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Virtually there

Virtual reality goggles convert architectural drawings into a world you can enter

Pull on a pair of virtual reality goggles, and you forget you’re in a conference room among colleagues.

The real world slips away.

Suddenly you’re standing inside a restaurant. You can walk past the dining tables, around the service counter and into the kitchen. You can reach up to the pendant lights to see if they’re high enough. You can duck below the sinks to inspect the plumbing.

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“This is where the magic happens,” says John Nall, Irvine Company’s senior manager of Innovation and Enterprise Productivity, who is testing ways the company can use virtual reality to improve the design process for its retail and office spaces and homes.

Almost every facet of this virtual restaurant—from floor to ceiling, from storefront to signage to landscaping—can be customized. Want smaller light fixtures? A different floor pattern? Alternate countertops? A few mouse clicks, and your virtual world changes.

Nall calls this technology, which fits into a small suitcase, a game changer.

“This is at the cutting edge,” he says. “Very few people have this.”

Irvine Company could use this technology in several ways:

  • Design teams could sample different interiors and modify plans.

  • Office leasing teams could offer virtual tours to distant companies looking to move.

  • Managers could provide virtual walk-throughs to municipal planners for review, modifications and approvals.

Nall also is experimenting with “augmented reality,” which blends digital technology with the real world. To demonstrate, he holds a computer tablet over a set of architectural drawings: On-screen,the building rises in three dimensions and cars move on the street. By moving the tablet, he can view the building interactively, from any perspective he chooses.