Architecture Virtual Reality

People are very visual, the expression “seeing is believing” applies in this case. You could argue that it is our strongest sense. But if you are like most designers, you have a difficult time imaging…

UE4Editor 2015-07-09 14-25-33-535rev

People are very visual, the expression “seeing is believing” applies in this case. You could argue that it is our strongest sense. But if you are like most designers, you have a difficult time imaging what your design looks like in the real world. For years humans have been designing houses, bridges, skyscrapers, and even implement 3D surveying applications only to put the information on a 2D piece of paper, then you sit back and wonder is that what it’s really going to look like in the real world. Why do we do this to ourselves? I think it is time for us to start using different approaches. Today, we have more technology, software and hardware than we can keep up with. Let’s use these advancements to help us visualize and fully immerse ourselves in a 3D (BIM) model that is manipulatable giving us a more accurate sense of the product.

Winne Davis View 2

Revit is a great program used to design and survey in 3D. Revit allows you to import a topographic survey, which allows you to visualize the gradient of the earth surface then you can add a 3D model of your project on top of the surface. Voila you’re done right!! Well not exactly, there is a lot more to it than that, but you get the point. Revit is just one of the programs that allows designers and surveyors to see things from a different perspective. AutoCAD and MicroStation have been doing some of this for years. We just haven’t used it in that way, mainly because we are still stuck in the mind of a 2D world. But what if we could take this 3D product one step further? What if we could mentally walk through a project and experience it in a whole new way? What if we could be there but not be there?

One of the projects, we recently completed is importing Revit models into various gaming engines for our clients to view. The gaming engine that was most suitable for our project was UnReal Engine 4. Unreal Engine 4 is a complete gaming suite that allows you to create applications for your mobile devices. Once you have gone through all of the steps of creating your app, load it onto an IPad /IPhone or other devices. The user can simply click on the app and easily move around the project using controller with your fingers. This same application that is created in the gaming engine can be brought into virtual reality as well.


Virtual reality is a completely computerized world that can be existing or made up. The wonderful experience about VR is that you can control the environment. You can walk around inside and outside of a buildings and look around in a 360° setting along with various other application. VR is only going to grow and become more popular. The concept of VR is being backed by some of the deepest pockets and the greatest minds of this generation. A prime example would be Facebook recently purchasing Oculus for 2 billion dollars. The Oculus is the creator of The Rift. The Oculus Rift is a virtual reality head set that allows the users to experience the virtual scene or movie. So what does this have to do with architecture or surveying?

In virtual Reality, you can walk through a building that you are designing, go from room to room while interactively making changes from materials for the floors and walls to viewing and adjusting the lighting instantly and finding issues or flaws in your architecture design, saving you time and money. VR allows the designer to share the experience of his or her design to the client before the project has to be built or renovated. One of the ways to view this scene is through the Oculus rift as mentioned before. The Oculus Rift acts a secondary monitor on your computer or laptop for the users to see and using the arrow keys or a controller to move around in.

From our experiences on our most recent project, we would like to explain the three basic steps to bringing reality into virtual reality.


1.) 3D Laser Scan of the Building – Why 3D laser scanning? 3D laser scanning offers a great tool for measuring the tiniest details of an existing structure. The scanner creates a point cloud, which consist of millions upon millions of point that have an x, y and z value. In the recent years, 3D laser scanning, High Definition Surveying (HDS) or terrestrial LiDAR has become a much more powerful tool. The equipment is faster and produces data that is far denser than photos or any other product on the market. At NCG, we use 3D laser scanning for a wide variety of projects, ranging anywhere from roadway project, forensics/accident investigations, industrial plants, and historic preservation and architectural or BIM project. People use scanners for many reasons, but for us the main advantages of the 3D scanners is speed of data collection, increases productivity, improves range and accuracy, safe, non-contact data capture at distance and most importantly photo realistic 3D data. From those measurements or point clouds a 3D model can be constructed in Revit or other programs.Capital City Bank2

2.) 3D Model – What is the difference between 3D model and a point cloud? Point clouds are just that points, the points have no intellects other than a position. 3D models are mathematical representation of any 3D surface or object but with the certain software, data can be stored onto the model. The key is to use the point cloud to create your 3D model. Constructing a 3D model from point cloud data can be quite time consuming, but there are a number of 3D modeling software’s available on the market to help you. For our project, we use Revit. Revit is one of the most well-known software for architects and designers. Revit creates the materials, walls, floors, virtually everything for the scene.
Winne Davis View 4

3.) After the scene is complete, export the model in an .FBX or .OBJ file. The export file can then be imported into a gaming program like 3D Unity or Unreal Engine 4. Below is a basic guide for importing the data. From the ‘Content Browser’ Navigate to the folder in which you would like to place your imported model. Choose Import. Select the .OBJ (Wavefront format) or .FBX (Autodesk format). Check over the Import Dialog box. Make sure to select ‘Import’ textures and materials if you have any for your model. If your model already has a structure you can keep this during import or recreate the structure to match within your project. Once your model has been imported you typically can “Drag and Drop” into your project from the Content Browser. Once in the scene you can begin manipulating additional features. UE4Editor 2015-07-09 14-23-03-160rev

VR technology has improved dramatically over the course of several decades and is quickly becoming a powerful tool that we can use for a wide range of projects. Many of the VR applications include video capture, real estate, construction, forensics investigation and etc. While creating a VR scene is not quite as simple as explained, the concept of Architecture Virtual Reality being the future is that simple. According to CNET article, Virtual Reality is set to make a splash and Trendforce’s studies show that virtual reality devices sales will hit record highs in 2016 and only to increase in the future years. So I say to you let us make your dream into a Virtual Reality.

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