For over 30 years, award-winning design studio, Graven, has been helping to build some of the world’s biggest brands. Over the last 12 months, they’ve been using ‘Small VR’ (low-cost mobile-based VR with simple viewers such as Google Cardboard, etc) to help them do it better than ever. We talked with Company Director Ross Hunter (RH) and BIM Coordinator Stephen Thomas (ST) about the Company’s move into virtual reality and the impact they’ve seen from the integration of Small VR in key areas of their design and build processes.
How did you first come across VR?ST – It was through some work we did with another firm (Soluis) which had invested in very high-end visualization technology (Oculus), that we saw the potential of how immersive visualization could help the communication of design. What we were specifically looking for at Graven was a way to work more closely with our clients and give them the advantages of working in three dimensions. We wanted something with a very low barrier to entry, something that we could integrate into our everyday conversations with clients and that would help inform the design process. That’s when we started to talk about small VR. Having our designers working and thinking about designing in 3D is different than the processes we were using before. Once we started using BIM and then VR, it made total sense to keep everything in that 3D environment and use that to structure our thinking internally as well as our conversations with clients.
How is Small VR actually used at Graven?RH – We now use VR within several stages of a project from sharing and collaborating on ideas in-house to presenting ideas to clients and also for clarifying with contractors exactly what they need to build.
Using headsets works really well when people are remote and can experience a design from wherever they are. During larger, in-person meetings, we tend to put VR designs onto an iPad or on a big screen. That enables us to navigate quickly around environments and for everyone to view the same thing. It doesn’t rely on having 10 people sitting together with goggles up to their faces which might be a little weird. It’s also been of huge benefit to contractors as they can understand exactly what they’re building without the need to take entire teams through hundreds of drawings. We’re not just giving them technical specifications but showing them the intent, what the finished product is meant to look like. They can ask us questions and clarify anything they need to and there’s far less opportunity for confusion down the line.
Have you seen an ROI from your use of VR?RH – It can be hard just trying to keep a track of how much time we spend on each project so finding clear metrics around ROI is difficult. Anecdotally, there are many benefits. We tend to get hurt most often on the back end of a project, past the design and development stage into the technical design stage. Even when you’ve done your utmost to ensure everything is signed off and clients are happy, with the best will in the world, it doesn’t always happen like that. The further down the line a change needs to happen, the more expensive that is.
ST – People find it very hard to understand drawings and everybody’s been in situations where they walk into a building once it’s finished and it doesn’t look like they imagined – the ceiling’s a little lower than they thought, the view is slightly different. VR helps prove sight lines and a sequence of spaces. It’s absolutely the best way to do it. It cuts down on bad communication and gives clients a greater opportunity to understand the impact of a design proposal. Everyone wants to know what it’s going to look like from where they sit and being able to offer them that at an early stage through VR is incredibly useful. With less changes needed on the back end, the overall time spent is reduced and we can spend more time on the ‘clever stuff’. We see VR actually making architects better value by the fact that they can spend more time on areas that add value to a client rather than on low-value stuff like going back to fix issues late in the process.