Microsoft Hololens Could Change How Architects Work

Microsoft Layout lets one person walk through a virtual blueprint while another watches and makes edits.

“Where should we put the kitchen sink?”

“Does this hallway need another window?”

“Is the new assembly line going to leave enough room for extra equipment on the factory floor?”

We make major decisions about our homes and offices by squinting at floor plans and 3D renderings. But this week, Microsoft announced an app for its VR headsets and “mixed reality” Hololens platform that could fix that. Called Microsoft Layout, it allows you to place large, holographic objects around a floor plan as you experience it virtually. In the company’s proof of concept, a designer moves machinery around a warehouse virtually–and then checks how the design would work in the real-life space thanks to HoloLens. It’s easy to imagine an architect using Layout to change the details of a proposed structure, or alter the layout of furniture, lighting, or glazing inside an existing building.

While Layout works in traditional VR, it doesn’t just drag and drop these objects inside a virtual room. You can also check them out them inside a real building at scale using the company’s Hololens headset, which mixes holograms with the real world around you. Plus, you can sync up with a colleague online, through another app called Microsoft Remote Assist, to share your literal perspective as you explore the space. It’s easy to imagine that other person moving around designs on their end, too, almost like a collaborative game of Sim City. The version of Microsoft Assist that the company is sharing this week allows interactions pretty similar to this already.

Since being announced two years ago, Microsoft’s Hololens headset has been living a quiet life, as developers have only begun to tinker on the emerging platform. But Layout is the perfect example of what could be a breakout interaction to prove the value of Hololens, and augmented/mixed reality in general, at least in the world of interior design and architecture. You could imagine a restauranteur walking through a space in New York while their interior designer showed off their proposed changes to the design from Shanghai, or a foreman syncing up with an off-site architect before making a major change to the blueprint. Once you imagine that, it’s hard to envision design heading in any other direction.

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