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







Efficient architecture has been compromised by the architect’s ambition to be recognized internationally in the architecture scene, and the eagerness to compete with avant-garde trends has come to overlook the responsibility of architecture as a creative response to human needs. Rising architects and firms find their way to the media by presenting radical and extravagant designs, employing the latest technology and falling into the ‘overuse’ of fashionable trends in order to gain exposure. This habit has led to a kind of architecture that bypasses the requirements that enables companies, as well as the individual architect- to build an efficient space, so how can architecture find a midpoint between strategic solutions that respond to an issue without compromising an appealing aesthetic form?

Extravagant structures have become a staple in contemporary architecture, and they have been used as a medium to make a controversial statement (such is the case of Koolhaas’ CCTV building), and or perform as a sculptural piece (examples are Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall, Slim’s Soumaya Museum, Myne’s Cooper Union building, or Koolhaas’ Central Library in Seattle, who used the city as their showcasing museum).


“Projects have made headlines, but not for the right reasons.

These buildings have not answered efficiently to design in relationship with human performance and the environmental reality within their geographic location. The steel façade that embraces the Disney Concert Hall failed because the material and shape reflected too much light and radiated heat to the surrounding houses (see image no. 2). An increase of investigation and recreating possible case scenarios would have resulted in a more adequate solution for the development of the projects. The Soumaya Museum’s tiled skin could have had light sensitive panels, or a ventilation system that benefits from the wind pressure exerted on the convex shape of the hourglass-shaped building. The curves of the Cooper Union building could have been extended onto the ground or into the lobby of the building in order to integrate it more to the site and result in a stronger relationship with the human experience, and in some way have the architecture generate a sense of space. Gehry’s flamboyant buildings along with Koolhaas’ Seattle library present a challenge where either the entrance to the building or spaces within the building themselves become confusing for the user, thus resulting in either a negative or disconcerting experience. A design that is sensible to the environment will participate more dynamically with the surrounding site and the characters that will engage in action with it.


Figure 1: Concept ideas that could have been introduced into the tailed design for the Soumaya museum’s intricate skin design. [Graphic edit on original photo Courtesy of Adam Wiseman]

054-063•(08) Lally-Weathers (10ppp)

Figure 2: By Sean Lally, Andrew Corrigan, and Paul Kweton of Weathers. The Image shows the temperature increase in the site surrounding the Disney Concert Hall. The reflection onto nearby condominiums raised the overall temperature up to 15 degrees Fahrenheit.
















When we consider the effort and research invested to develop the innovative proposals for these projects, then we can ask ourselves: Why not take it a step further and maximize the potential of the tectonics and material?

Development in technology continuously gives us access to advanced materials, which could be applied unorthodoxly in order to generate an efficient building rather than fulfilling solely an aesthetic function. Each project becomes an opportunity to respond to different human needs. Taking advantage of the technological and aesthetical capabilities of these design trends would be a way to merge the functional purpose and sensory character of the building.

During the design process and project assessment, MKThink addresses these issues by carrying on in depth analysis of the different factors that will interact with the future building (ecological and human). These issues are identified as present scenarios, and consequently achieve a smart design that will efficiently respond to the project’s requisites, its environmental response to the site and the anticipated (and unexpected) engagement with people. This becomes a challenging process, however, MKThink’s strategic approach allows the design to continuously develop throughout the different stages.

An example is the ongoing project with the HNEI MMC Program that allows MKThink to collect data in order to compare and analyze the building performance in Hawaii. By taking these values and studying the existing factors in the location, MKThink is able to develop a design program that combines the interaction of the environment with the building and the prospective occupants. The result is a design that is both functional and has an attractive value, where one factor does not override the other and all the elements interact instead of competing again each other.

CHARTImage no. 3: Graph showing the interaction of the factors to be considered in the design process.


Image no. 4 and 5: Both Images present data collection and analysis done by MKThink for their HNEI Program. Monitoring environmental factors within a site allow a more effective understanding of the effect of external factors on a building. These studies will allow to develop improved buildings that could potentially be built throughout the Hawaiian Islands. [Images correspond to the HNEI MMC Program, for more detail visit MKThink website]


Architects have a commitment to fulfill building and habitable needs, and the team at MKThink manages to achieve this creatively. Buildings constantly interact with the environmental phenomena of the site, therefor, making these factors part of the design demonstrates an ingenious skill; where the built design becomes part of the site while communicating with its users.

It is so, that I propose current and future architects to challenge themselves, to design and find creative solutions that result beyond their own personal interest; to creatively follow what the purpose ‘needs’ and design ‘wants’. I invite you to make a change though a new kind of architecture.


Written by MKThinker: Odile Schlossberg

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Image References:

Image no.1 –   http://housevariety.blogspot.com/2011/07/museo-soumaya-museum-by-free-fernando.html#.VYsQVflVhBf

Image no.2 – http://bldgblog.blogspot.com/2010_09_01_bldgblog_archive.html

Image no. 4/5 – http://www.mkthink.com/archives/4403




MKThink @ The Market Street Prototyping Festival

2015-04-08 11.13.48

Over the past six months, MKThink and RoundhouseOne have been collaborating with the San Francisco City Planning Department to monitor and evaluate one block of Market Street during the San Francisco Market Street Prototyping Festival. The team designed, tested, and installed a network of sensors to detect the change in the volume of people on Market Street due to the festival. In order to create a robust network, the team coordinated with city officials, members of the local business district, retailers, and utility providers to optimize sensor placement locations. Once installed, the sensors detected mobile devices that have the wireless signal activated. Devices were used as a proxy for people, meaning each device is an indication of one person on the street. Using this data, the team will be able to calculate the number of people on the sidewalk at any given time, the dwell time of each individual device (i.e. the duration of stay), and the path of travel for most devices. In addition to collecting this information during the days of the festival, the sensors will collect data for two weeks following the event so that the team will have baseline or “regular day” data to compare against. This analysis will allow MKThink, the San Francisco, Planning Department, and the Yerba Buena Community Benefit District to understand the level to which the festival increased foot traffic on Market Street.


MKThink: Enhancing the Urban Environment

MKThink and RoundhouseOne team members prepare to deploy sensors on Market Street

MKThink and RoundhouseOne team members prepare to deploy sensors on Market Street

MKThink is working with the City of San Francisco to help re-establish Market Street as the premier cultural, civic and economic center of SF. We recently deployed 7 sensor devices at nodes around the ‘Whispering Dishes’ on 4th and Market to investigate pedestrian use patterns. This will help MKThink better understand and analyze the interactions between people and their urban environments as well as aid us in our quest to develop tactful and innovative strategies for revitalizing public space. The Better Market Street Prototyping Festival is Thursday April 9th through Saturday April 11th. If you find yourself walking downtown on Market Street, stop and have a look!


MKThink Collaborative Workplace Environments

Maximizing Utility + Potential in Workplace Environments


There is no universal solution to workplace design. MKThink’s award-winning architecture studio designs space that reflects and supports brands and the people that define them.  It’s an opportunity to use data and analysis to align organizational culture with  physical environment. MKThink’s unique approach integrates an extensive user engagement process to determine company and employee needs. Individual feedback at every level yields insight essential for effective space planning. Design must be driven by metrics beyond beauty and comfort.  Our designs support the activities and cultures that create value for your organization.

Maximizing Utility + Potential in Workplace Environments details the MKThink approach and features workplace designs that include Mozilla, The Nature Conservancy, and Stanford d.school.