Passive house designed using Virtual-, Augmented-, and Mixed reality is now finalized

Introduction to low-energy housing - passive house
The worlds first privately owned passive house designed using Virtual Reality technology was recently erected in the city of Växjö, Sweden. It is a two storey building with an area of 170 square-meters (1800 square-feet). It consits of six rooms, two bathrooms and a modern kitchen with large working spaces and an inner ceiling height of over 5 meters. The owners, Peter and Sara have two children and are very proud of the house so far.

The erected Passive House

On the outside, the roof is equipped with a solar panel system rated at 5 kW - enough to make the house self-sufficient of energy throughout the cycle of a year. The ventilation system is a high efficiency heat exchanger transferring the heat contained in the outgoing air to the incoming fresh air. The insulation in the walls consist of cellulose fibre made from recycled, shredded magazine paper.

Looking at the house floor plan on a Virtual TV using Mixed Reality through the Gear VR

The Swedish Energy Agency have fitted sensors in the house to keep track of parameters such as temperature, humidity and energy consumption over a long period of time. The aim is to get more raw data from houses built using low-energy technologies and to learn more about how they perform in the usage phase.

The passive house was architected by XN-Villan in Vetlanda, Sweden.
The erection and construction was done by MG Bygg from Lenhovda, Sweden.
Work on site

The use of Virtual Reality in the design phase
During the planning stages of the house in late 2013 the layout of the house was sketched on paper - as it usually is. In early 2014 these sketches were transformed into a Virtual Reality 3D- model (using the Unity 3D game engine) in which the residents could immerse themselves and move around inside. This was possible thanks to a head-mounted display called Oculus Rift - a Virtual Reality headset expected for commercial launch in early 2016. This enabled the residents and architect to experience the virtual model - compared to only visualizing it on a drawing - and to discuss design changes on a whole new level than before.
View of the laundry- and tech room through the Oculus Rift
View of the laundry- and tech room through the Oculus Rift

By experiencing the sense of scale in the virtual reality model - as compared to only looking at a monitor - the ability to visualize line-of-sight throughout the house had a direct impact on the layout changes of the house. Walls were moved around, the staircase was relocated, windows were repositioned to allow the customers to see straight through the house upon entry. The kitchen layout was iterated thoroughly to find an optimal working process and physical positioning with the rest of the house. Functional aspects could be discussed and visualised between the owners on a regular monitor before being rapidly experienced inside 3D-model with the head-mounted display. Later on, studies of the sunlight were performed to see how the lighting conditions throughout the four seasons played together with the house.
Sun-light study

Elimination of error in early stages
Due to frequent layout changes and lack in communication some errors would have slipped through into the construction phase if they had not been visualized in the virtual reality model first. Overlooked by the owners, it was not until the 2D-drawings of the two floors were combined into the virtual reality model that a specific problem with the placement of the freezer and fridge in relation to kitchen wall and ceiling was found. Also the misplacement of one of the windows would have lead to misalignment between the layout on the opposite side. These types of errors, and many more, are typical during design and construction phases. By avoiding them before the production of the house was started it eliminated possible extra costs and production delays that otherwise would have been a fact.

Mixing Virtual- and Augmented Reality at the construction site
During the end phases of the house erection - before the walls were finished - prototype applications using Mixed Reality enabled the residents to walk around on site and experience how virtual models of the living room and kitchen would look like when it was finished. This was accomplished with a Samsung Gear VR head-mounted display that fits a regular mobile phone. The user could augment and mix the real world with virtual models of the different furniture and interiour. In the example image below the user is seen looking at how the yet-to-be-fitted kitchen will fit when it is completed. Also, viewed from the physical opening on the second floor a whole 3D-model of the dining room was mixed with reality and viewed through the headset.

Mixed Reality study of interiour details

Verification rather than a big surprise
The sense of recognition when stepping into the areas where mixed reality had been used was strong according to Peter. The memory of how the mixed-reality settings looked like compared to stepping into the finished kitchen was surprisingly similiar.
When finally being able to walk inside the finished house the feeling of "already having been there" was confirmed by Sara:

"... it was as if I had already been there. I said to myself: 'Ok, so this is how it looks like, as I imagined it...'
I was expecting more of a wow-feeling or a sensation of surprise, but it was instead more of a feeling of verification of how I imagined it..."
A virtual fly-through of the house

An outlook into the future
For many years technologies in immersive architecture and virtual reality have been too expensive for regular consumers and smaller companies. With the imminent wave of commercially available Virtual Reality head-sets the continous progress with smaller and cheaper hardware devices promise a possibility for a large adoption in the mass market.

On the simplest level, it is today possible to buy a mobile phone headset for a couple of dollars, fit a modern mobile phone inside the headset and experience city tours or underwater scenery with a surprisingly remarkable level of immersion. Devices for unrestricted movement in small and larger spaces are imminent and promise an even more natural and immersive experience as compared to the seated exerience.

Currently there is just about enough computational power of computers and mobile devices for developers to create immersive virtual reality content within fields such as gaming, serious simulation and education. With the advances in technology and the release of at least three different types of virtual reality head-mounted-displays in the coming 12 months the ability for users to consume new types of experiences is just around the corner.

Vicator is a privately owned consultancy and content creation company focusing on exploring and applying the latest commercially available technologies in Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality. Started as a service for architectural technology exploration it recently released a Mobile Virtual Reality application for the Samsung Gear VR called “Looking back at the future”. Set in the distant future, the player finds herself situated on a satellite moon after the Great Migration (into space) while she starts exploring a museum showcasing technologies from the past- and present.

Vicator is looking for partners and investors to help us amazing content. We have alot planned for 2015 and 2016. Please send an e-mail to to know more.

XN-Villan, located in Vetlanda, Sweden, designs and sells low energy houses on the Swedish market.

MG Bygg, located in Lenhovda, Sweden, is a construction company working with house renovation and complete construction of new houses.

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