Architecture firm turns to virtual reality to show off building designs

Architect Luis 
Cetrangolo demonstrated software that enables a user to take a virtual walk through a spacethat’s still in the design stage.
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff
Architect Luis Cetrangolo demonstrated software that enables a user to take a virtual walk through a spacethat’s still in the design stage.

You might not think architects have much to learn from video game enthusiasts. But when it comes to creating interactive virtual spaces, gaming technology has the edge.

That’s why architects at Tsoi/Kobus & Associates in Cambridge have started using the processing system that powers virtual reality games to put clients inside development projects before they are built. Using a cloud-based system called Revizto, architects can create a digital hospital down to the last brick, and then invite a client to “walk” through the space to see if the ceilings are high enough or the windows provide enough light.

To “enter” a building, the client dons a pair of Oculus virtual reality goggles and gets an immersive first-person view. If she turns her head to the right, she sees what’s to the right. If she walks down stairs, using a joystick or keyboard commands to move, she feels a slight bounce on each step. She can walk through doors or go up on the roof to get a sense of how it will feel to be inside the space.

“That’s the magic of it,” said Luis Cetrangolo, the architect at the Harvard Square practice who was responsible for bringing the system, which is still in development, to the firm.

Another magical part? All of this can be done before a contract for a building is even awarded and could eliminate the need for creating life-size physical mock-ups out of plywood — making the whole process much more efficient.

Cetrangolo does not recommend the interactive goggle experience for more than a few minutes, however, because the “roller coaster effect” can make users dizzy.

Clients who have their own special viewing rooms with laser projection capabilities, including hospitals where surgeons sometimes simulate operations, can take a similar interactive trip through a building design. Clients can also have the architect simply guide them through the project online. These virtual walk-throughs can be recorded, with notes, to fix issues later.

So far, only one Tsoi/Kobus client has used the full interactive system, but the firm is employing it internally for a number of projects and predicts the immersive experience will become much more widespread.

“It’s just a mind-blowing change,” Cetrangolo said.

Katie Johnston