On the verge: Virtual reality reaches a tipping point in AEC

The following is the first post in a series on how immersive reality technologies such as virtual reality and CAVE rooms are reaching a tipping point in the AEC industry. Check back during National Safety Week (May 2-6) for our next installment about using virtual reality to improve safety trainings.

Gunnar Skeie recently sent a building information model to the organizers of a workshop on immersive visualization technology for construction at Scalable Display Technologies.  Only a week later, he was standing between a red sofa and a giant interactive panoramic computer screen mounted on an orange accent wall in Scalable’s lofted office space in Cambridge, Mass. Putting on the new HTC Vive virtual reality headset, Skeie’s mouth fell agape as he was instantaneously transported to a sun-splashed atrium with a four-story floating staircase. He craned his neck to observe the skylight overhead and instinctively reached out his hand to navigate around furniture. Skeie intently inspected every nook and cranny of the virtual version of a BIM model he spent a year crafting and could now see in an entirely new way.

“Mind blowing,” the virtual design in construction manager for Norwegian construction company Kruse Smith told us after pulling the VR goggles off his head as if he was coming up for air. “I was actually able to go into the atrium and see what the glass elevator shafts are going to look like.

“I’m sure our client would have loved it and the tenants would have loved it. To have that as a tool to communicate the design throughout the phases would be fantastic.”

While it only took the workshop’s organizers a few days to create this VR world, it would have taken months to convert a CAD, BIM or Revit model into a high-quality virtual reality experience for owners just a few years ago. And spending so much time on VR canabilized the time needed to design the physical structure itself. But this once laborious process has been streamlined by the advent of computer engines used for video game systems. New software programs that are quickly becoming more compatible with VR headsets are also making this process more feasible than ever.

Owners no longer have to try to imagine what it will be like to walk through their building based on drawings presented to them on a 2D computer screen that only their architects can fully decode. They can simply step inside the building by slipping on VR goggles. Owners could walk around a space, turn around and even look in another direction to gaze at what the views will be like from every vantage point. While a blueprint can give them the exact dimensions of a room, VR will given them a true sense of how big a room will feel.

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Office space of tomorrow: Millennials and “accidental encounters” drive future of office design

This is the first post in our series on the office space of tomorrow. 

“We don’t have a lot of time on this Earth! We weren’t meant to spend it this way. Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day …”Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 9.03.11 AM.png

— Peter Gibbons, played by actor Ron Livingston, in the 1999 cult movie classic Office Space

If humans weren’t meant to spend their careers sitting in square boxes punching away at their keyboards and staring at their computers, then where should we be working?

That question is being deliberated by forward-thinking developers and interior designers, architects, construction companies and experts on human behavior, as well as some of the most inventive companies in the world like Google and Facebook. Many of these thinkers are attempting to transform the way commercial buildings, office space and even workplace furniture are designed and built.

So, where will we be working in the future? The journey to that final answer might just change the way human beings work, collaborate and innovate today and for generations to come.

Millennial workforce impacts office design

There are major cultural shifts occurring today that are having an unprecedented impact on the commercial office market, including the influence of the millennial generation which consists of the 18- to 34-year olds who make up more than half of today’s workforce.

Commercial office developers and designers understand they must strongly consider the needs of this powerful slice of the population and make their office spaces more desirable for clients who must attract this young talent — studies have found most millennials prefer “activity-based” working environments that place a premium on working collaboratively, sustainability, wellness and the integration of smart technologies to improve performance and optimize productivity.

That’s a lot to take in if you’re a commercial developer or office space designer with new office plans in the works, especially if you’re used to selling clients on corner offices, cube farms and mahogany desks.

Open layouts: Future or fad?

The national publication Real Estate Weekly recently reported that “the real estate industry is in the throes of transformative change … thanks to a fast evolving workforce that continues to redefine corporate space requirements. For companies with ambitious recruiting and expansion plans … this is a pivotal time.”

This means that developers and designers shouldn’t rush to decisions on what makes an optimal work environment without taking a long-term view. Johan Ronnestam, an internationally known brand expert and innovative thinker about workplaces of the future, said, “If you are in the process of change, you need to think 10 years out. How will my employees want to work then? How will technologies affect our everyday lives? How will your office fit into that world? We need to be open to having our beliefs changed.”

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