By Sofia Jaramillo

Building information modeling (BIM) was the natural progression for modern construction projects. Established in the 1970s, it’s used to capture design details for building and infrastructure projects. As new technologies emerge, the BIM process delivers greater functionality. Virtual reality is one such technology that helps to extend static BIM images into an immersive virtual world for designers, builders, and other stakeholders. Here are five applications for virtual reality technology in BIM that you’ll see now and in the near future.

#1 Marketing Ideas

Marketing is the life blood of all businesses, and that includes architectural firms. Without a good marketing strategy, your agency won’t get leads, contracts, or revenue. According to industry experts at Redshift, one of the top ways to tighten up your marketing strategy is to stay aware of the latest technology in architectural marketing. Currently, that technology is virtual reality.

Virtual reality software allows designers to invite the public to share in their ideas for new buildings and improved infrastructure. While competitors settle for adequate 2D and 3D-visualization and modeling tools, you’ll wow prospects with an immersive environment that allows them to experience your design for themselves. You can embed most virtual reality-based designs into websites and social media platforms to better reach your target audience.

What’s the difference between the 3D models that you currently use and virtual reality-enabled BIM? A 3D model consists of a virtual image that is shown differently for the right eye and the left eye. Today’s smartphones are equipped with features that allow a user to split her screen to view two sides of an image. The right and left sides of the screen show similar images that are differentiated based on viewing angle. This gives you the 3D effect that you experienced when you saw a 3D movie at the theater years ago. Virtual reality technology involves tracking your head movement so that you appear to interact with the 3D images and objects in your design.

The marketing department’s job is never done. However, most architectural firms are small and don’t have the staff to focus on heavy-duty marketing tasks. BIM processes that incorporate virtual reality do double duty as working design documents and marketing materials. After you’ve won a bid on a contract, you still must make your clients see your vision, love it, and make it their own. There’s no technology on the market that allows you to do this like virtual reality BIM.

#2 Collaboration Without Borders

Construction project management is one of the oldest professions on earth. Ancient building and infrastructure projects such as the pyramids in Egypt and the highway system in Rome required an intense level of collaboration among a variety of stakeholders. The user community that consisted of elitists and monarchs had demanding, often unrealistic milestones to reach. Designers had to present ideas that met functional needs and budgetary requirements, and builders had to follow design specifications to coordinate building tasks in the right order.

In some respects, things haven’t changed much in the last millenia or so. One thing that has changed is the introduction of virtual reality-based BIM to the building industry. Besides allowing designers to present their ideas in an effective, low-cost way, a virtual reality model presents stakeholders with the opportunity to try out the proposed space in meaningful ways. People from different departments can interact within the simulated space at the same time just as they would in a real environment. This gives them the chance to find out if the space really fits their departments’ needs or if it just appears to do so on paper.

Virtual reality BIM gives the same interactive and immersive experience to teams that are located in the same building and those that have members in different geographic locations. Today’s architectural firms snag clients in their local communities and in regional hot spots around the world. With virtual reality-based BIM tools, your clients from all over the world interact with a proposed space or landscape design to give you the enthusiastic buy-in that you need to move forward to the next phase of your project.

#3 Better Cost Management During Construction

Cost overruns are key reasons why construction projects run into problems. Inadequate planning and feasibility analysis are known to send construction project budgets soaring out of control. Virtual reality BIM tools support better planning efforts by allowing designers to show stakeholders the as-is look of a site and how it should look and work after the project is finished. Some tools give designers more flexibility by allowing them to overlay 2D specifications and graphics into virtual reality models. As the right stakeholders interact in the simulated space, they are more likely to detect needed design changes early that would impact the project’s budget or schedule.

Lack of a robust communications plan is another reason why cost management gets upended in construction projects. Most communications plans include site surveys and periodic site visits by key stakeholders. Virtual reality models give builders the tools to portray sites in minute detail. Builders capture drone footage of a site and use it to construct a site survey report that’s enhanced by virtual reality. This technology gives stakeholders the opportunity to fulfill obligatory site visits and give needed feedback even when their schedules don’t permit in-person visits.

#4 Information-Driven Design

While building processes haven’t changed much in the modern age, today’s commercial property owners face a myriad of new external constraints when it comes to space layout. The open floor plans that were valued just a decade ago when business operators wanted more collaboration among onsite team members has been replaced by ones that respect social distancing. Using virtual reality models, designers can help commercial property owners reimagine their office spaces for a post-pandemic world.

Commercial property owners make design changes that are based on the needs of their prospective tenants. By publishing virtual reality models of proposed spaces, designers can use real-time feedback from virtual reality sessions to better align their designs with end user needs.

#5 Demonstrating Sustainable Building Features

Sustainable building is still on the hearts and minds of corporate and government leaders. While the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system and certification program bring society closer to a greener planet, eco-friendly designs are only effective if they are built, used, and maintained correctly. Virtual reality models can help you to prove out sustainable systems to make sure that users will get the full benefits of LEED-certified buildings.

The Nuthatch Hollow research facility at Binghamton University in New York put its proposed sustainable building designs to the test with virtual reality. Faculty and students mapped out plans for the building’s lighting needs and heating, ventilation, and cooling system. They were able to convey lighting with designs that showed windows and those that substituted windows with artificial lighting. Users who experienced the virtual reality model became aware of how natural and artificial light affected the mood of a space. The team was also able to make better decisions about heating needs when more windows were added or deleted from a virtual reality model.

Most organizations don’t have unlimited funds to construct or renovate their buildings to meet their sustainability goals. Virtual reality models give designers the opportunity to incorporate eco-friendly features into their plans and show the public what the end result will look like before serious money changes hands. On-site restoration of soil and vegetation is a LEED building feature that many designers incorporate into their plans. By using virtual reality models, the designers can show the public what the finished project’s landscape will look like with native vegetation planted. They can also simulate how soil additions help to maintain the property during rain storms.

Conclusion

Free-flowing communication is and always will be the key to successful construction projects. Incorporating virtual reality technology into BIM removes a number of communication roadblocks that plague your average building project. As a result, virtual reality is the heir apparent to the BIM dynasty.


Sofia Jaramillo is Customer Success Representative at Microsol ResourcesSofia joined Microsol Resources in 2018 as a Customer Success Representative. She was born and raised in Colombia, where she got her Business Administration degree. She moved to New York in 2016 and has found a new passion within the field of design and construction. In her free time, she likes to practice yoga and run in Central Park.

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