VR Project Module: Design Innovation in Healthcare with Immersive Virtual Reality
Course #: Arch 5350
Instructors: Lee Anderson, Katy Dale
This graduate level architecture design studio explored both immersive virtual reality as a design tool and it's application to healthcare design. Working with the Community Health Transformation team at the Mayo Center for Innovation, students were asked to develop new design typologies for a rural health clinic that addressed Mayo's focus on patient experience and the preventative care model.
The student work shown below was an explarly example of a team that used VR consistently throughout their design process to explore and evolve their innovative design concept for a rural health clinic.
Students: Alex Berger, Alex Kang
How did you used VR in your design process? AK:
Along with traditional methods of design process, we incorporated VR to inform important design decisions. It provided us with an “experience” of our designed spaces and a chance for us to “feel and acknowledge” the environment in person. Maximizing the number of usage of VR was significant for us to further develop and advance our design.
It was really great to have a partner to talk to while using VR as we were both able to pick up on different things that we saw in the model. The VR sessions became what a lab is to a scientist, we were able to test and try our new ideas. Both of us were amazed at how quickly we were able to make design decisions with the use of VR. One day we were looking at the entry space and different forms and with the use of VR we flipped through different scenes to see the iterations that we had done. Within a few minutes we were able to walk around each of them and find out what we liked and what we didn’t like about each of them. The VR process we used is much different than our typical process of 2D mediums where we may spend a lot more time investigating different forms and ideas for the entry using drawings and perspectives. It always made it exciting to be moving around and experiencing your design through movement. We have never before made design decisions in relation to our own body and how we move through a space but with VR we are able to do that. Drawing on a piece of paper or looking at a scale model can only give you certain experiences with your design, but when you actually are moving your body through the VR lab and looking around you experience your design through multiple senses that cannot be replicated.
What types of design decisions did the VR inform and how did it help you see your project differently? AK:
Switching between 2-dimensional plan and section drawings to VR opened up a whole new perspective when making important design decisions. Throughout the entire design process, we tried to switch our gear towards 3-dimensional aspects rather than those flat ones. For example, we discussed the volume of a room rather than its dimensions or multiple ceiling heights on a long hallway or ways to provide openings to blur interior and exterior. The project became stronger as we made our design changes based on the actual experience and feel of the space.
I think that VR gives a whole new dynamic the design process for both students and professionals. A good example of how we used VR in our design process would be in our clinic rooms. We weren’t exactly sure how high the ceiling in a patient room should be, where should the windows be placed and how might we be able to achieve privacy without it feeling dark and unwelcoming. We began the study of the patient room by coming up with a baseline room that we could adjust based on what we saw in VR. After just one session we found out that our ceiling was originally too high, our windows too large, and we weren’t achieving visual privacy. Through continued testing, VR helped us understand the implications of these design decisions. The patient room has windows that align with the patients view range when standing up, offers privacy at the consultation and exam heights and offers views of the treetops which allows for daylight and private views to the landscape. Overall, VR allowed us to test our design ideas with actual experience and allowed us to get a visual understanding of our spaces that 2D drawings cannot achieve.
What were some of the challenges of VR?
Some of the technical limitation issues can be improved in VR such as limited number of surfaces, no real time rendering textures, and no dynamic lighting. I personally believe these issues will be addressed and will be significantly improved in the near future which will dramatically improve the quality of VR experience.
Some of the first challenges that we faced was how can we best utilize VR and get the most out of it. It took some time to understand what VR is best suited to do. I would say it was a challenge to not just get enamored with the VR experience itself. We tried to focus on areas that we could improve our design through the use of VR and its 3D medium; material applications, window placements, experience of moving from one space to another, detail, etc.
What are you most excited about for the future of VR and design?
I’m really excited to see design professionals include VR as one of their primary design tools. Perhaps we will be designing buildings on a hologram, virtually experiencing it as we design it, like a sci-fi movie! (Seriously, I think that’s where we are heading, and I’m really excited!)
I’m excited about VR and the implications it can have both in the student and professional realm. Having access to VR will continue to give us a better understanding of our designs that typical mediums cannot achieve. One of the first things that I loved about walking around in our model was the ease and intuitive nature of how it works; you are able to walk around and look up and down with ease and don’t have to worry about rotating or getting down to eye level [on a screen]. This will continue to advance and I’m excited about the possibility of adding daylight and rendered materials into our model that will make it seem like we are walking through a design that is already built.
How did you use VR to communicate your design?
VR can be one powerful tool to communicate your design ideas to your audiences. We pre-recorded our VR walk-thru and combined it in our presentation slides for continuous presentation. We added 4th dimensional quality to this pre-recorded VR video by adding sounds and placing pine cones near our audiences to activate auditory and olfactory senses to further enhance the “experience.”Our audiences were, without doubt, immersed in our designed environment experiencing what we experienced in VR.
We were able to communicate a story to our audience like no other medium could. A lot of times when we give our presentations for a critique we talk about how you move through the space and show that through drawings such as plans and sections as well as perspective renderings. However with VR we were actually able to take our audience on the journey through our design using our video and having them walk through the clinic in VR themselves. VR creates a whole new and unique presentation where it focuses on things that are not always addressed in such a way such as layout, procession, and the small details of a space.