Virtual reality isn’t a new thing. But now, thanks to Google Cardboard, we can all experience virtual reality (VR) right from our phone. Their technology and homemade viewing device have created possibilities for VR in new realms, including architecture.

Check out these projects in virtual reality, even without Google Cardboard

It’s pretty amazing how this technology has evolved. Just nine years ago, architecture department leaders at Iowa State University were very excited to showcase their new virtual reality room. The technology was new, the space was huge and so was the price tag: three million if I remember right. An obnoxiously large headset allowed me to see cartoon-like images projected on walls. Now, we can see incredibly complex spaces with nothing more than a smartphone, a twenty-dollar device and the right export from our modeling software.

Roland Ganter, one of our studio experts, gets pretty close to geek status with his interest in VR, Autodesk Revit (our modeling and production software) and how we can use it to change the way we serve clients. The ideas for application are endless and we’re excited about the impact VR will have on our process and the experience we can offer clients.

Here’s what Roland had to say when we sat down to talk about how we’re using VR today, what it means for clients and the future power of this technology.

Q: Break it down in simple terms. What is virtual reality and Google cardboard?

A: Virtual reality isn’t a new thing. It simply has been given a new life thanks to Google Cardboard, a mobile app that pioneered the ability to use your phone and a viewing device (which can be made from cardboard for less than $20) to get a VR experience. Together, the two allow you to look around a 3D space created by panoramic, stereoscopic images or videos. As you move your head, you can literally see all views of the space as if you were really standing right there looking around. If you try to view a file built for VR without the viewer, you would just see the two, slightly off center, stereoscopic images next to each other. The device is what allows your eyes to blend the images together to create 3D.

Q: How can others try this out on their own?

A: You need three things. A phone with VR viewing capabilities, a viewing device and a panoramic and stereoscopic image or video. To get a Google Cardboard viewing device, you can follow Google’s instructions to make one from cardboard, or buy a 3D headset from retailers. Then you can use this link to access a set of virtual reality files from INVISION projects. There are also many other apps, videos and images online that have been created for VR viewing. As with anything, it only works on recent phones with current operating systems. Of course, we’re always happy to give you a demo!

Q: What is your favorite thing about experiencing a project in VR?

A: The sense of almost being there. It’s an immersive experience that gives you a better idea of the space. In architecture, this is another step in the evolution of visualizing a space before it is built. We’ve moved from hand-drawn sketches and floor plans to computer generated 3D models that turn and move on the screen and now to virtual reality experience that lets you be in the building and look around.

Q: How does this change a client’s experience with their project design?

A: This is a big step for our clients because it enhances their ability to understand what their new space feels like before it is built. It’s a major advancement in how we communicate a design concept. Clients have always been able to react to the look of a drawing. But now they get to react to the experience and how that space makes them feel when you are standing right there.

Q: How has this improved the design process?

A: VR is essentially another way to look at a building and fine tune the design. It’s less tedious, more interactive and a lot more fun! It enables us to identify construction conflicts between disciplines, such as an HVAC duct running into a beam, as well as evaluate aesthetics and the design of the space. I expect we will be using this in every project very soon.

Q: What future applications for VR are you preparing for?

A: The world of VR is just beginning and we will always be learning as we go. Most VR development is done with gaming in mind, but it can easily be applied it to other areas, like architecture, and will change the way we consume media. Thankfully Revit, our modeling software, was quick to respond to technology made popular by Google Cardboard and I expect them to continue that effort so we can easily produce files capable for VR experiences. The professional Oculus Rift headset and controller is in beta right now and expected to be released early next year. It, too, is developed primarily for gamers, but I expect it to allow us to actually walk through a space… with controllers at least.