A bolder way of seeing: virtual reality and new design

By Alanna Duffield

12th September 2017

I’m inside the nicest hotel room I’ve ever been in. It’s one of those vast studio apartment rooms that boasts floor to ceiling glass across the entire southern wall. It overlooks a harbour dotted evenly with white yachts, no bigger than my thumb from where I stand hundreds of feet above.

Turning around to face the rest of the room, I find I am at the foot of a broad wooden bed. It takes up nearly the entire room. In fact, it’s a little too big for my liking. I sort of want it moved.

I’m hundreds of feet up in the sky and, as you might imagine, the unsightly bed is very heavy. It’s going to be a complete pain to remove it. Instead, I click a finger and it’s gone, replaced by a smaller, nicer option.

I flick back to the previous bed, then back to the new one. Yep, definitely better. As I move around the room I change a few more things that I don’t like; the colour of the carpet, the artwork on the walls. Each time clicking a finger, creating and changing as I go.

About now you might start to speculate that this all sounds a bit fantastical. And you’d be quite right, given that the hotel room in which I stand is entirely virtual. I am actually in Soho, paying a visit to our client Foundry, the virtual reality and visual effects experts who have been showing off a revolutionary new tool.

Foundry’s ‘Bunsen’ allows engineers, designers and architects to ‘enter’ designs in virtual reality (VR). As more people enter the hotel room their VR headsets become present, and we share the space simultaneously. Someone changes the bed back. I change it back again.

Forget blueprints, this is the future of design. Real-time interactive creation that reaches people from anywhere across the globe.

Imagine you have been tasked to create the next iconic London skyscraper. Think ‘Walkie-talkie’-level weird, Shard-level expensive. The sheer volume of back-and-forth in terms of design, edit, re-design then edit some more would be immense.

By contrast, VR is completely streamlining the process by which we build, design and create. Immersive software is allowing us to create entire buildings virtually. These are buildings we can visualise before they ever take tangible form; buildings that can be made bolder and riskier, buildings that can fail without catastrophic associated costs.

It doesn’t stop at engineering and construction. The process of designing anything, from the next Shard to a pair of trainers, is being helped by this technology. In taking away the trepidation we have around creation, we are liberated through VR.

By adopting a method of creation where mistakes, edits and revaluation become a staple part of the process, we are more inclined to use this thinking in our everyday. Those of us who still want to create the old-fashioned way – I still like writing by hand best – can take this fearlessness and use it outside the virtual world.

The more we create without fear, the more we unlock better, bolder versions of ourselves.