How Solidhaus uses Virtual Reality to Help Design a Home of the Future

Article Posted on February 7, 2017

Why do we believe in VR?

We see it as the next great medium for sharing experiences and collaboration to happen. This how we used virtual reality to help a team design an energy efficient home for the elderly.

Since August 2016, Solidhaus has been turning Revit files into virtual reality (VR) experiences. One project included working with a student team from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The team is competing in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2017. Their goal is to create a solar renewable energy home. More specifically, they’re designing it for people who are aging in place.

I’ve personally watched the home’s design evolve and the team conquer each challenge. For me, the most exciting thing has been seeing the benefit of VR. It’s presence in the process has helped them from their design to their presentations.

First, we created with a simple tool.

It was a stark-white space with nothing but life-size white museum model of the home. After a while, it became two models, then three, then four. Each version of the home had minor design changes the team wanted to test out. We had a full neighborhood of similar, yet different, homes in our digital sandbox.

Team Las Vegas walked down their virtual street and experienced each iteration. Over time, they made some hard choices and awesome improvements. Their design solved their client’s problems and stayed within their own restrictions. At last, they came up with their final design—and we were back to a simple white house in the middle of open white plain.

The complete white museum model of the home, before we added finishes.
The complete white museum model of the home, before we added finishes.

Along the way, we expanded our tool and helped their team make better design decisions. We let them change the time of day and day of the year to view accurate lighting conditions. We let them create real-time cross sections to better understand specific features.

Here’s what I’m wondering now: what other tools can we build help architects & engineers?

After months of design, it was time to sell.

Our time in the perfect neighborhood was over, and now it was time to move into the wild west. Our next steps was to create a brand new virtual reality experience for Team Las Vegas. We shifted our focus to telling the story of the home to potential partners and sponsors.

First, we moved the home into a desert landscape (to reflect the Las Vegas valley). Second, we added finishes to every inch of the home. We worked with the lead architect and interior designer. After days of tweaking, we had photorealistic home that anyone can walk through.

A render from the final VR Experience of the home, named "Sinatra Living".
A render from the final VR Experience of the home, named “Sinatra Living”.

Then we took it one step further.

Experiencing the sunset in the beautiful desert landscape was awe-inspiring. Seeing that made the home so much more real. We added the same system of real-time day lighting into this VR experience. Additionally, we added intractable objects (a sliding shade structure, movable countertops, etc). These little touches sold the experience of living in the home.

Their big virtual reality reveal was where it all paid off.

Team Las Vegas invited their existing sponsors, partners, and advisors their reveal. My co-founder and I arrived at the presentation room early and setup two VR areas. An hour later, over 100 people packed in the room, ready to hear from to the core team of architects and engineers.

It was time for the presentation.

After a warm introduction by the project leads, they transitioned to the VR stage. Instead of showing a slideshow presentation of the home, they gave a virtual tour of the home. They showed things from the perspective of our “VR tourist”. Everything the tourist saw output on 6 displays around the room. The audience turned to their closest display and watched along.

Once the tour was over, the real fun began. We opened up the VR areas for anyone to come up and walk through the home itself.

This was the moment where it all clicked.

Sponsors had a real grasp of the building and what their sponsorship money was being put toward. They were able to point to things, ask questions, and give direct feedback in a natural way.

And most important—you could see them smile.

This virtual reality experience let everyone in the room see how real this project was. For each 10 minute session they got, each person was able to see a glimpse of the future. They experienced what was to come in October 2017, when the home is open for touring.

Virtual reality’s true power shines when people collaborate and experience new things. Seeing a render or video is great, but being able to walk through a real virtual home changes everything.

At that point, people start believing.

Have a wonderful week!

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