Virtual reality is the logical step that started way back in time with the appearance of the very first architectural drawing. This has been a long history of development: architectural drawings in Europe, which date back to the tenth century, were the first kind of abstraction that appeared “virtually real” to potential clients and builders—real enough to base decisions on. With the discovery of perspective techniques, drawings became more refined and developed into a form of art with numerous branches, ranging from technical drawings to presentation drawings. Wooden models appeared even before the Renaissance and were supplemented in the nineteenth century with cardboard models. Each new invention helped to improve the understanding of projects and architecture by reducing abstraction, while increasing the complexity of the representation (Schmitt, 1993). Toward the end of the twentieth century, the majority of architectural projects were and are never realized. Prominent projects, such as the new Berlin Government Centre, result in several hundred professional competition entries. With the advent of virtual reality (VR) techniques, architects will at first intensely criticise the new technology, before adopting and improving it, and they will modify it with domain specific contributions. The knowledge of architectural abstraction and simulation is useful to the further development of VR and vice versa. Today, the newest methodological and technical instruments help designers to create a more responsible architecture, many aspects of which can be experienced and tested before construction. This includes the possibility of expanding the number of senses addressed for the explanation of an architectural idea. To structure the discussion about VR in architecture, we first describe the theoretical framework, then move to the description of a Architectural Space Laboratory at the Architecture Department of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, ETH Zürich, and follow this with examples of program development. We conclude with speculations on the impact of the new technology on the architecture of the future.

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