virtual reality brings mecanoo a new way of designing buildings



With the advent of augmented reality and the accessibility of headsets and software, more and more architectural offices are starting to use virtual reality as part of their daily design process. The Dutch firm mecanoo offers its customers a multitude of VR experiments, ranging from the display of the spaces via the smart phone, entirely immersive engagements thanks to 3D helmets.

To understand the benefits that VR has compared to the more traditional options, we discussed with joana hanegraaf from Mecanoo, an architect and design technology specialist. Read our interview below, and see the RV images currently available to view on the mecanoo website.


how were you introduced for the first time into the world of virtual reality?

Johan Hanegraaf: I've always been a technological geek who wanted to get into our digital construction models, so you can imagine my enthusiasm when Oculus unleashed a new era of RV helmets and that this technology is accessible for our daily work.

Can you describe the main advantages of using VR in an architecture studio?

JH: As an architect, you often imagine a space based on your personal experience. We have many creative ways to present our ideas with diagrams, representations and animations, but nothing is better to see the actual space yourself. Our human sense of scale and depth adds something to experience that no plane image can capture. With VR, we now have a technology that allows us to digitally visit and sharpen our spaces before bricks are placed.


How often does the mecanoo design team use headphones to experiment with buildings in 3D?

JH: The architecture industry is not known for its rapid adoption of technology. But since we automated and facilitated most of our internal VR tools, they have quickly become a fun and well used tool in design meetings, user sessions and promotional events. It's great to see that VR has even helped our architects to embrace other technologies such as Building Information Models (BIM) more enthusiastically.

 Are you able to make changes to projects more quickly due to the use of RVs?

JH: VR allows us to communicate with the space itself, making it much easier for everyone to see how the space looks when you change ceiling heights, empty spaces or furniture dimensions. As Francine says, "architecture must appeal to all the senses". With VR, design decisions are not limited to experience, expectations or imagination. We can make virtual simulations of our ideas, share them and improve our general understanding and agreement on design.



How do you think VR will change the way architects do business with customers, the media and the general public?

JH: VR is particularly powerful to allow your customers to interact and better understand the unbuilt design. It shows how changes affect space, enabling us to better advise and engage our customers and improve the overall quality of our designs. I see that VR is becoming an increasingly popular communication device in the years to come. Imagine how RV tours of buildings could show the spatial and organizational aspects of our work to a much wider audience. VR will eventually grant a more immersive way of previewing buildings than traditional 2D media.


Do you think VR headphones will soon be a common tool for all architects?

JH: I think VR is becoming more and more common in architecture. It is much more accessible than most other design technologies and the ability to delve into a simulated space is especially useful in our field. People are getting used to wearing these headphones and disconnecting from what others around them know. This will improve over time, as earphone technologies become more mature and experiences become more collaborative and expanded.

Prince william and kate middleton visit the development site of the Manchester Engineering Campus






 How can students and architects start using RV as part of their work?

JH: Many current architectural design software can already generate stereo panoramas. It is therefore fairly easy to extend your traditional 3D design process to VR using a smartphone and a mobile viewer like a Google carton. If you want to go for a total immersion, there are many online resources that can teach you the various hardware and tools needed and how to use real-time simulations for your architecture work.

ArchiSpace is a design application developed by hanegraaf and tested at mecanoo


What do you think is the potential for RV in the next few years?

JH: I think VR has the potential to change the way we conceive. Our digital design tools are increasingly complex and powerful every year, they automate design tasks, improve collaboration and extend our 3D productivity, but we almost have to be computer programmers to fully exploit their power. I dream of simpler and more intuitive tools. That's why I started developing a design application called ArchiSpace that we are currently testing at mecanoo. In this VR application, I try to integrate architectural methods like sketching and making models with today's computing tools. The spatial interaction with our digital content will become more natural with VR / AR, so I hope my application will inspire architects to see beyond visual simulations and understand the future potential of this technology.
News via Designboom