It’s commonly acknowledged that many people cannot always comprehend spatial relationships by looking at old fashioned, two dimensional drawings. So when working with non-industry professional clients, it is imperative that we do all we can to help them understand our proposals so that they can engage in a meaningful way and make informed opinions to help shape the design.
The tech options to help facilitate this are evolving rapidly; it’s all part of a modern-day gold rush to stake a claim in the virtual world. VR headsets and joysticks have become more affordable and therefore more commonplace, so much so that many high street kitchen showrooms proudly showcase their designs using the technology. The question is, given the exponential rate of evolution and the enormous R&D budgets of the Big Tech companies, where does the future lie?
This future is one we have heard a lot about since Facebook morphed into Meta, marking a change of emphasis in the organisation reflecting their prediction that a substantial part of future reality exists in the virtual ‘Metaverse’. Whilst this may sound dystopian to many of us, it also opens up many incredibly exciting opportunities which have rapidly been gaining momentum and promises some fascinating prospects for those working in the architectural, engineering and construction industries – regardless of which dimension one chooses to inhabit. Whilst the Metaverse is unconstrained by the forces of nature identified by Newton, Einstein or Darwin, this experimental, experiential world can also bring real, tangible benefits in informing the creation of a better, future real world.
The hybrid between the real and the virtual worlds – augmented or mixed reality – is a fascinating area of substantial investment. Back in the real world, visiting site recently at the New Children’s Hospital in Dublin and at the Oak Cancer Centre for the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, as I walked around the incomplete shells of the buildings I thought how amazing it would be to augment this reality with the digital representation of the near future reality. This is a current possibility and one that hasn’t been commonly exploited yet.
For the Oak Cancer Centre, one of the key concepts behind the design was to enhance the external context and outlook from the building, particularly for the benefit of the patients that would be treated in the chemotherapy suite. We designed a new verdant, landscaped garden space, and configured the 63 chemo treatment bays so that they are all orientated to benefit from a direct relationship with it. We designed and visualised an optimistic environment where the experience is as positive as possible, despite the treatment undertaken; one that is intuitive and simple to navigate, maintaining the motivational aspiration that a hospital doesn’t have to feel like a hospital.
Whilst facilitating intensive engagement sessions during clinical user group meetings on many of our current projects, augmented and virtual reality helped users experience the space and prepare for the transition to the new clinical lifesaving environments, as well as catch any just-in-time critical changes required, before they became a static reality.
A video of Oak Cancer Centre (no sound)
The more convincingly we can simulate, refine, ‘debug’ and stress test the future, malleable, yet-to-be-determined reality during the design process, effectively interacting and engaging with interested parties, the better and brighter the physical reality will be.