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Virtual Reality in Construction Coursework


Over the past 3 decades, building design has become increasingly complex due to the necessity of having to incorporate both the technological aspect of modern living (i.e. electrical wires, telecommunication systems, and interior ventilation) as well as the increasing popularity of built in appliances and furniture (i.e. hidden storage spaces, movable beds, etc.).

This, according to Goulding et al. (2012), has lead to numerous problems within the industry wherein architects, builders and engineers alike need to deal with having to translate complex 2D designs on paper into a working and functioning interior and exterior of a building in real life (Goulding et al. 2012, pp. 103-116).

Not only that, one of the more unfortunate trends in the present day construction industry is the need to construct buildings within a relatively short period of time in order to save on the cost of labor and utilities.

As a result, some construction projects tend to run 24 hours a day with multiple labor shifts being implemented in order to ensure that the building is completed as fast as possible.

Li et al. (2003) states that such a method of construction, while impressive in terms of cost savings and completion time, can lead to mistakes in the building design since supervisors cannot be around 24 hours a day to ensure that the designs are completed according to their specifications (Li et al. 2003, p. 561).

Another factor that should be taken into consideration is the fact that many constructions companies around the world, particularly those in China and the Middle East, tend to hire foreign design firms in order to create visually stunning buildings that have complex inner workings.

At times the normal working relationship between an architect, the building’s engineers and laborers does not exist since the architect is on another continent and has merely provided the designs necessary for the building’s construction and nothing more.

It is due to the factors that have been mentioned that it is necessary for a new system to be implemented that allows for the visualization of the design as well as allows for better collaboration between the architect, engineers and builders to ensure that the design elements, both aesthetic and functional, are implemented in the right way when a building is being constructed.

Historical Background

Originally, the use of virtual reality in construction within the past decade has been limited to 3D object design wherein separate 3D representations of the exterior and interior of the buildings are designed utilizing 3D Max and other types of software in order to create a representation of what the interior and exterior of the building is supposed to look like (Qinping 2011, pp. 116-118).

Such systems though have been limited to a primarily video based format with no level of interactivity being incorporated into the representation.

It merely shows how the design is supposed to look like but does not create an accurate gauge of how particular types of design implements are supposed to be implemented (Animesh et al. 2011, pp. 789-A3).

It also did not give a sufficient approximation of space and was universally panned by various architects as a waste of resources due to the amount of time that was needed in order to create a 3D model that could actually be considered an accurate representation.

While it continues to be in use within the industry till this very day, its use has been limited to interior design such as helping engineers determine how elements such as fixtures, lighting and other such elements should be implemented.

Over the past 4 years though, there has been considerable progress in implementing more technologically complex methods in construction wherein 3D virtual reality technology has been utilized in urban planning as well as transport projects in various countries such as Japan and France (Grant 2010, pp. 60-65).

This type of technology utilizes graphics systems such as CAD, CAM and EDA in order to create a realistic 3D representation of urban landscapes in order to help city planners see how certain types of planned infrastructure projects would impact particular cities (Grant 2010, pp. 60-65).

While lacking in the immersive quality of a true 3D experience, this iteration of the technology at the present does show its viability as a means of enabling architects and engineers alike to get a better visual grasp of how a particular building project will look like when established within a cityscape as well as its overall visual appeal.

It should be noted though that this iteration of the technology, while effective in showing cityscape perspective, is severely lacking in detail when it comes to representing the various details of a building (Manca Brambilla & Colombo 2013, pp. 1-9).

There is no software at the present with the capacity to translate architectural design schematics into actual 3D representation.

Though there are software products which can create an accurate visual representation of the exterior and interior, when it comes to the placement of supports, the location of circuit breakers and wiring, as well as the design of a building’s internal methods of transportation (i.e. elevators and stairwells) such software simply does not have the capability nor the capacity to be able to do so.

Studies do note that with the current progress of technology a fully immersive virtual reality software for architects can be developed within the next 2 to 3 years, however, it will depend on the demand for such technology.

Types of Virtual Reality

There are currently two types of virtual reality systems that are currently available, immersive and non-immersive systems. Immersive systems utilize a combination of a large headset meant to shut off the “real world” from the senses of the user and immerse them into a virtual reality environment.

This is accomplished by having the headset dominate both a subject’s visual stimuli as well as their auditory stimuli. The end result is that based on what they see and hear, the subject will “feel” like they are in another environment.

Non-immersive systems are standard computer terminals that utilize 3D rendering technology in order to display a 3D environment/object on a computer screen (Roquilly 2011, pp. 653-671).

This is the predominant form of virtual reality at the present due to the current limits of technology, however, it is expected that the truly immersive 3D experience will be made available within the next few years.

Components of Virtual Reality System

The components of a virtual reality system are actually quite simple; the first is the use of an immersive environment device, normally a visor or helmet that goes around a person’s head, that is utilized in order for the user to see the virtual environment created by the computer (Hadikusumo & Rowlinson 2002, p. 501).

The second component is a method of interaction with the virtual system, this usually comes in the form of a mouse and keyboard however there have been other iterations that have been developed in the form of virtual reality gloves that allow users to “touch” and manipulate the structures within their environment.

The last component of this system comes in the form of a computer that can run the entire simulation. While these technologies have been around for quite some time, the fact remains that there has been an insufficient amount of progress in developing a system that is exclusive to the construction industry alone (Ren et al. 2004, pp. 639-649).

A majority of virtual reality systems today are primarily training or gaming related applications.

While there are systems that have been developed for the express purpose of 3D modeling and rendering, these applications are primarily used in creating computer games and lack the necessary software infrastructure to judge the stability and effectiveness of various types of building designs.

Applications of Virtual Reality

The applications of VR technology in construction range from enabling architects and engineers to examine the stability and effectiveness of a design and make the necessary changes to enabling engineers and even construction workers to make design recommendations and actually mold the VR image in such a way so as to reflect such changes (Roquilly 2011, pp. 653-671).

The most ideal form of VR technology for the construction industry would be a software program that takes the entirety of a building’s designs and creates a fully functional 3D representation of it.

The end result is a 3D model that can be “explored” by a viewer enabling them to see the design elements in a far less complicated manner as compared to looking at a building’s design blueprint.

The technology would enable engineers and architects to potentially spot design flaws and correct them within the program itself instead of during the construction phase of the building.

Such a process could potentially save a company millions of dollars in redesign/reconstruction expenses and enable the building to be constructed in a faster and more efficient manner (Wu et al. 2011, pp. 1851-1876).

Other potential applications of the technology come in the form of being able to “move walls out of the way”, this method involves being able to remove certain aspects of the building’s design such as walls, stairwells and other impeding objects in order to examine the underlying superstructure behind them (Hadikusumo & Rowlinson 2002, p. 501).

This would be done in order to determine if the building design is placing undue pressure on structural supports and if so would require a degree of redesign.

Normally, such a feat would be impossible in the case of traditional methods of construction given that removing a significant part of a wall could have dire circumstances for the superstructure as a whole.

This shows how virtual reality systems are an effective means of investigating the design of a building without have to incur significant risk or cost in the process.

Virtual Reality In Building Design

As explained by Ibrahim et al. (2008), one of the advantages of VR technology is that it enables architects and engineers alike to be able to experiment with a variety of design elements and see their outcome (Ibrahim et al. 2008, pp. 73-84).

For example, the game “Mine craft” (a sandbox game that allows for the construction of nearly any type of structure so long as it is composed of square blocks) has actually become a part of several college architecture courses since it enables students to create a variety of designs and test their overall level of effectiveness.

The same can be said for virtual constructs wherein the viability of design features, the effectiveness of interior design planning as well as

In Space Planning

Through the study of Kang et al. (2010) involving 3D imagery technology and its possible uses in design and construction, Kang et al. (2010) mentions that VR technology would be an invaluable resource for space planning since it would enable architects to place and test a variety of infrastructures for a building to see which would be the most feasible and aesthetically pleasing (Kang et al. 2010, pp. 1000-1015).

This is usually done by first creating a template of the desired shape of the construction project and building up on that by putting features such as a skyline, a large lobby and other such features.

The advantage of this method lies in its ability for the building’s designers to see the visual and operational appeal of a particular design.

This results in a far better means of construction since designers will be able to tell immediately if their chosen design fits the intended purpose of a building (Sampaio & Henriques 2007, pp. 124-134).

Another factor that should be taken into consideration is the fact that VR technology would allow designers to increase or decrease the open spaces in the interiors of a building (Whyte 2003, pp. 565-572).

This enables them to determine the best ratio between the need for openness as well as necessity of having sufficient functionality (Whyte 2003, pp. 565-572).

In Interior Designing

Based on all that has been mentioned so far regarding the capabilities of VR technology, it already becomes obvious that its beneficial use in interior design stems from its capacity to be able to introduce a large variety of possible design iterations within a relatively short period of time.

As a result, this can improve the rate in which the interiors of a building are designed and implemented resulting in a better construction process.

In Lighting Design

In the study of Klein (2007) which examined the application of VR technology in interior design, Klein (2007) notes that testing the effectiveness of certain lighting fixtures is far easier in a virtual environment as compared to real life (Klein 2007, pp. 36-50).

The reason behind this is quite simple, VR technology allows the user to cut and paste a lighting fixture in any location in a room within a few seconds in whatever way or number they choose. This enables an interior designer to immediately determine the most effect method of interior lighting within a select space.

Such a feat is not possible in the case of traditional methods of lighting design wherein designers have to rely on pre-established lighting patterns due to the inability to test where lighting would be most effective (Sampaio & Henriques 2007, pp. 56-61).

Attempts to do so normally take a considerable amount of time and resources which would be better utilized in other aspects of the construction project.

This shows how VR technology can actually make the interior design of buildings that much more effective since it can help to reveal the best position for placing the lighting fixtures within a room or expansive area (i.e. a lobby).

In Heating Ventilation And Air Conditioning

One of the main problems in the construction industry at the present is examining whether the heating and air conditioning shafts are placed in such a way that they perform in an efficient manner.

While it may be true that during the design phase of a building the architect can draw from a large swath of literature that helps to explain effective ventilation placement, the fact remains that you will not really know there is a problem until you have actually constructed the building and tested the system (Sampaio & Henriques 2008, pp. 7-14).

VR technology helps to get around this dilemma by setting up a virtual simulation for the ventilation system within a 3D model of the building.

Through this process, any problems in the design and implementation of the ventilation system can be resolved while the building is still in the planning stage. This helps to expedite the construction process and helps to ensure that costly mistakes are once again avoided (Sampaio & Henriques 2008, pp. 7-14).

Virtual Reality In Construction Planning And Scheduling

Current 4d Planning Approaches

Current approaches in 4D planning approaches involve the use of software such as CAD, CAM and EDA in order create virtual simulations of buildings and urban areas.

Unfortunately, while the external and internal aesthetic quality of the buildings are superb, there is a distinct lack in sufficient structural programming wherein the building is a building based on appearance and does not take into consideration the physical rules of construction (Woksepp & Olofsson 2008, pp. 520-528).

This means that the building lack the fundamental rules of construction essential in determining the structural stability of the design elements utilized.

Current Limitations

Some of the current limitations of the technology come in the form of an insufficient physics infrastructure to actually determine whether a building’s design is actually structurally feasible.

Current VR approaches focus mainly on the aesthetic quality of the design and lack a program that proper examines the structural stability of the building’s frame versus the types of supports, designs and spaces utilized (Woksepp & Olofsson 2008, pp. 520-528).

This is a severe limitation given the necessity of determining whether a building is structurally sound or not.

Benefits Of Implementing VR In Construction To Increase The Project Quality And Profit

Based on what has been presented so far, it can be seen that there are numerous benefits to implementing VR in construction.

VR technology enables architects, engineers and ground personnel to see what the intended outcome of a construction project should be, identify mistakes in the design and make changes prior to the building being constructed (Nikolic et al. 2011, pp. 421-429).

As a result, this ensures that when a building is constructed various mistakes related to poor design decisions or errors in the design process are completely avoided which reduces the associated costs such mistakes often entail.


Overall, what this paper has shown is that VR technology is an effective means of visualization of the design of a building as well as allows for better collaboration between the architect, engineers and builders to ensure that the design elements, both aesthetic and functional, are implemented in the right way when a building is being constructed.

Unfortunately, a majority of virtual reality systems today are primarily training or gaming related applications.

While there are systems that have been developed for the express purpose of 3D modeling and rendering, these applications are primarily used in creating computer games and lack the necessary software infrastructure to judge the stability and effectiveness of various types of building designs.

However, once the software and hardware has improved within the next few years, it can be expected that VR technology will gain main stream acceptance within the construction industry.

Reference List

Animesh, A, Pinsonneault, A, Sung-Byung, Y, & Wonseok, O 2011, ‘An odyssey into virtual worlds: exploring the impacts of technological and spatial environments on intention to purchase virtual products’, MIS Quarterly, vol. 35, no. 3, pp. 789-A3

Goulding, J, Nadim, W, Petridis, P, & Alshawi, M 2012, ‘Construction industry offsite production: A virtual reality interactive training environment prototype’, Advanced Engineering Informatics, vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 103-116

Grant, A 2010, ‘Virtual everything’, Discover, vol. 31, no. 7, pp. 60-65

Hadikusumo, B, & Rowlinson, S 2002, ‘Integration of virtually real construction model and design-for-safety-process database’, Automation In Construction, vol. 11, no. 5, p. 501

Ibrahim, Y, Kaka, A, Aouad, G, & Kagioglou, M 2008, ‘As-built Documentation of Construction Sequence by Integrating Virtual Reality with Time-lapse Movies’, Architectural Engineering & Design Management, vol. 4, no. 3, pp. 73-84,

Kang, L, Moon, H, Dawood, N, & Kang, M 2010, ‘Development of methodology and virtual system for optimised simulation of road design data’, Automation In Construction, vol. 19, no. 8, pp. 1000-1015

Klein, H 2007, ‘From Romanticism to Virtual Reality: Charles Babbage, William Gibson and the Construction of Cyberspace’, Interdisciplinary Humanities, vol. 24, no. 1, pp. 36-50

Li, H, Ma, Z, Shen, Q, & Kong, S 2003, ‘Virtual experiment of innovative construction operations’, Automation In Construction, vol. 12, no. 5, p. 561

Manca, D, Brambilla, S, & Colombo, S 2013, ‘Bridging between Virtual Reality and accident simulation for training of process-industry operators’, Advances In Engineering Software, vol. 55, pp. 1-9

Nikolic, D, Jaruhar, S, & Messner, J 2011, ‘Educational Simulation in Construction: Virtual Construction Simulator’, Journal Of Computing In Civil Engineering, vol. 25, no. 6, pp. 421-429

Qinping, Z 2011, ’10 Scientific Problems in Virtual Reality’, Communications Of The ACM, vol. 54, no. 2, pp. 116-118

Ren, A, Wen, Y, Chen, C, & Shi, J 2004, ‘Modeling of irregular structures for the construction simulation in virtual reality environments based on web’, Automation In Construction, vol. 13, no. 5, pp. 639-649

Roquilly, C 2011, ‘Control over virtual worlds by game companies: issues and recommendations’, MIS Quarterly, vol. 35, no. 3, pp. 653-671

Sampaio, A, & Henriques, P 2007, ‘Virtual Reality Models used on the Visualization of Construction Activities in Civil Engineering Education’, International Journal Of Social Sciences, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 56-61

Sampaio, A, & Henriques, P 2008, ‘Virtual Reality Technology Applied on the Visual Simulation of Construction Activities’, Open Construction & Building Technology Journal, vol. 2, pp. 7-14

Sampaio, A, & Henriques, P 2007, ‘The use of virtual reality models in civil engineering training’, International Journal Of Simulation Modelling (IJSIMM), vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 124-134,

Whyte, J 2003, ‘Innovation and users: virtual reality in the construction sector’, Construction Management & Economics, vol. 21, no. 6, pp. 565-572

Woksepp, S, & Olofsson, T 2008, ‘Credibility and applicability of virtual reality models in design and construction’, Advanced Engineering Informatics, vol. 22, no. 4, pp. 520-528

Wu, D, Zhu, H, Zhen, X, & Fan, X 2011, ‘Tools and equipment modeling for interactive assembling operating in a virtual environment’, International Journal Of Production Research, vol. 49, no. 7, pp. 1851-1876

Xiangyu, W 2007, ‘Using Augmented Reality to Plan Virtual Construction Worksite’, International Journal Of Advanced Robotic Systems, vol. 4, no. 4, pp. 501-512

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