Virtual reality creates a digital replication of the physical world. It can equally create a fantasy world, an escape from reality as we know it. The viewer is totally immersed in the experience, to the point where the real world disappears.

The first Virtual Reality device dates back to 1838, when Charles Wheatstone found that the brain processes two different two-dimensional images from each eye, visualising them within the mind as a single object of three dimensions. From this, he discovered that viewing two stereoscopic images side by side would have the effect of simulating a sense of depth and immersion. Essentially, he was the inventor of Google Cardboard, though he called it the stereoscope. It was later marketed as the ‘View Master’ in 1939.

Though Wheatstone’s device coincides with the industrial revolution, humanity has been creating simulated environments since the dawn of time, back to the first cave paintings some 40,000 years ago. When we first created art, we were creating a simulated version of the real world. Art is virtual reality.

Roubaud and Panoramic Immersion

Below is an image of Franz Roubaud’s 1812 painting, Raevsky Battery During The Battle of Borodino. The original is an imposingly large, panoramic canvas depicting the violent struggle between Russian and French Napoleonic armies during the famous battle.

Raevsky Battery During The Battle of Borodino | Architectural Visualisation and Art History | VMI Studio

The painting is striking, not only for its energetic and bold depiction of the battle in progress, and not just for its sheer size, either. The panoramic view, which Roubaud’s painting affords the viewer, is a key example of early artistic attempts at fully immersive virtual experience through art.

The construction of the painting is interesting, in this regard. To the centre, we see most of the detail, most of the movement, whilst the bulk of the crowd on the left and right of the space seem almost to bend round. There is less detail away from the centre. The viewer is engulfed in the vast space, with a sense that the action moves very much beyond the bounds of the physical canvas, and that they are right there amidst the action.

Giotto’s Frescoes

As another example, we look to Italy, and Renaissance artist, Giotto. Part of Giotto’s astounding work comprises a series of frescoes depicting the life of the Virgin Mary, and the life of Christ. Regarded as one of the supreme masterpieces of the early Renaissance, Giotto’s works are outstanding examples of immersive artworks, with such an eerily three-dimensional quality that they can be seen as one of the first explicit iterations of the creation of simulated reality through two-dimensional art.

Giotto Fresco | Architectural Visualisation and Art History | VMI StudioSpeaking of Giotto and virtual reality, new VR technology that’s coming to the fore now is being utilised to place another simulation on top of Giotto’s works.

In the recently realised projects, The City of Giotto and St Peter’s Basilicas, the participant can, within virtual reality, engage in a virtual walk through of the sites of Giotto’s original masterpieces. The City of Giotto VR experience takes the viewer on an immersive tour of the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi.

Within the simulations, each of the individual frescoes, painted way back in the early 1300s, can not only be viewed within simulated virtual space, but actually entered. By going ‘through the looking glass’, as it were, and stepping inside the paintings themselves, participants are transported to a virtual walkthrough of imaginary medieval cities, inspired by the images depicted in Giotto’s paintings.

The VR project St Peter’s Basilicas features a combination of architectural visualisation of the current church, as it is now, and the Constantinian Basilica and its external cloister – which were both demolished in the 16th century.

These extraordinary projects, drawing on the 3D qualities of Giotto’s artwork, take his vision of immersive art to its logical conclusion. However, the art isn’t the only aspect of the space that’s being transformed by virtual reality.

By the very virtue of the setting of Giotto’s frescoes, the viewer is simultaneously also taken on a journey through the breathtaking architecture wherein the art is displayed. And in the case of the Constantinian Basilica, it provides a golden opportunity for the resurrection, albeit in virtual form, of architecture that no longer physically exists. As such, virtual reality demonstrates its effectiveness for the study of historical layering of sites and monuments.

Art and Architectural Visualisation

These classical examples of how fine art and architecture can be re-imagined through virtual reality resonates to our own work. As we move beyond the two-dimensional representations or sketches of building projects, an architectural project, from its very genesis, can be realised in a fully-immersive design environment, as an architectural visualisation that recreates the architect’s and property developer’s ideas in three-dimensional space. Right through to the virtual property walkthroughs of the imagined interior spaces of properties in development, viewers, and – of course – potential buyers, can experience the property in a way that is indistinguishable from reality.

CGI Architectural Visualisation | VMI Studio

Architecture, by its very nature, exists as a very definite intersection between art, physics and mathematics. In its modern function, which is most predominantly centred around the creation of functional architecture for residential and commercial space, it is a practical business. For many working architects, the creativity of their profession is relegated, by business necessity.

Creative architectural visualisation finds its voice within the luxury residential and commercial sector, and in the creation of architecture for public spaces, such as that exemplified in the recently completed Harbin Opera House. The virtual property walkthroughs we are fortunate enough to create at VMI Studio allow us to explore the world of architectural visualisation, which we see as an artform in itself.

We see a future where virtual reality will help designers, architects, and artists from all disciplines, to express creative ideas in innovative new ways that push boundaries further than ever before. In Architecture, we can imagine virtual reality replacing older models of architectural visualisation, but without losing sight of the traditional media that brought us to this place.

Art, in all its many forms, is the base level from which all applied creativity germinates, and the architectural visualisations for property that we create are no different. As technology continues to grow, particularly real estate technology, so the limits to architectural visualisation and design expression fall away. 3D printing technology, as much as virtual reality in property, allows whole new realms of possibility to be realised.

Recalling the three-dimensional qualities of Renaissance art, the panoramic canvases, up to the immersive art installations of the late-twentieth and early twenty-first century, art is an immersive medium.

This is a fact that lies behind all the work that we do. No creation exists in a vacuum, but is part of a long and many-faceted history that dates back to the very first days of humanity itself. Virtual reality, in its artistic as much as its industrial applications, represents the next evolution for creativity, and we are very excited to be at the forefront of that.