Exploring Virtual Architecture

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By Michelle Obayda

Here at Squint we have been spending a lot of our time in the virtual world. In one corner of the office is the HTC Vive with its 3m x 3m play area. Sometimes we paint with 3D fire in Tilt Brush, defend our castles with bows and arrows in The Lab, and work as gourmet chefs with Job Simulator. But even closer to our hearts is when we create our own unique virtual experiences.

We want to see what's behind the camera, or what it feels like to walk around the space ourselves.

Virtual Reality has recently become an exciting medium for visualising architecture and space. Still images and animations are excellent ways to create narratives for design projects, but often we want to see what’s behind the camera, or what it feels like to walk around in the space ourselves.

A 360° image when viewed on headsets like the Samsung Gear, Google Cardboard or the Occulus can allow the viewer to look around them and get a sense of really being in this imagined environment. You can let your eyes wander over a bit of time, looking at details to the left and to the right, and just below or above you. A narrative is able to be told in a different way, and every viewer will experience this space a little differently.

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The HTC Vive is where we feel like we jump completely into another world, totally immersed. When you put the headset on and look around, and then walk around the 3m x 3m area, you get a real sense of being present, like you actually exist in that space at that time. This is what we find really exciting.

We are currently working on a number of projects where we created a virtual environment running in realtime, using the game engine Unity. Sitting on real / virtual chairs, crouching low to look at some detail, and waving controllers about with your hands are all ways that we encourage interaction within the space. There is a constant challenge to maintain a high level of realism whilst comfortably playing in realtime.

When looking at a still image or watching an animation you are an observer, when inside a virtual world you are a participant.

One of our current projects is set in New York, where we are creating the experience of being in a Manhattan skyscraper. Just imagine, you are at the office window 300m above the street. Can you walk to the edge? Can you look down?  The feeling of false vertigo that you get when ‘looking down’ from a height in VR is one of the most exciting ways to transport a user to somewhere else.

Another way to transport someone is with noise. Close your eyes, now listen to the sound of this busy city street at 9 o’clock in the morning. A driver is beeping at you, music is pumping from the car behind. Do you feel like you’re there? Now open your eyes, you can see the street around you, cars driving by as you look left and right. You are there, or at least it feels like you are. This is our intention with virtual reality.

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Finally one of the interesting aspects of VR is the chance for exploration. When looking at a still image or watching an animation you are an observer, when inside a virtual world you are a participant. Using a tracked headset such as the Vive, you can bend down to look at detail near the ground or peer your head round the corner to see something behind the wall. With the hand controllers you can reach out and grab an object, or push something over, and suddenly the potential to explore your space and feel a sense of agency within it is great, and much closer to real life.

This growing medium is exciting us at Squint and we look forward to seeing where it takes us, the worlds we can make, the experiences we can have, and we invite you to come share them with us!

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