion and reference of all those involved.
“Most architects would disagree, but you really don’t spend a lot of time looking at the architecture from the outside. You kind of walk up, you see the beautiful building and then you go inside.”
Rodriguez calls himself a ‘closet interior designer’ and believes that the magic truly happens when you start looking inside the building. He believes most architecture firms shy away from adding interior design as part of the package, because they feel as if they’re loosing control. However Rodriguez argues that it’s a collaborative process and that AVR Studio is there mostly to help support.
“Moving a wall early in the project doesn’t cost anybody anything. Moving it in the field? Super expensive,” he states, re-iterating that the conventional manner of discussing changes would be done on the field, and by that time it will have been too late already as well as extremely expensive to make an major changes.
Learning from Past Mistakes
“One of the big investors here in LA – he’s building his own house and he hired all the top designers. The drawings were completely done, permits were issued and he hired us and said, hey this is kind of cool stuff, can you just do my house before I spend you know $25 million? Can you just do it? And the cost for our services is minuscule compared to what they’re going to spend or what they’re going to save. So we did it and I’m talking lighting design, interior design, architecture, civil, structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing, low voltage all the packages. 300 plus sheets. So grab all of that and put it in the VR, he walks in the house and his first comment is, why is the stair in-front of the door?
And we’re all looking at each other like, I don’t know what to say. It’s literally in every drawing. And for whatever reason he just didn’t understand it. In architecture, you know, you move the stairs. The stairs are like the heart of the house, you move the stair you’re talking huge revisions. But here’s the thing: he was going to move that stair regardless. Whether he moved it today or once all the foundations were poured. So by him getting in front of it, on a $25 million build in just revisions alone he saved a couple million bucks and delays. Not only that, he didn’t have to re-do his foundations twice, he got all of the consultants to update their drawings.
“More importantly he got to competitively bid the project before awarding the contract because once you award a contract, you’re really committed to this contractor. And if he wants to charge you a significant amount of money once the projects going, there’s not a lot you can do. But if you can negotiate that way before you award that contract, it puts you in way better position.
“So for him now. Every project that he’s developing or he’s involved with he asked that he can walk in – in VR – just so he understands what he’s getting himself into, which is pretty cool. And we have a bunch of developers that are like that.”
The next big step for VR is social VR
For creating a luxury home in VR used to take two months, however now AVR Studio are able to do it in just two and half weeks. Rodriguez also explains that they’re working together with a company in Hong Kong that have a VR hub that allow multiple computers to connect at once, enabling users to be in the same environment and communicating live without the boundaries of international travel. Rodriguez imagines that in the future a little robot will go to the actual field whilst clients put on a VR headset to save everybody time of commuting. He says that with around 30 homes a year, he spends half his time driving in the car from job site to job site.
AVR Studio currently have 35 projects to date and are seeking to expand into the commercial sector of hospitality and retail. The team are currently working with a retail client who can now fine tune a customer service experience, looking at the furniture and ambience before anybody starts swinging a hammer. However, it’s not only working on social VR and going into the commercial sector, AVR Studio are also working with a company using augmented reality (AR) for the government on building sites.
Rodriguez explains that by adding AR to VR, AVR Studio will be able to advise exactly where the beams and structural elements are going, eliminating the misinterpretations or miscommunications of drawings further cutting down costs of construction. To find out more watch the video below, and stay right here with VRFocus for all the latest from AVR Studio.