Completing a VR Project

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Early screen capture of the model in Unity (credit Paul Kueber)

I am extremely proud to be writing this post. The now complete SC Retreat House is a project that I have been working on for a while now. It began as a conceptual design for a company that I was working for a while back. We had a great group of young designers that put a lot of work into the design and it was finally realized late in 2014. The building itself was completed (as much as it would be) in early 2015. Just after its completion, the company that handled the design and most of the construction suffered some financial setbacks. Unfortunately, the very talented design team took the brunt of that fallout and many of them (including myself) have moved on to bigger and better projects with other companies. However, the SC Retreat House still shines as a glowing reminder of what a great team can accomplish when they work together.

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SC Retreat House near completion (credit Nathan O. Taylor)

Because of the sheer awesomeness of this project, I decided to use it as a large part of my thesis research, for my Masters degree. My focus is on the psychological comfort of confined spaces and the SC Retreat House (as a shipping container building) is a perfect opportunity for a great case study. As I began to research and write my thesis, I quickly realized that it would be very hard to transport a large number of participants out to the building site to participate in a study. It was an issue that I would need to overcome as quickly as possible and it took some creative thinking to do that.

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My son and I plying with a VR headset

Help came in the form of Virtual Reality and the creative ingenuity of Paul Kueber at Terra Same. After meeting Paul through a LinkedIn group dedicated to VR, we shot emails back and forth and started talking via Skype. Paul dedicated some serious time and hard work into modifying the existing 3D model I already had of the SC Retreat House and making it into a walkable Virtual Reality environment using a gaming program called Unity. Over the course of the next month we worked through a few glitches in my model and how best to depict the building in VR. Slowly it started to come together! The goal of all this tech work was to be able to have people visit the SC Retreat House in a virtual environment. That way I would be able to carry out my study without having to find transportation for 150 participants to drive out and visit the actual building site.

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Early screenshot of the model in Unity (credit Paul Kueber)

Paul was also able to create a downloadable version for Android phones that is stereoscopic (two optic screens) and will work with a VR headset, such as Google Cardboard. That version is what I will be using for my study, which should be happening in the next month or so. Feel free to check the download page for this project on the Terra Same website. Along with the Android Beta version, you can also download a version for Windows, Mac, or check out the web streaming version. The downloadable versions are very user friendly and work like most PC games, navigating with the w, a, s, d keys and your mouse to navigate the building.

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Stereoscopic screenshot (credit Paul Kueber)

I will be making future posts about the actual study and of course some dealing with the thesis itself. Feel free to leave comments to this post as I would love to hear your feedback on the idea of using VR in Architectural Research as well what you think of the VR project itself.

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Screen capture of the finished model (credit Nathan O. Taylor)

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