The Ministry of Sound club in London

VR and architecture

Taking the slog out of viewing and choosing property.

Read more about all aspects of Virtual Reality technology

Virtual Reality equips architects, developers, estate agents and house hunters with all the tools they need to design, market and purchase a property before ever setting foot inside. ‘PropTech’ will let you do everything - from fit out the kitchen to pick out the wallpaper - without having to leave the design studio or showroom. Sol Rogers, founder of digital production studio Rewind, says: “VR will be a complete game-changer. For developers, it offers a myriad of opportunities. Clients can download an app and view every floor plan in 3D. You can even position furniture in each room. This will provide a much better feel for a property than previously possible. By the time you see an estate agent, you’ll be ready to be sold to, saving time for all involved.”

There are huge cost savings if VR is adopted by architects (who no longer need to spend time and money building physical models) as well as developers, as James Dearsley, founder of the Digital Marketing Bureau, points out: “Considering figures from Knight Frank in 2015, 49 per cent of all new-home house buyers in London were overseas. It’s a significant cost for developers to attract these buyers. VR will revolutionise this market place.”

Virtual Walkthrough is a specialist business that puts whole virtual properties online, on social media, mobile devices and over email, reaching potential purchasers in their sitting rooms. Co-founder James Morris-Manuel says: “Previously, estate agents relied on photographs, the fish-eye lens or panoramic viewpoints to view a property. Virtual walkthroughs and virtual reality headsets now allow customers to gain a better understanding of what they can expect from a property. We use 4K HDR technology, so all captures are in extremely high resolution - so much so that you can clearly determine patterns on fabrics.”

Rewind recently completed a project for estate agents Savills that involved using cutting-edge 3D scanning technology to capture super-high-resolution data from inside a £17 million mansion. This data was then put into a bespoke application created specifically for Savills, allowing clients to walk around a hyper-realistic 3D rendering of the real house, giving a true sense of space and scale to whoever was strapped into the headset. Viewers could explore all aspects of the property in incredible detail, through both self-navigated and guided tours and have unique viewing solutions and positions not normally possible in the real world.

These technological tours aren’t just for those purchasing a million-pound property. This year, the Student Housing Company launched an app enabling students to explore their halls of residence off-plan, accessed by touchscreen technology in the firm’s Southampton marketing suite.

Acoustic modelling

Virtual viewing goes beyond mere looking. Now you can also listen for echoes even before there’s a wall for them to bounce off. In February, international engineering consultancy Cundall launched its new Virtual Acoustic Reality (VAR) system, which uses audio-prediction modelling and gaming-quality graphics. The Cundall team combined the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset with a gaming engine and high-quality audio, making it possible to create an immersive audio and visual tour of a building before it’s built.

A pre-programmed acoustic model calculates the conditions at many locations across a grid and the 3D walkthrough enables the user to travel across that grid, hearing in real time how the sound changes. Applications could include a teacher within a model of a classroom assessing how well a pupil can hear them; a piano in a concert hall, to judge the effects of reverberation; or extraneous noises within a restaurant, so the designer can mitigate them with specific acoustic treatments. If a proposed development was next to a motorway, the noise impact on the new homes could be shown. Potential problem areas can be identified and alternative solutions tested while the building is still at the design stage.

Although you may be able to hear a pin drop on the virtual parquet floor, VR still has its limitations. You can’t smell the coffee. “You can’t yet create the property-viewing secrets of baking a fresh loaf of bread just before people arrive - but this won’t be far away,” says Dearsley. “Sensory stimuli are being added all the time. Smell is perhaps the hardest of the senses to trigger, but there have already been experiments with trying to simulate the smell of cut grass, for example.”

In the future, will we ever have to leave our lodgings to design and discover the home of our dreams? “Virtual walkthroughs aren’t designed to prevent you from going to a property. On the contrary, they’ve been created to get customers to the right property,’ says Morris-Manuel. “They ensure no time or money is wasted in inappropriate viewings, and allow you to ‘revisit’ a property via a walkthrough to remind yourself of what a space is like. VR will redefine the house-hunting process.” Yet it will never completely replace a knock on the front door, he adds. “There’s no substitute for physically being in situ, and benefitting from a feel for the property you are going to live or work in.”

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