Can Virtual Reality Revolutionize the process for Designing Schools


Sandra Kate

Julia Hawkinson
Los Angeles Unified School District

Christopher Grant
HMC Architects

James Krueger 


1 Learning Units (LU)

How applies to HSW:

Virtual reality has gone from speculative to ubiquitous and our schools are even integrating it into their curriculum. Yet it is not as prevalently utilized as a design communication tool in K-12 Educational Facility projects as in other project types. Why? Funny-looking headsets aside, VR tools are no longer in an experimental phase and can be a cost-effective way for K-12 School Districts to better understand a campus or building design and identify potential concerns or issues before users move into a completed facility. Nothing is more frustrating for both the design team and the users when a client says “Wow, I didn’t realize this all was going to be here” or, “I thought for sure there was a door here!” These VR tools allow school and community stakeholders who may not be able to understand typical architectural drawings to virtually walk through a building and provide more meaningful feedback while the design in still being developed.   In this workshop we will share examples of different VR tools including Augmentation, Ipanos, Housecraft, and Google Cardboard, as well as others that can be used for design communication and collaboration. We will look at pros and cons of each tool, as well as costs to use each tool, through the lens of both the architect and a school district. We will share a case study of how different VR tools were used to collaborate in the development of the design on a major redevelopment of a historical high school campus in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The District will share how they were able to better understand security sight lines, building heights, and circulation on the campus providing critical feedback in the development of the design early in the process, and what tools worked best for what they wanted to see.   The workshop format will provide an initial overview of VR tools and the LAUSD project case study, and then allow smaller groups to experiment with the different VR tools at tables and discuss reactions, concerns, and workshop participants’ experiences with VR in educational facility design. These groups will explore how they see VR impacting the design of learning environments, how they could positively or negatively impact the cost of a project, and if this new way of communicating a design could provide more input and involvement from students and community members. They will discuss potential consequences of VR tools in the design process including any potential pitfalls and how the tools may impact the design process schedule. After the small group discussion, each group will share out their insights with the entire workshop to expand everyone’s knowledge base, understanding, and comfort level of how VR might provide opportunities to improve school design.

Learning Objectives:
  • Provide a general knowledge base with examples of VR tools and how they can be developed and used on a project as well as where VR may be going in the future.
  • Learn about how VR can provide a District and Stakeholders with a much better understanding of a building and campus to allow for improved design collaboration and input.
  • Develop an understanding of how and when to use VR in the design process.
  • Develop an understanding of cost and time implications of using VR in the design process and cost savings during construction and post construction occupancy.
Primary Competency:

Design of Educational Facilities: Acts as a resource to the design team in providing ongoing guidance and support to ensure that the emerging and ultimate design aligns with the established community vision, education goals, future programming, written design standards, best/next practices and education policy.

Primary Domain:

Process: Content of this session/workshop will focus on the importance of quality processes and practices implemented by the project team when creating learning environments. The who, what, when and how of various disciplines and applications.

Secondary Domain:

Toolbox: Content of this session/workshop will focus on the approaches, methods and applications when transitioning from design and concept into reality, actual existence through quality performance, execution and/or product.

Additional information: The session will be structured to be interactive and create a dialog among participants to share experiences and feedback on VR as a tool to improve input and collaboration on school design