How to Use Virtual Reality for Architectural Client Design Reviews

Learn how LEO A DALY is utilizing virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to improve the client experience.
AJ Lightheart
February 22, 2022

LEO A DALY is an architecture, planning, design, and engineering firm headquartered in Omaha, NE. Founded in 1915, the firm has worked on projects across over 90 countries and all 50 US states. The Wild recently hosted a live streamed webinar alongside them around how the team is utilizing virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to improve the client experience. 

One key point that arose during the webinar is that VR can be very useful for client design reviews, feedback sessions, and the like. LEO A DALY has found that VR tools can help win client buy-in more quickly, improve the quality of feedback, and maximize the collaborative potential of distributed or remote project teams.

In this blog post, we’ll walk you through exactly how this innovative firm is using VR to take client reviews to the next level – including how they use VR for in-depth model reviews, virtual charrettes, and 2D design storytelling. 

Stepping into a design before it’s built with VR model reviews

One way AEC firms like LEO A DALY are using VR is to bring clients into the 3D model itself, showing them a “close to reality” version of the design concept.

For this team, bringing a client into VR allows for a moment of clarity in which the client comes to understand the space in a whole new way – gaining a deeper understanding of the design than 2D drawings can communicate alone.

“When we were able to get our client into VR, it really took her understanding of the project from just the 2D drawings and the flat images that we were showing to understanding the space,” said Ryan Christensen of LEO A DALY. “That was an ‘Aha!’ moment for her.”

When the LEO A DALY team can get feedback from the owner more quickly, they’re able to move projects forward without stalling. The team has found that by immersing a client into the design in VR, they enable that client to make key decisions about the design faster; getting speedier decisions from a client keeps the project from getting stuck.

“With VR, we were able to get that level of buy-in more quickly,” Christensen went on to explain. “Getting feedback from the owner is so important; anyway that we can get that sooner allows us to be more effective at documenting it, continuing with the design, and moving forward. We can get decisions more quickly by immersing the client in this environment.”

The team brings all kinds of assets into VR in addition to the raw model itself, like furniture. This helps support the design story and adds value. For example, the client can understand whether or not the furniture “feels right” in the actual space.

Communicating vision to clients with VR charrettes

Much like they would in their office before the pandemic, the firm decided to host “charrettes” (a type of participatory planning process that assembles an interdisciplinary team to create a design and implementation plan for a specific project) in The Wild.

The design charrette process involved placing a series of pinup slides on the wall of a VR lobby, just as the team would in the physical office. 

“The Wild became our virtual environment to be together and hear each other’s voices without staring at a 2D PDF,” said Ryan Martin, also of LEO A DALY. During the charrette process – in which the team prepares a series of slides to share with the client that communicate their vision for a project – being able to meet like this is of the utmost importance.

Using speech-to-text comments, 3D sketching, and other tools, the team is able to improve the vision presentation slides iteratively, just like would in real life. Hosting the charrette virtually also enables them to collaborate asynchronously, as team members can leave voice or sketch notes at any time, from anywhere.

“Being able to hear each other explain why we got rid of a page of the slides is important,” Martin detailed. “Compared to just seeing a big red X over a page, with VR you can hear why we got rid of a slide by leaving a voice note – even if, depending on where you’re located, it’s in the middle of the night for the other team members.”

Comparing sketches in VR to validate the design “story”

Presenting early-phase sketches allows the team to show their client how the design has evolved over time, and how they’re viewing the “story” of the project.

“We wanted to have the client see what we were dreaming about and thinking about,” Martin said. “We brought the 2D sketches into the VR space to deliver that.”

The team uses The Wild’s 3D sketching tool and speech-to-text comments here to communicate requests and changes around the 2D sketch – whether they’re coming from the client or from within the team.

Looking at 2D sketches is a process and format that the team (and even the client) are more used to than VR. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the team couldn’t get together to do in-person pinups with 2D sketches. Doing them virtually allows them to operate the way they’re already comfortable doing so.

“At the time of the pandemic, we used The Wild to bring pinups back into our workflow virtually,” said Christensen. “It’s helped us operate the way we’re comfortable doing so as designers. Even now, with everybody getting back into the office, our office is working with other offices in Los Angeles, West Palm Beach, and other places; VR is a way for us to congregate together in work sessions.”

Client design reviews represent just one of a variety of use cases our customers have found using VR and AR for collaboration.

Interested in learning more about how LEO A DALY is improving collaboration with VR? Watch our whole webinar with them right here.

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