Marmon Mok Architecture worked on Shrine of St. Padre Pio in San Antonio, Texas as a pro-bono project. We spoke with Carlos Lucio ASAI/ACM, visual designer, about the use of VR to get feedback from the congregation, generate interest in the project, and ultimately to help raise money to build the new church.
Why and How Marmon Mok Uses Virtual Reality
What prompted you to consider using virtual reality for this project?
While concept sketches and renderings are a great way to help visualize a project, virtual reality is the most realistic way to help a client truly gain a sense of scale and the proportions of a space. Due to the immense size of this church, it would be challenging without VR to ensure that all parishioners would be able to see the altar and priest from every seat and angle. Virtual reality was also a great marketing tool to show people the grand scale this project was in comparison to the existing structure.
What steps did you take to produce the content used with Prospect?
We developed the initial model using SketchUp for the general massing and conceptual design. Then we transitioned to Prospect in order to virtually walk through each space and take notes of any changes that needed to be made. We would then take it back to SketchUp to perform any modifications and then easily upload into Prospect so that we could see our ideas come to life. This back and forth progression took place throughout the entire design phase of the project until the space was exactly how we wanted it to be.
How do you have your VR station setup?
We have an entire room in our office dedicated to the VR experience. We currently use the HTC Vive system which allows us to work in our office or take VR on the road to client meetings so that they can experience the designs firsthand. Our VR room is setup with ample space for guests to walk their project, while we have benches around the perimeter of the room for those waiting their turn to do the same. For our mobile VR, we have a laptop and travel bag that easily transports our entire setup to any outside location. We like to take our VR experience to the future project site which helps our clients truly understand how their new space will look while standing in their existing space.
Results and Reactions to VR
How did the meeting go?
One Sunday after their scheduled mass, we set up our mobile VR system using Prospect to present our design to the entire congregation. We had a line of people that didn’t dissipate for over 5 hours. From children to seniors, everyone was excited to try out “this new technology”.
Their overall reaction was extremely positive, and they provided comments and feedback about what they liked or didn’t like about the space, which allowed us to modify our design. A lot of people have a very hard time visualizing a space just looking at elevations, sketches, or renderings, but allowing them to see everything in VR was a game-changer. There were several members that even preselected where they planned to sit in their new church once it was built. They were even arguing over who had “the best seat in the house to see their priests’ funky socks” that he always wore to mass.
What were the goals you set out to achieve by using virtual reality?
Virtual reality provides a great opportunity for clients to encourage fundraising for future projects, which is one of the reasons we used it with this particular project. It is also a great marketing tool for our office. Several of our competitors are just now embracing VR, but are only scratching the surface, while we have been incorporating it into our design service for some time.
Did using virtual reality meet or exceed your expectations?
Using VR definitely exceeded our goal as we were able to make necessary adjustments prior to sharing our design with its parishioners. Then we were able to take our mobile VR configuration to the existing church and allow the members to virtually walk the space which was such a great tool to help them visualize their new church home.
Our client now knows that they can trust us to efficiently execute a design without wasting their time or money, and can provide a 3D service that allows their members to truly feel like their donations are being put to positive use.
How does it compare to not using virtual reality? Were there any quantifiable gains?
Without the use of VR we would have depended on 3D renderings, sketches, elevations, and floor plans to convey our ideas. We would have probably built a physical model for the client to use for fundraising, all of which would have cost a lot of money and taken hours to complete. Also, if the client wanted to make a change it would have been much more costly and difficult to revise something without having to recreate all of these 2D graphics and a physical model. This is especially the case in a project with such grand scale; some items may appear to work in a 2D environment, but when brought into 3D they can look out of proportion.
Did it improve/facilitate coordination within your team as well?
This was one of the first projects that we tested out on our team, and the overall experience was the buzz of our office for months. Everyone was excited to walk their projects and designers and architects were able to make changes to their own projects that they may not have seen until the project was under construction. Now a project doesn’t leave our office without first being tested with VR. As we continue to use VR we are able to better work together to solve problems and work out design solutions prior to showing a client, which is a great time and budget saver.
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