CR architecture + design

Creating Conversation

Virtual Reality for Human Reality

Rick Burchett
Virtual Design and Construction Leader
October 27, 2017

Architecture is meant to elicit an array of human emotions. Color, texture, design and scale all contribute to how people feel in a building. In this digital world we are living and designing in, powerful technology like Revit and Virtual Reality (VR) can cause us to neglect those emotions that are vital to the design process. With the rapid pace of design and construction that this technology enables, we can lose the human aspect of architecture. This doesn’t have to be the case though. I’ve seen these new tools strengthen the personal interaction between clients and designers. In the fast pace of design and construction, VR can ensure the human experience is not overlooked.

Previously, I worked on a project designing a hospital for children, and so much care was put into expressing a cheerful feeling—plenty of colored glass, fun colors on the walls, textures in frames. Everything imaginable was included to make the environment suitable as a children’s hospital. In the digital model, every detail was thought through. There were windows in the patient rooms allowing hospital staff to look in on patients without entering the room and nurses’ stations featured plenty of glass and light. The design of the project was well-thought-out and modeled with a very high level of detail for use in a VR engagement, showcasing the model and design’s attention to detail.

As the designers, architects, interior designers and clients sat and began to explore the VR project model, admiring all the challenging work, one voice rang out over all others. A nurse who worked with the children asked the one question no one had addressed: “What does this look like to a child? Our patients are children. What does it look like to a scared, four-foot-tall child?” The room went silent. I quickly dropped the camera height down to four feet high and started the tour over. We walked the same path, realizing all the design, color and texture was created at the vantage point of an adult.

This shifted our attention to how we could design the space to help put these children at ease when they were scared and didn’t understand why they were there. At counters where adults checked in, filled out paperwork and registered, games were added to the face of the counters and made reachable for children. Pictures were hung lower and textures were applied so that small hands could reach them. Ultimately, the original design wasn’t flawed, but the VR engagement empowered the client and design team to gain a vital perspective, enabling us to create a one-of-a-kind design for the children in that hospital.

Recently, I had a similar experience working on a project for a school that was being designed with the latest advancements in construction: two-story glass walls that appeared endless and open floor plans with exposed steel and concrete, all designed to be the most efficient in environmental conditioning and control. Two-dimensional (2D) plans had been reviewed countless times, renderings had been done and calculations had been run to make sure the building was going to be remarkably efficient.

Then came the VR presentation, with a large and varied audience, including the architects, school’s owners and even a group of nuns. The school is sponsored by a local Catholic church and the nuns had been to every meeting and design review that was held, but they were struggling to imagine the 2D design as a physical representation of their future school. It wasn’t until they saw the school in a 3D VR setting that they were able to understand and envision the design. The VR presentation had them completely engaged with the design and asking questions they had not brought up before.

Most people are 2D blind, meaning they can’t view a 2D drawing of a building and envision it in 3D, seeing the detail of each wall and each room from the ground up. While designing a project from a digital platform is fast and accurate, it can cause us to forget the importance of the human experience as a part of the process. A designer knows what they are trying to express in a design because it’s reflected in their own mind. Only by using the right digital tools can the designer accurately share that reflection with others. It is not until the eyes see that the mind can question. VR technology allows us all to see, question and contribute to the ideal final design.

At CR architecture + design, we incorporate VR holistically into our process. We use it to concentrate every aspect of the design on capturing one essential connection— a lasting bond between the architecture and the community that will thrive inside it.

Interested in a demonstration of how CR’s VR capabilities can transform the design of your project? Send me an email at