Case Studies

Breaking Ground: An Interview with Boyce Postma of Bora Architects

Learn how architects are using VR for spatial design exploration, architectural walkthroughs, and presentations during a time of rapid change in the industry.
Clay Walsh
June 10, 2019

We recently brought on Bora Architects, an architectural firm in Portland, Oregon, as a customer of The Wild. We’ve spent a lot of time with their team, helping them bring VR into their workflow, both internally and when presenting to prospective clients.

This week, I sat down with Boyce Postma, an architect from the firm, to learn about what he does, get his impressions of The Wild, and hear how Bora Architects approaches their work during a time of rapid changes in technology.


Hi Boyce, so good to see you again. Can you introduce yourself to our readers?

Sure! My name is Boyce Postma. I have been an architect at Bora Architects for two years. My role on a project varies depending on the scale and complexity, but typically includes building design, detailing, coordination with clients and builders, and more recently, project management.

Cool. Can you tell me a little bit about other roles you’ve had, your background, and your education in architecture?

I went to University of Colorado before I knew I wanted to be an architect. I studied environmental design, which gave me a broad range of design education and confirmed my interest in pursuing this as a career path. But first, I took a little break and rode my bike across the western part of the United States, then decided to finish school at the Architecture and Urban Design Program at the University of Oregon here in Portland. After I graduated, I was hired by Kengo Kuma and Associates in Tokyo, where I worked on the Portland Japanese Garden Project, which finished construction about two years ago.

That’s one of my very favorite places.

Agreed! That was a great experience, but I eventually decided to come back to the States. I moved to the Bay Area and worked in high-end residential design with Walker Warner Architects. After a few years, I returned to Portland so my now wife and I could get married, buy a house, settle down, and come this September, have a kid.

Oh, wow, wonderful! So you’re back home, and you landed at Bora Architects. Tell me more about Bora. What kind of work do you do?

Our primary focus is design for education and performance spaces, often combining the two within single projects, like the new Lincoln High School. We also have a commercial portfolio and are breaking into the affordable housing and library markets.

What are you working on right now?

Right now, I’m working on the new Lincoln High School. We just finished design, so we’re starting our construction documents. We should be breaking ground at the end of the year. The sports field will go where the school currently is, and the school will go where the field currently is. I’ve been working on a couple of side projects related to that—updating some of the sports fields that are outside of the school, so the students have somewhere to go while the school is under construction. I’m also designing the details of the exterior of the main school building.

Do you have both interior and exterior teams at Bora?

No, our teams are composed of both interior and exterior people working together. We’ve got accredited interior designers and architects working hand-in-hand on projects. It’s completely integrated.

What kind of collaboration happens amongst your team in the design process?

We typically get direction from clients, and our principals spend a lot of time communicating with and understanding our clients’ goals. From there, we break into small teams of people working on projects as a whole, as well as on specific elements of a design within a project. For example, on the Lincoln project, I’m working on a team with two other people to design the exterior, and we meet every day to review the materials that we’re trying to detail. We all have individual priorities, but there’s a lot of collaboration.

Tell me more about your design process.

At Bora, we’re very conceptual in the beginning. Most of our projects are quite large, so there’s a lot of focus on getting the massing right. These projects are going to have a significant impact on the urban fabric they’re located within, so we take extra care in this regard by creating a large number and variety of physical models.

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Exterior rendering of Bora Architect’s design competition entry for the 2nd Academic Building on Oregon State University – Cascades campus. Image courtesy of Bora Architects.

What design software do you use?

In the very beginning, we use SketchUp and physical models to explore massing. From there, we typically use VR and walk ourselves and our clients through early spatial studies. The lighting and shadows in a VR environment really seem to help people understand the space. Sometimes, we do renderings as well, but we’re doing that less now that we have access to VR and are able to walk through the spaces. VR is a much more powerful way to do that. I find that renderings can often be misleading because you can hide things that you don’t want to see through view angles and cropping. It’s a lot harder to hide things when you actually walk through the model in VR.

Yes, I’m very familiar. We were just walking a Revit model, and we kept noticing little details in the space. You can really see them when you’re in there. Are there any standard workflows you have for yourself in terms of evaluating early-stage designs?

I tend to go back and forth between SketchUp and Revit a lot. It’s often easier and faster to develop concepts with SketchUp since most of our work is orthogonal. If the work involves more complex geometry, I also utilize Rhino. The model is slowly brought into Revit, which I use as more of a documentation program, not as design software.

At present, VR is not part of our daily workflow, but I’m hoping that’s where we’re headed because I can see the power of it.

So when you do use VR, how are you using it?

Right now, we use it in two very different ways: we use it individually to explore specific design problems (and to understand spatial geometries), and we use it as a presentation tool for our team leadership and clients. When we use it individually, the models are often pretty rough—just enough to get the idea across. When we use it to present spaces, the models are typically more refined.

How do you communicate spatial design to your clients?

That often depends on the experience of the client. Typically, we use a series of renderings or a 3D walkthrough to communicate design intent. If we’re talking to, say, a higher education committee, which is made up of people from all different backgrounds, we usually bring a variety of ways to communicate. We’ll have a slideshow presentation with images of the spaces and materials, and we’ve used Google Cardboard on numerous occasions. We find that clients really like that because it doesn’t feel cumbersome. With a VR headset, people need to do it at their own pace, and it can be intimidating.

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Interior rendering of a flexible event space, prepared as part of Bora Architect’s design competition entry for the 2nd Academic Building on Oregon State University – Cascades campus. Image courtesy of Bora Architects.

Right, and with the Oculus Quest here now, I believe we are well on our way to increased adoption. So, do you have clients in different cities that you work with remotely?

Very rarely. We almost always work with clients in person.

Can you imagine doing more remote presentations in the future?

It depends. It goes back to the experience level of the client. If it’s a developer, absolutely. If it’s a committee, I think it would be very difficult. We could do VR walkthroughs, for example, but oftentimes, it’s easier to communicate in a way that’s more linear—more like a story with a beginning, middle, and end. One of the challenges in presenting a design is that people get derailed very easily. We like to spend a lot of time looking at the fun stuff, sometimes at the expense of the design as a whole.

You mentioned at our Design Week Portland event that you found the tools that you use as architects to be pretty clunky and inefficient, and you felt that companies like The Wild were trying to make things better. Could you say more?

Absolutely. This is something I’m passionate about. When I was in school, they said BIM was going to be the future, and it was going to make architecture easier. As a database tool, this is true, but as design software, it hasn’t gotten much better since the 3D CAD days. Beyond the limitations of the software, the hardware also really bothers me. We’re still using a mouse—something invented 50 years ago—to input data describing something spatial, which is far more complex than what a mouse can efficiently communicate. The resolution of our monitors is also pretty low and provides a very limited range of visibility, and the operating systems usually don’t have a refined way of moving between interfaces, all of which adds to the frustration. The software is encapsulated in a very 20th century way of creating architecture.

In the near future, I’m imagining VR headsets instead of screens, where the resolution is fine enough that you can interact with design software, which also documents in a way that’s intuitive. How efficient it would be if the software was developed to interact with the hardware in a way that takes advantage of it! I’ve tried to use Revit and SketchUp in a headset, and while it’s technically possible, the resolution is too low. The interfaces have not been developed to support that kind of interaction.

Tell me about when you first uploaded a Revit model into The Wild.

It’s fantastic for walking around, and the lighting/atmosphere is excellent. I think it’s really impressive. I hope the hardware will keep up with our imaginations on what the full experience could be.

Do you use any other collaboration software?

Obviously, everybody’s on Slack or Zoom, and I’ve worked with firms who spent a lot of time in Google Sheets to manage data. But in terms of multiple people who are developing a design together, besides The Wild, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that, or seen it effectively done.

How is your team using The Wild right now?

Recently, we had an important presentation in The Wild for some potential clients in order to acquire a job. The simplicity is really nice. For that walkthrough, in real time, we created several masses in the model to demonstrate the visual differences between a wall that was all glass and one that was solid in parts by changing the texture or color.

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Bora Architects shares immersive mixed-reality exhibit of design research project Water Avenue Yards. Collaboration with Open Signal for 'Democratizing VR for More Livable Cities' event during Design Week Portland 2019. Josh Partee Photography, courtesy of Bora Architects.

When thinking about The Wild, are you using the software beyond presenting and visualizing your model? Would you go into The Wild with multiple teammates and work together or have a meeting in there?

That’s the dream. We ditch our monitors, we’ve got headsets, and we’re all building in the model together. Through the interface, I can see my teammates working. When I had the first tour of The Wild, I was in there for ten minutes with your product manager, Mischa. I hadn’t met Mischa before, but I felt like I really knew him. When I’m in Revit all day, I hardly talk with my team. We communicate when we need to, but we’re not in there together.

Yes, Mischa works in Salem, and I’m in Portland. By using The Wild, I get to be with him every day. It’s pretty cool to have such a good rapport with a coworker who lives somewhere else.

Yes! Even a little hand motion makes you realize how important gestures are for communicating. If I could see hand gestures when I was working with my colleagues, I would probably understand or empathize with them more easily.

Thanks for sharing your story, Boyce, your work at Bora, and how you and your team are incorporating The Wild and VR into your workflow.

See how your architecture team can experience their Revit models in The Wild, and can benefit from The Wild by getting started now.

We recently brought on Bora Architects, an architectural firm in Portland, Oregon, as a customer of The Wild. We’ve spent a lot of time with their team, helping them bring VR into their workflow, both internally and when presenting to prospective clients.

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