Chattanooga's Hefferlin + Kronenberg Architects recently bought a tool to help take their business to the forefront of the industry and better serve customers.
About four months ago, the firm purchased a virtual reality system that allows clients to essentially see designs as if they were walking through them in real life.
It's the natural progression of communication in the architecture industry, Hefferlin + Kronenberg architect Nick Messerlian said.
"First there were blueprints, then computer-drafted 2-D drawings, then 3-D models and renderings, and now 3-D virtual space," he said. "The technology is simply making the design more real and more understandable for the layperson prior to swinging the hammer."
With the new equipment, a client can put on the headset, see what the end result of the project will look like and decide if they want to make changes.
Clients can get an idea of how each room of a home will look, including how furniture will fit or better understand where ductwork will be, among other benefits.
VR helps both the client and the architect work through the complexities of designing a project. It can save time and money because it can prevent surprises and allow for changes before construction starts. Using virtual reality creates a better understanding of the project for everyone involved.
For example, one of the firm's leaders designed a floor plan for the city's Avondale Youth and Family Development Center, and he planned for a specific line of sight from one area to another but wasn't sure if it would work, H + K architect Alex Reyland said.
Using the VR headset confirmed that it would.
"This technology can help us streamline the design and construction process," Messerlian said. "Anytime we can coordinate and get feedback from owners, consultants or contractors, we run into less unexpected scenarios when we start construction."
Using VR can also create more enthusiasm among clients about projects, and Messerlian said he can see it being used in public projects to help build support and fundraising for the owners.
So far, the firm has used it four or five times, and the team is figuring out how to best implement it into their workflow.
It doesn't take much extra work for the architects, and it's free for the client.
The technology is still in its relative infancy, but it's used a lot in the video gaming world, Messerlian said. That might mean improvements to the technology will come swiftly as more gamers discover ways to advance it, and the architecture industry can benefit from those improvements.
Using VR is also fun, Messerlian said. So far, clients who have used the VR headset have been amused (and sometimes a little disoriented because virtual reality takes a little getting used to).
And it's fun to see someone else try it, Messerlian and Reyland said.
"It's an amazing tool, and my guess is that every competitive architecture firm in the next 10 years will have a VR platform in their office," Messerlian said.