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Virtual Reality Within Interior Design

Write-up of the live event held on 8 June 2022 at #DesignPopUp Glasgow

‘Virtual Reality Within Interior Design’ explored how emerging and immersive technologies can be utilised by design practices to improve and enhance the design process.

3DReid’s Director Scott Torrance and Senior Interior Designer, Nicolle Cairney, demonstrated how they harness virtual reality, the opportunities and challenges it presents, and the possible environmental and cost-saving benefits it offers.

Disrupting reality: how VR can revolutionise design

Architecture and design firms are increasingly adopting immersive technologies ⁠— and many are already reaping the rewards. During #DesignPopUp’s Glasgow Exhibition, which took place over two days in June, we held a design presentation with 3DReid in front of a live audience to showcase and demonstrate how the latest virtual reality (VR) developments have impacted the practice’s design processes and outcomes.

A captivated audience of architects & designers at the live talk

To begin, Nicolle believed it was worth explaining the differences between the two leading immersive technologies.

“Augmented reality uses a real-world setting,” she explained. “You would see the room as it is and be able to add elements to it, such as a carpet or a bar. It’s a good tool, but not as immersive as virtual reality.”

Conversely, Nicolle observed that VR constructs an entirely fictional environment. “It’s evolved over the years, as we’ve seen in gaming, but recently it’s become more interactive; you can walk around in the space and pick up objects.”

VR Model (Reception), AC by Marriott Hotel, 3DReid

“Right up until we put the headset on, we thought it’d be clunky. It’s been a real learning curve for us – with positives and negatives.”

- Scott Torrance

Overcoming scepticism & embracing virtual possibilities

Talking about how 3DReid leapt into VR, Scott explained it happened by chance while working on AC By Marriott Hotel on George Square last year. At the time, the designer asked if they had thought about creating a VR model or video of the hotel; Scott revealed he was hesitant. “Our first thoughts were, how much is it?” he smiled. Fortunately for 3DReid, because the designer, who was outsourced, was still experimenting with VR, the work came competitively priced.

Still, Scott recalled his reluctance to take up the offer, given 3DReid’s previous experience using immersive elements in their design projects. “We had created walk-throughs and fly-throughs, maybe seven or eight years ago, which looked like Minecraft! So we were very sceptical of VR.” However, 3DReid agreed to give it a go and was “blown away” by the results.

“On the hotel’s ground floor, we had eight-nine visuals from key viewpoints,” Scott said, “and the designer stitched a VR model together within a couple of weeks.” He added: “Right up until we put the headset on, we thought it’d be clunky. It’s been a real learning curve for us – with positives and negatives.”

The Macallan Distillery in Speyside, Scotland

VR Model (Bar & Lounge), AC by Marriott Hotel, 3DReid

Achieving a better understanding of space

According to 3DReid, the prospect of better project visualisation is a crucial reason for the increased adoption of virtual reality. To indicate the benefits, Nicolle asked a member of the audience to demonstrate the VR headset. Sarah McGregor from Space Solutions was fitted, and her viewpoint was projected onto the main presentation screen for the audience.

As Sarah took in the ground floor of a virtually rendered AC by Marriott, Nicolle explained how a virtual circle is drawn around Sarah to create a space where she could look, not move, around. “You don’t need to walk anywhere – vases are safe!” Nicolle exclaimed. “There are VR models you can walk around, but because this hotel lobby is such an expansive space, it’s easier just to turn and jump to the next viewpoint rather than walk.”

Before Sarah departed from the stage, Nicolle asked her to look everywhere ⁠— up and down. “Everything you see, cushions, plants and finishes have either been a 3D model or rendered. You can see the back of the restaurant where pendant lights and table positions are; you can look down and see what the floor is like ⁠— you won’t see your feet, though, which is the strangest thing; you feel like you’re floating!”

To add to the realism, Scott mentioned the importance of externals and incorporating the actual buildings and trees outside. “We’ve learned that putting in externals was as important as the internals,” he stated. “Previously, we would mock up the sky, white space or external shots, but when you’ve put in the external fabric, it becomes much more realistic and tangible. It’s imperative and lifts the model.”

VR Model (Café), AC by Marriott Hotel, 3DReid

An effective tool for communication

“We’ve started selecting furniture, fabrics and items completely in VR, which is new to us; before, we would always go and see the samples.”

- Nicolle Cairney

While Scott admitted that VR is “not for everyone”, he did acknowledge that it has helped streamline the design process. It allows for more accessible communication between designers and clients who can screenshot and comment on the VR videos via simple weblinks.

VR Model (Restaurant), AC by Marriott Hotel, 3DReid

“Clients have told us that they’ve enjoyed using it and found it a useful tool in discussing smaller spaces or awkward details. It also makes them feel more involved in the design process.”

Another advantage of VR is the ability to identify issues before any physical work occurs.

“Working in 3D irons out problems and identifies potential issues earlier”. For example, Scott recalled a project where VR revealed a building with incorrect furnishings. “It could have been six months down the line to identify these issues without VR, so it has helped us.”

Scott conceded that his relationship with VR regarding the extra cost and time was still conflicted. “It’s fantastic and terrible at the same time.”

VR Model (Library & Lounge), AC by Marriott Hotel, 3DReid

A greener, cost-effective solution?

As operating costs rise, the members of 3DReid posited that VR might be a tool to reduce overheads. “We’ve found that you could spend £70K building sample rooms, while with VR, it could be £8-10K. So it’s a big cost-saver,” Nicolle said.

She also remarked on the potential environmental advantages. “Why build a physical sample room only for it to be ripped out? VR negates the need to build it. Also, if a client is going to get kitchen models made up, we can agree on even the nitty-gritty details in VR instead of physically building it and approving it. So again, it nullifies the wastage from demolishing an unwanted kitchen."

"You can also limit in-person site visits — all you need is a headset and to go online — that’s been an outstanding benefit.” Importantly, Nicolle stated VR could be used by everyone, regardless of physical ability, allowing them to pay a visit to the site without going through health and safety measures or undertaking unnecessary journeys. “It’s accessible to everyone,” she reiterated, “and for people with limited mobility.”

In conclusion: The future is virtual

While many industry experts dismiss the use of VR as gimmicky, and while most VR versions of architectural models remain rather rudimentary, it’s only a matter of time before they become more effective and realistic.

3DReid’s advice? “Visuals are only as good as your visualiser – so find the right people,” Scott insisted. In the end, dismiss VR at your peril, Scott and Nicolle warned.

It’s “totally mind-blowing” Nicolle said of VR’s projected rise in usage, concluding that in the next four years, VR is “going to blow the roof off!”

This design talk took place on Wednesday 08 June 2022 at #DesignPopUp Glasgow. You can catch up with the live recording on your YouTube channel:


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