Although VR and BIM are similar in so much as they utilise Information Technology as part of the design process, they actually bring something quite different to the world of construction projects. Before we look at how they are being applied to construction and what advances they bring, it is important to really understand the true meaning of them.
Virtual Reality (VR) - the definition of Virtual is near, Reality is what we experience as human beings. Put the two together, and we have the term, near reality which in real terms means the emulation of reality.
Building Information Modelling (BIM) – is the generation of a digital representation of both a structure's appearance as well as its functional characteristics. Digital files representing these factors can be removed, altered or exchanged to create a finalised plan of a structure.
How will this change the future of the built environment?
Traditionally, building plans have been generated as a two-dimensional representation of a building appearance and infrastructure. Although this method has held the construction industry in good stead for many years, it has not been representative of the feel of a building. A 2D drawing can not demonstrate spatial relationships or light flow, and once designed needs to be passed on to other contractors to create their own plans for structural allowances and building services. BIM allows all the factors required to create a complete structure to be added digitally to create a complete and finalised plan to hand to a contractor with all relevant data and manufacturing processes included. Having all the data in one place allows for changes to be generated easily whilst showing any effect this will have on the building’s finished state. It is essential during the design process to allow for change, and BIM handles this beautifully, often meaning that changes during the build process are minimalised allowing for a more time (4D BIM) and cost (5D BIM) effective build.
Virtual Reality plays an important part of the design process. Once plans have been created using the BIM process, a real-time computer-generated image of the building in its entirety can be created. Clients can get a feel for the completed structure experiencing height, space, light and finishings. They can sense how the building will flow and what it will feel like to exist within the finished structure. VR allows companies to present a finished form to clients which means any conflicts with the design can be tackled in the development stages, rather than during the build process. Client expectations can be highly managed through VR allowing for a smoother build process.
What will BIM and VR mean to the construction industry in the future?
Although BIM and VR add different aspects to the design process, they work hand in hand with each other. BIM has managed to tackle many of the traditionally time consuming and financially detrimental aspects of building, especially with large and more complicated structures. VR has allowed clients to feel confident about the design process and the finished product resulting in less conflict. Companies are keen to invest in these technologies as their benefits far outweigh the costs attached to adopting them in the long run. Not only are there benefits to the client, but the process also allows for better design at all stages as architects and engineers can gain a better sense of the space they are designing which in turn allows for more creative and efficient design solutions. In the future, VR means we may well be able to transform empty spaces into finished structures allowing a client to experience their proposed design through a VR headset before it even lands on a contractor’s desk. All of these processes can only result in better working relationships, less conflict and minimised financial impact which currently burden our industry.
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