AEC firms and studios are starting to adopt VR, AR, or MR into their business models. With the potential for greater collaboration, increased workflow efficiencies, and compelling presentations, industry leaders see the potential for immersive experiences to improve how they create designs for their clients. An architect who has the core skills needed to create great designs, coupled with an ability to incorporate real-time technologies, can stand to set themselves apart from the crowd in the coming years.
We are not the only ones seeing this trend. Architecture and design schools see it as well and are already incorporating these technologies into their academic programs. Below is a list of some of the top programs working to add functional knowledge in immersive experiences to traditional architecture programs that can turn architectural designs into virtual stories. Included are programs with everything from just a class offering, to full majors associated with VR, AR, or MR.
Schools with classes in VR/AR/MR
Classes/Programs Offered: Cornell, routinely in the top 5 architecture programs, offers ART 2907: Visual Imaging in the Electronic Age, what is described as a conceptual class to help explain the “why rather than how” behind digital representation. The emphasis of the class is less on the technical skills needed to create digital experiences, but more on understanding why immersive technologies can be beneficial in design presentation.
News: Recently, faculty from Cornell were awarded a cash prize from Epic Games, makers of Unreal Engine 4 (UE4) for their work on Virtual Places- the name of their research group focused on incorporating architectural design into UE4 for a VR experience. The effort involved a summer seminar where students experimented with UE4 to understand how it can be integrated into a design workflow.
Classes/Programs Offered: The School of the Museum of Fine Arts offers a class on VR as well as Cinematic 3D. The offerings are aimed at incorporating traditional artistic skills such as drawing, cinematography, and architectural design into immersive experiences.
School: Northwestern University
Classes/Programs Offered: Offered through the McCormick School of Engineering, “PROJ_MGT 439: Integrating VR/AR/MR with Design and Construction” is the only class on this list that includes all three designations of real-time experiences: VR, AR and MR. The class is directly meant to help students understand how these technologies can be employed in the AEC industry throughout a project’s full lifecycle.
Classes/Programs Offered: USC is one of the rare architecture programs that has classroom education in the use of game engines for architectural visualization. “Realtime Computational Representation: Game Engines And Virtual Reality” is a class that teaches architecture students how to develop architectural visualizations for VR experiences through the game engine Unity.
News: Last year, a USC alumnus donated a generous amount of VR equipment to the school of architecture. The donation was meant to help students better understand their designs, as well as understand how to present them more effectively.
VR/AR/MR Academic Research Centers
School: University of Minnesota
Research Program: The University of Minnesota runs the The Virtual Reality Design Lab (VRDL) in the courtyard of the architecture building. The lab’s current focus is on understanding how VR can be more than just a solitary experience. With the possibility of greater collaboration across design teams, this could be a great opportunity for the university to discover new ways of managing architectural design.
School: Northumbria University
Classes/Programs Offered: Located in Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom, Northumbria University hosts the Virtual Reality and Visualisation Group within their Department of Architecture and Built Environment. The group collaborates with local government for modeling of local areas, while also researching on how to incorporate VR/AR/MR into the AEC industry.
School: University of Missouri
Research Program: The University of Missouri’s Architecture Department hosts the Immersion and Visualization Lab, or iLab, where students and researchers from across the university system collaborate on projects involving immersive experiences. The school offers two different courses with access to the lab, and much of the research has focused on understanding how spatial representation is experienced by a user in a virtual environment– directly applicable for understanding how both designers and clients might interpret a digital project in VR/AR/MR.
Full Degree Offerings
Classes/Programs Offered: Likely unsurprising to anyone, SCAD offers a B.F.A in Immersive Reality. The university lists software such as Apple ARKit, Google ARCore, and Oculus, and even game engines Unity and Unreal Engine, as part of the curriculum. And with the latest hardware like the Oculus Rift, Oculus Go, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear and Microsoft HoloLens, SCAD students are working at the cutting edge of immersive technologies. While the curriculum does not list any required courses in architecture, the inclusion of this major within the SCAD campus– long known for its architectural and design focus– makes it likely that graduates from this program would have a strong understanding of how these technologies could be used in AEC.
School: Drexel University
Classes/Programs Offered: Included within the Westphal College of Media Art and Design, the Virtual Reality and Immersive Media program is a degree offering for students interested in integrating technical know-how and artistic expression into immersive technologies. Like SCAD, the program is not directly linked to the architecture department. But also like SCAD, the Philadelphia-based school has a strong architecture program and it is not a far stretch to see collaboration between the two in the near future. The program does list the Toll Brothers, a major real estate developer, as one of their partners.
Classes/Programs Offered: One couldn’t pick a better location than Sarasota, FL to get a B.F.A in Virtual Reality Development. The college lists the program as the “first of its kind” in art and design and is indeed one of the few options available to allow a student to fully delve into VR for all four years as an undergraduate. Listing architecture as one of the possible fields of entry after graduation, the school clearly sees the potential application of immersive technologies in the industry.
School: Staffordshire University
Classes/Programs Offered: Staffordshire University in Stoke-on-Trent, United Kingdom offers a full degree in Virtual Reality Design. The three-year degree has required courses on VR, AR, and architectural visualization. Although the school has no direct ties to an academic architecture program, their offering gives students the skills needed to succeed in bringing VR/AR to AEC.
School: Shenandoah University
Classes/Programs Offered: With the most options in this field, Shenandoah University in Winchester University offers a VR/AR education in multiple formats. The school offers a B.A. and a B.S. in VR Design, with the option to concentrate in VR Media, VR Digital Stages, or VR Technology. Instruction on the use of Unity is listed as part of the curriculum. The unique partnership between Unity and Autodesk makes any graduate with a background in Unity a potential hire for AEC studios looking to incorporate immersive technologies. Shenandoah is also the only school on this list to offer a minor and a certificate option. Although the university does not have an architecture department, the certificate option could help an AEC professional gain these valuable skills within a few months.
VR/AR/MR experiences offer so much more than gaming and entertainment. For the AEC industry, the potential for project collaboration, safety training, faster design processes, and compelling presentations makes incorporating immersive technologies a way for studios to improve their business and differentiate themselves from their competitors. Needed in this process will be people with the requisite skills to apply these real-time technologies to the AEC industry. The academic and research offerings by these colleges and universities can serve as a means for AEC businesses to partner with academic centers for collaboration, as well as fertile ground to find new team members to bring these skills to the industry.