Advances in virtual reality mean it’s possible to create “worlds” that are more realistic than ever before. Building your own home? Now you can explore it before the construction team has even arrived on site.
Benoit Pagotto is cofounder and brand director of virtual reality (VR) pioneer IVR Nation, which specializes in high-end interactive VR for the architecture, design, hospitality, and luxury industries. He talks to Luxury Defined about the shape of things to come.
What does IVR Nation do?
We create the highest-quality, game-changing VR experiences for various industries, using proprietary technology and custom tools. We build the experiences from scratch, or can adapt a client’s existing 3D models, CAD [computer-aided design] plans, and assets.
How long have you been working in VR?
Almost a year and a half. It all started when I encountered Olivier Demangel. He started IVR Nation in 2014 after trying out the Oculus DK1 and seeing that this could be the future of architecture. [The VR headset lets players step inside their favorite games and virtual worlds]. Olivier designed some of my favorite games that I played in my teenage years – such as The Nomad Soul and POD. He asked me if I was interested in joining him as a cofounder and I immediately said yes.
Tell us about your first encounter with VR for architecture.
We worked with a large pharmaceutical brand, which wanted to showcase a new innovation room at its headquarters to its international offices. The company considered it really important that it could share the room's design with other parts of the organization. We modeled everything in 3D from scratch by using plans and drawings, really sticking to the details, rendering it into high-end VR.
It was unusual because the space already existed, which is not something we normally do now, but it was the best way for the client to share the room worldwide. Everyone, no matter where they were, could say, “Oh, OK, I’ve seen the new innovation room.” I had tried video game engines in real-time 3D before with other architectural projects, but when I tried VR for the first time it was really weird because the concrete walls in one room really "felt" like they were actually cold, like concrete would be. It was a real eye-opener.
Why is VR important?
There are several reasons. It’s backed by powerful and forward-thinking companies, such as Facebook and Valve, the video-game developer. The ecosystem, encompassing both the hardware and software side, is already booming, and it’ll allow for a new wave of groundbreaking innovation.
Virtual reality is a brand-new medium: it gives you a real sense of presence and immersion. It’s the closest thing to what we would imagine a teleportation machine to be. It has the potential to become the next computing platform, and open new ways to interact, create, and communicate for many industries and uses. This is the kind of technology shift that happens every 10 years or so. I think it is the biggest revolution since the mobile phone ecosystem. All of this explains why Facebook paid $2 billion for the acquisition of Oculus.
What’s so great about it?
It’s a new medium for creation and interaction. When you first try high-end VR, your imagination starts to go crazy – you immediately start to think of all these amazing moments in sci-fi movies or books you used to read, and realize that we’re now living at a time when it’s all becoming a reality.
The most exciting thing, however, is that it’s just started. Everyone working in VR right now is a pioneer, and everything we do is new, fresh, and bound to surprise us – and, of course, the user. To be a part of the beginning of a new way of interacting with technology is what makes it so great for me. At IVR, the best thing is seeing the reaction of our clients, and seeing how they use what we build for them. There’s a sense of delight and enthusiasm that’s totally unique.
How does your process work?
We create fully interactive and photo-realistic 3D environments, working from architectural plans, existing 3D files or assets from our clients. We use gaming engines and high-end graphics and programming to create immersive spaces you can explore and interact with. Our VR gives clients a true impression of how the final space is going to be when built. At the same time, the technology allows clients to visualize changes – such as floor material – and explore or design options in real time, making the design process faster, more open, and collaborative.
What are the advantages of working this way?
You get to visit your project before it’s actually built! And, thanks to the immersive quality of our designs, you truly feel what the finished design will be like. It’s a known fact that most purchase decisions in real estate are emotionally based.
With VR, you can truly get a feel for a place, and project yourself into it, before anything physical has been built. VR allows for a more immersive, iterative, and faster design and sales process for architecture – whether it’s a building, an apartment, a shop, or a restaurant. It’s faster and, because it’s interactive, more engaging. It opens up new ways of thinking about and treating renders, and ways of creating. Really, it’s the opportunity to rethink how we design and work together.
Tell us about the holiday home in Wales you used to showcase VR?
The house in Wales – Ty Hedfan – had already been built, the architectural plans were online, and we thought it would be a really good way of showcasing what we do. Unreal Engine is the gaming engine we use to create all of our experiences – it is currently the most high-end gaming engine available. It used to be used mostly for creating “shooter” games, but since Chinese firm Tencent bought a stake in the company, it’s being used more for corporate purposes.
We liked Ty Hedfan, which is rented out as a holiday home, because it was minimalist, Scandinavian [in design], and built with traditional materials, but also looked warm. It also had an exterior element. We stuck faithfully to the architect’s plans and renders, but we didn’t have any 3D plans. All we cheated on was the weather – we made it sunnier!
Once we had finished and were happy with our VR, we showed it to the architect [Featherstone Young]. They were super surprised and proud that we had picked their work as our inspiration. When we did Ty Hedfan the technology was so new and an unknown entity, so people were unwilling to pay for prototypes. It was good for us to do something proactive and then visit the architect – when you take something to a prospective client that is close to their heart, it’s a game-changer. Now, of course, clients come to us, and we have a very good name for what we do.
What about other examples of your VR work?
We created the bedroom and bathroom VR for a hospitality client. Again, we wanted to showcase how realistic our VR is and to convince them that this technology could really show off their rooms – and disrupt the way they work [render current ways of showing room sets obsolete]. These VRs allow the client to get into a room and interact with the TV, and to have a look round the bathroom.