Many of us know about virtual reality (VR) in the gaming world, but the technology isn’t only for gamers. VR has been advancing rapidly in all types of industries.

In fact, in its 2016 survey of architecture, engineering and construction professionals, ARC Document Solutions found that 65 percent of respondents predict VR applications to be the next big technology trend. Construction teams can use VR to immerse their clients in highly detailed environments that simulate the final structure of a building or room.

VR in computer modeling has transformed early design meetings to allow users to “experience” the built environment before actually building the space. Clients can easily visualize their room or building and gain confidence in the project’s design. This accelerates both the speed and quality of decisions, reduces design times and eliminates changes during construction. When this kind of progress is made early on in the design phase, owners realize significant cost savings.

The technology typically works best for three kinds of spaces.

Highly Technical Rooms
Hospitals spend millions of dollars building new operating rooms, so it’s important contractors build them as efficiently as possible. Often, clinicians are required to make critical equipment placement and design decisions quickly, based on two dimensional information or scaled documents that don’t tell the whole story and may create less-than-ideal solutions.

For years, contractors have been looking for a way to take clients through their buildings to make sure they’re being built exactly as the owner wants. Previously, the only way the project team was able to do this was to build a mockup of the room, which is expensive, not timely and an inefficient way to look at options.

VR takes health care environments and helps designers, contractors and clinicians see things differently. This approach allows the clinician to “walk” through the BIM model and visualize the space in a way that creates a “real” experience. The effect has been extremely positive, as clinicians get more comfortable in understanding the design, space and workflow, resulting in decisions made with a higher level of detail and confidence. The VR approach removes ambiguity about the placement of critical equipment in the space.

Large Rooms
Clients don’t want to spend money on a 40-foot-tall atrium until they can see it, and building a mockup of such a large room is nearly impossible. With VR, contractors can build the atrium virtually and let the client walk in and experience the environment. This approach raises the client’s confidence and provides for a detailed discussion of equipment, guest flow and the scale of spaces. It also accelerates the planning progress early in schematic design, getting the team to the design document level.

Repetitive Rooms
VR is beneficial for projects with a lot of repetitiveness. For example, if a hospital is building 250 labor and delivery rooms, contractors can create one of the rooms virtually and plan it to make sure it’s perfect before actually building it. Clinicians can “enter” the model in full scale and have a discussion on design and options from “inside” the room. The real culmination of the experience is the ability to add, remove and move around the design options to find the most efficient solution for the user. Changes in design can be made in real time and allow all parties to understand the effect such changes will have on the schedule and budget.

Building with virtual reality allows contractors to make great strides in project delivery and efficiency. Showing clients a virtual model of their building encourages stronger communication and faster decision-making. Ultimately, it allows the team to gain a better understanding of exactly what the client wants—and deliver just that. VR signifies a dramatic shift from more traditional delivery approaches to a more proactive and predictive approach.

As an emerging technology, VR’s uses will only continue to evolve. The possibilities are infinite. As VR technology enhances and becomes more widely available, contractors should be looking out for additional ways it can be benefit the overall construction process.


Russ Alford is general manager for the Turner Medical & Research Solutions business unit in Nashville, Tenn. For more information, visit turnerconstruction.com.