What You See is What You Get: How Virtual Reality Can Improve Architecture

Figure 1: Ty Hedfan House real (left) and virtual (right) [dezeen,com] – Virtual reality is increasingly capable of delivering highly accurate simulationsWhen HKS Architects had to build a medical facility with a 10,000 square foot atrium and 40+ foot sky lit area, they faced a big problem: How could they reasonably simulate the experience  to measure the design’s impact on the medical building’s employeess?

Current methods of digital drawings fail to adequately capture the sense of scale and its impact on human users. Where traditional methods of architectural renderings fall short, emerging virtual and augmented reality technology bridge the gap between design and reality

HKS Architects  drafted its designs into virtual reality immersions the end users could experience. For daring and user-heavy design, this kind of experience is crucial for executing functional yet aesthetically pleasing projects: “Project managers, owners, and the architects were able to put themselves in the newly designed atrium area and discuss the feeling gained as a visitor to the new hospital entrance”(1).




Figure 2: 3D simulations can exponentially increase client satisfaction.

Using virtual reality to mock up projects before they are built is a vital tool to minimize the gap between designs on paper or computer screen and the physical space as people  will experience it. Virtual reality renders a concrete narrative that includes user experience into the architectural process and ensures that artistry does not supersede usability. Giving the end user a voice and the vocabulary to express what they want, modern architecture can begin to integrate emotion-oriented design practices,  beneficial for everyone involved. In this way, architects can incorporate real time feedback into their original design: “Each user was able to put on the headset, describe to the architect what they saw and move machines and furniture to their desired locations within the virtual environment.” (2).

Tools such as virtual reality present the opportunity for an ongoing conversation between design and user experience–one that can ultimately phase out many of the inefficiencies present in today’s insulated architectural design practices.

MkThink’s focus on efficient building practices makes this technology particularly relevant. It weeds out inefficiencies in design before they are rendered in brick and mortar. And it brings user needs and wants to the forefront, an essential part of any good design.




  1. http://architecture-interactive.com/case-studies/hks-architects
  2. http://architecture-interactive.com/case-studies/shands-hospital-university-of-florida