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Integrating virtual reality to the landscape design process – case study: a development plan for Merisatama islands

January 15, 2021
Finnish landscape architects use relatively little 3D modelling during design when compared to architects. The recent arrivals of virtual reality (VR) equipment to the consumer market have brought new possibilities for 3D design, which are easier assimilated by architects who have 3D modelling knowledge. Attaining and maintaining the same level of technical modelling between design disciplines would make co-operating in joint projects more efficient.
Currently VR is used mostly as a presentational tool, but it has potential for enhancing the design process. Biggest obstacles in the integration of VR are the lack of requirement from clients and the insufficient knowledge of effective utilisation methods. External requirement for VR is not necessary, if its usage is efficient, the new methods are relatively easy to assimilate, and it gives a competitive edge.
This thesis explores how VR can enhance the landscape design process and especially from a landscape architect's point of view. The subject is at first approached with an introduction to existing design software, and then followed by a review of various design processes. From the review a suitable methodology is chosen for the qualitative case study, in which the possibilities of VR are explored.
During the case study, a conceptual development plan for Merisatama islands is created. This concept is given an abstract form by 3D modelling with the help of VR, and a key area is chosen for further development. This development process is used to demonstrate the study of elements in VR that are difficult to interpret from 2D plans, like sense of space, views and atmosphere.
The case study shows that VR can currently be effectively used for designing concrete interventions, but the research and formulation of the concept are still best to be done with conventional methods. The site characteristics and design objectives also affect the applicability of current VR methods.
The work flow with VR is not yet straightforward - for VR to give notable value to the design process, the designer must be able to use a higher variety of software, and the editing interfaces while immersed in the model in VR are still lacking in accuracy to be used effectively.
Nevertheless, VR proved to be helpful when studying the spatial composition, its relations and qualities, and the atmospheric effects of lighting and weather conditions. VR made it easier to assess the effects of different design decisions and to see the outcome before the plan is constructed.
In the future VR can offer even more to the design process as hardware and software develop, and advanced simulations will enable the study of those elements that have to be currently assessed with qualitative methods.

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Eeva-Maija Ekman

Thesis Supervisor

Pia Fricker

Thesis Advisor(s)

Lauri Lemmenlehti

Year of Publication



virtual reality, landscape design, 3D modelling, game engine, design process, Merisatama