Imagine being able to walk through a building before it has even been built. Sounds impossible, right? But for UTS students it’s a reality – virtual reality (VR).
“Virtual reality is something completely new and growing for architecture,” explains master’s student Samuel Haddo. Haddo is among a cohort of second-year, third-year and master’s students who have used the technology in their studies. He is also a designer and draftsperson for a small architecture firm.
“Since I’ve finished the elective,” says Haddo, “I’ve already modelled up two multi-storey residential houses. One of which was used by a client.”
He says, VR helps to “visually understand space and some of the complex details that can only be understood and resolved during the construction stage and at completion.”
Examples include material selection – like how the floor finishes, fittings and lighting work together – and the design itself. “For one of the projects I’ve worked on, we made decisions to adjust the floor zone size and exposed stair structures so they work better in conjunction with each other.
“Spatial changes were also made to the main bedroom, hallways and living and dining areas so they became more spacious and complemented the client’s collection of artworks.”
So how does VR work? Quite simply, students design their building using 3D modelling software, then render it in a VR application to create life-size, three-dimensional architectural spaces and environments. They then use an ocular-headset device and controllers (much like a video game controller) to fully immerse themselves in their virtual environment.
“It’s very cool,” says third-year architecture student Jack Jahn. “It’s a great way to test out different options in spaces. I’m already using it in some of my projects for my architecture design subject this teaching session. It’s very exciting.
“The best thing about my degree,” adds Jahn who has combined his architecture degree with a Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation, “is that electives and study areas such as this have allowed me to see architecture as something broader than just a degree for designers. Rather, architecture is a degree for creative problem solvers, new technology and forward thinking.”
Associate Lecturer Matthew Austin is the academic in charge of the subject. He says, “We’re the only architecture school in New South Wales doing it. Which is good.
“The best part about it is that it offers 'architectural simulation' like never before. To know what a building is like you need to stand in it. Before now you couldn't do this without physically building a building.”
Third-year architecture student Rhys Grant agrees. “It helps solve the difficulty in understanding a building at a human scale.
“VR technology is, essentially, a useful tool to understand and design a building and to communicate a final product to a client,” he adds.
And that, says Austin, is what will give UTS architecture students the advantage when it comes to getting a job after university.