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In the not-too-distant future, architects will be gamers and our homes will be designed in a virtual world

Editorial – October / November’18

A paradigm shift in the way architects are approaching the design and build process is quietly shaking up the New Zealand construction industry.

I was recently invited to visit Context Architects’ VR lab and to experience what they’re doing with virtual reality, and I was a little apprehensive. The last time I donned a VR headset, I fell over – and this was at a major trade expo, so the embarrassment was acute. However, Context’s brand and relationships manager, Miriam McNicol, and I share a pastime that pushes people way out of their comfort zone, so I knew she’d look after me.

VR headsets vary wildly, from Google’s cardboard sets that combine with an app on your phone, to the full-monty versions with totally immersive OLED screens and earphones (plus a virtual weapon of choice). One my son’s mates has one that inserts you into a whole world of pain in a PlayStation 4 game.

The experience with Context though is completely pain-free, if still a little confronting. With the headset on, I find myself on what could be any residential street in New Zealand. I can turn around, look up and down, and ‘walk’ across the road into one of the townhouses. The actual method is to teleport yourself there via a hand-held controller, which in itself takes a bit of getting used to, so that you don’t end up standing on top of a car, or on the roof of a building! However, there was no zombie apocalypse, no hidden snipers, no terrifying velociraptors here.

Once inside the house, I can go up and downstairs, walk into different rooms, look out of the windows, and with the click of a trigger on the controller can peel back the floors, walls and ceilings to see the connections for the utilities and services. It’s very much like being in a Minecraft house.

The applications are obvious. Context can now work with property developers to build entire subdivisions in a virtual world. They can set up different-sized properties in single and multiple storeys and switch them around in 3D to see how the shade affects neighbouring buildings, or how the viewshafts change, or even as simple as how one building looks aesthetically next to another. They can add roads and green spaces – they can even make the trees blow in the wind and light be reflected off a water feature.

Context’s managing principal Stephen Voyle says they are starting to be commissioned for completely digital projects – ones that may never even be built in the real world. It also means the traditional profession of architecture is about to be tipped on its head – instead of a degree in architecture, new recruits are more likely to have a background in gaming design.

It’s a world away from a 2D plan on a sheet of paper or cardboard 3D models, and it’s mind-boggling stuff – rather like glimpsing the future. 

You can read the full story on this edition’s cover and page 4, or here online.

Until next time …

Lynne Richardson, editor



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