Virtual reality (VR) and the future of immersive architectural design

Research into the elements of what is now called virtual reality (VR) has been going on for years at companies, universities, and government research labs. In 1968, the first head-mounted display (HMD) device was developed and the 1990s marked the launch of commercial HMDs for consumers.
Using fewer resources for bigger change – What makes the world go around? Innovative technology. And in mobility, building, energy and manufacturing, especially green innovations are changing how people interact with and shape their environment.

Published on 20.11.2019

While much of the popular interest in, and profits from, VR technology comes from recreational online gaming, government and industry have continued to invest in VR’s potential to radically alter how work is done. For example, virtual reality has the potential to transform how architects design buildings and how clients experience and review the proposed concepts.

architect draft

How architects work: a brief history

Primitive architects simply built things. As ambition and understanding grew, they started drawing what they wanted to build – before they built it. Sophistication and precision increased, along with the evolution of everything from better pencils to standardized units of measurement, straightedges, protractors, drafting arms, and more.

Electricity led to even more tools, and the personal computer revolution brought on-screen software into service. Computer-Aided Design (CAD) became common, first in 2D, then in 3D. Processing power grew, and Building Information Modeling (BIM) appeared, offering 3D, 4D (time), 5D (costs), and even 6D and 7D as well as integrating all of that with CAD.

Soon, all architects will work with these tools.

The use of VR in architecture

Modern architectural design can now incorporate everything from the building plan to how it can eventually be demolished. But even as some firms are still scrambling to integrate BIM into their CAD, other less tech-averse firms have already made the leap to the next level of sophistication: CAD/BIM capabilities deployed in a VR head-mounted device (HMD). 

As more architecture firms adopt BIM and its 3D-based workflow, integrating VR into the design process is a natural extension. Because good graphics are essential, the industry is adapting high-resolution solutions pioneered in the gaming community. Meanwhile, the inexorable logic of Moore’s Law continues to boost the processing power necessary for ever-better graphics and performance.

augmented reality

New tools for designing complex buildings simplify the task.

Benefits for architects

Another challenge is simply that architects are accustomed to the tools they already use. The primary solution here is awareness of the advantages that VR offers them.

For one thing, VR provides architects with an understanding of how their designs work in real-world scenarios, partly because VR can incorporate environmental and other relevant data. This helps to identify errors or problems early in the design process, saving time and money. VR also allows greater multi-user collaboration on design and simplifies and speeds up the revisions that are part of the process of designing buildings.

In addition to lowering the cost of production, VR is also inexpensive to implement. It also offers excellent potential for training new employees as well as for ensuring that construction site workers understand what they are building.


HoloLinc uses the 3D HoloLens MR (mixed reality) HMD to help customers visualize how a stairlift or other home mobility solution will look in their home. It also helps salespeople illustrate available options and speeds up the delivery time of the finished product.

The use of VR in interior design

As VR continues to develop, it promises to revolutionize the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) sector. Much of this evolution also includes MR (mixed reality) and AR (augmented reality). VR is more useful in designing or visualizing new structures or other items, while AR and MR are better adapted to retrofitting or adding on to an existing structure.

Tech-savvy architectural firms are already using these technologies, as are forward-thinking companies like thyssenkrupp Elevator. The company uses MR in a HoloLens HMD within a digital HoloLinc network to simplify and speed up improvements to home mobility. A VR-ready HoloLens HMD is used in pop-up sales outlets and at trade fairs to help customers better experience solutions for their mobility needs.

virtual reality showroom

A head-mounted interactive VR device helps customers to understand the design of buildings and installations. Watch how thyssenkrupp Elevator assists its customers in making better decisions by immersing them in the company’s new virtual showroom.

Benefits for clients and customers

There’s another benefit for architects in using VR: clients and customers like it. As soon as customers put on the VR goggles, they are immersed in the building they have commissioned. The immersive 3D allows them to see more clearly what things might look like and helps them to understand the space – far better than any other presentation form can do, even videos.

This also allows them to give more immediate feedback and to witness in real-time the changes they request. With an interactive VR, real-world scenarios can be simulated, discussed, and discarded or adopted. Together with the enhanced and more immediate understanding that VR offers clients, the increased speed at which changes can be implemented means that – for architects – VR offers a clear competitive edge with clients or customers.

The advantages for customers of using VR can also be applied to other aspects of building design. Urban mobility leader thyssenkrupp Elevator recently launched an interactive virtual showroom to showcase their products. Potential customers can experience and adapt a wide variety of solutions using a single head-mounted device.

thyssenkrupp MULTI elevator

Futuristic design will make for more futuristic cities.

The future of design is immersive

Although the use of VR in architectural design and related AEC sectors is still in its infancy, it is also growing up fast. Virtual reality has vast potential to transform how architects design buildings and how they better “immerse” clients in the process. Meanwhile, companies such as thyssenkrupp Elevator will continue to pioneer the use of related technologies (HoloLinc, HoloLens) in applications from sales to maintenance. Because seeing clearly what can be built makes it easier to build better buildings and the urban mobility solutions that connect them with us.

Image Credits:

Architect at work, photo by Daniel McCullough, taken from

People with VR headset, photo by Stephan Sorkin, taken from

VR controller, photo by Stephan Sorkin, taken from