Virtual Reality for Fun and Profit: Archicad to Twinmotion

Architecture is a business. 

All architects have two goals:

1. Satisfied clients (really, most of us want elated clients).
2. Earn enough fees to pay our employees and ourselves a fair wage, as well as make some profit.

The business model looks like this …

Note that the ideal straight line is from Concept to Permit Drawings.

What would make the model a little better?

What if we could dramatically increase our client’s satisfaction and simultaneously increase our fees?

We would need to decrease the amount of confusion that our clients experience.  This would mean teaching them to read the drawings just — or almost — as well as we, the designers, read the drawings. And all this within the same timeframe as that we currently spend on any given project.

Impossible, right? Wrong.

Virtual Reality is the answer. With Virtual Reality, our firm, 2e Architects, commands higher fees and we have much happier clients. We use Twinmotion to create our Virtual Reality environments.

Enhancing Client Understanding

The new business model with Virtual Reality looks like this …

Note the ideal straight line from Concept to Permit, but this time with these little “speed bumps” into Twinmotion (more on this later). Also, note that the time is the same as before, but the fee is much bigger.

And our clients love the confidence they gain using Virtual Reality. They love Virtual Reality so much that they are willing (and even eager) to pay the higher fee. The decision is simple for any design-oriented client because the value of Virtual Reality far exceeds the value of antiquated drawing sets. At 2e Architects, our clients fully understand the drawings because we do not spend a lot of time looking at the drawings. Instead, our clients put on Virtual Reality goggles.

So, in addition to seeing a set filled with drawings like these …

Our clients – for the exact same project - see renderings like this one …

… andfar, far, better, our clients experience their home in Virtual Reality long before construction even begins!

We think that the time we spend creating the Virtual Reality experience is the same as a process without it because of all the extra time needed to convince a client of the design’s worth with 2D drawings. Architects always suggest design solutions that have not occurred to our clients. They need to ponder not only the idea itself but also if the idea solves their particular problem. While intelligence is typically a strength of our clients, visualizing in 3D is not. Enter confusion. Confusion always delays the design process. And there goes the profit …

2D drawings – even renderings as nice as the one above - always confuse. Virtual Reality eliminates confusion. Every time, no exceptions. So, while we do spend more time creating the “perfect” model and the Virtual Reality environment, this time is invested in reducing confusion. Time and again, after seeing drawings, renderings, and even videos, my clients put on the goggles and say, “Now, I understand my home!”

For example, see this video that dynamically shows a 2D elevation drawing transforming into Virtual Reality.

Another example is this 30-second video comparing the Virtual Reality environments to the photographs of the completed home.

Two images from this video highlighting the comparison are shown below.

The “secret” to our success is this …

… which is keeping the “speed bumps” into Twinmotion as small as possible while gaining strong and secure approvals as quickly as possible.

Working with Archicad and Twinmotion

Here’s how we do that. We meticulously model the homes we design in Archicad. We have done this for around 15 years. We have set up systems in Archicad (with graphic overrides) that transform the drawings from Concept Design sketches into Permit Documents. We still do this. Now, in addition to that, we simultaneously integrate Twinmotion.

Any time we spend in Archicad is time spent working on the Permit Drawings. Any time we spend in Twinmotion is not. Therefore, we need to minimize the time in Twinmotion by creating a model in Archicad that is “perfect” for Twinmotion, while also being, at every step, one step closer to the Permit Drawings. This means that our Concept Design model will develop into Permit Drawings. Decades ago, we would complete the Concept Design and then completely re-draw the entire building “correctly” for the Permit Drawings. No longer.

The two critical components to that integration are Layers and Surfaces.

We have set up LAYER systems to incorporate both Permit Drawings and Twinmotion at the onset of every project. Layer systems are not new – everyone uses them, for example, to differentiate the Reflected Ceiling Plan (RCP) from the Floor Plan. The difference is that certain items move from ON in the Twinmotion layer combination to OFF. To accomplish this, we have created a couple of new layers:

  • 2 | Appliance - Twinmotion OFF
  • 2 | Furniture - Twinmotion OFF

The reason is simple – Twinmotion has much better furniture objects and appliances. But we do not replace all of them either. And we – obviously – still need the furniture and appliances to show up on our plans, sections, the BIMx model, and work correctly in our schedules.

We also have created between 80 and 100 custom SURFACES. Archicad is very fond of reusing the same surfaces over and over again. Titanium White is just one example. When we customize a Surface in Twinmotion, it updates every surface with that name. The funniest change was when I added a video to the TV (which BTW is awesome!) and then – much later – I noticed that the arms of the desk chair were moving. Disconcerting. Perplexed, I zoomed in to see what was wrong with the chair. Sure enough, the surface of the arms of the chair was now playing the same video as the TV!

As we were learning to integrate Archicad with Twinmotion, this kind of thing happened with some frequency. The worst was always changing aninteriorsurface, completing the work, and then exporting the updated videos and renderings to send to the clients – only to find that theexteriorsiding now matches the fireplace mantel (which, unfortunately, really happened…) or some other issue.

The solution is simple – create a Template with 80-100 custom surfaces. Everything that will be seen in Twinmotion needs to have a custom surface. So, by all means, keep the framing material whatever Archicad wants them to be. Almost everything else is custom. If you create it, there will not be unwanted duplicates. We started with maybe 10 or 20 and quickly found that was not nearly enough. We then jumped to maybe 60. Still, not enough, we kept needing a fourth Floor Texture or a fifth tile (I know -- design simpler homes!). Now we are up to 80 -100.

The goal is a straight line from Concept Design to Permit Drawings. This means spending as little time as possible in Twinmotion. We want speedbumps rather than prolonged detours. To maximize your speed, there is only one solution. That solution is to set up your Archicad model as early as Concept Design to be ready for Permit Drawings and Twinmotion (reallybeforeConcept Design as our Template is set up for both).

The Business Case

While I cannot guarantee that your clients will never change their minds again, I will say that the confidence that Virtual Reality brings to our clients drastically reduces indecision. And there is a bonus – Virtual Reality has conversational currency. This means that your clients tell their friends (ahem – your future clients) all about the experience. At dinner parties. At the ball field. At the coffee shop. Everywhere your clients go with any of their friends. Your clients will relate everything - what the goggles felt like. They will say how cool it was to be teleported to on top of the kitchen island. And no, they will confess that they did not step off the virtual counter, even though they knew they would not fall. Virtual Reality is jaw-dropping technology. They will tell their friends just how excited they are! We call this Priceless-Word-of-Mouth advertising. Forget about the exact words that your clients say, their friends are hearing their tone of voice. The tone of voice is vitally important and memorable. The tone is a mixture of excitement and confidence laced with pride. Your client’s friend will want the same experience.

See this 30-second video of one of our ecstatic clients.

If you are a talented 40-year-old architect right now and decide not to jump onto the Virtual Reality train, I am afraid that by the time you turn 60 you will be out of business. Certainly not the way any of us wants to end a career. I have seen too many couples giggle with delight as they see — really see — their dream homes as soon as they put on the goggles. My presentations to prospective clients start with a verynice set of drawings. We go over the drawings briefly — this space is vaulted, the kitchen is over here, there is a view to the lake from here, these windows are combined 18 feet tall by 12 feet wide, etc. Heads nod, people lean in. Then they put on Virtual Reality goggles and see – again, really see — thatsame project. Sheer delight. Once the prospectiveclient has been in the virtual environment for a while, I always ask, "With this kind of information, do you feel incredibly confident that you will be able to consistently make the right decisions for you and your family?"

Getting Started

There are free videos on the internet that explain how to use Twinmotion. And some of them are quite good. If this article is in any way interesting to you, then I recommend that you invest some time – maybe while eating lunch – and study these videos. They will help you to understand Twinmotion. These videos might be all you need. The problem is that they all start with a completed model and show you how to create beautiful VR environments, videos, and renderings with Twinmotion.

If you want a deeper dive, my friends (Chris, Eric, and Richard) and I have created a website: We designed, modeled, and create the Virtual Reality environment for a sample project, The Waterfall Home, so we could provide everything to our students.  Below is a video that shows just how compelling a presentation can be!

There are 2 main differences between the free videos (again, pretty good and you should watch some) and the course we have created. The first is that Chris and I are architects (you can visit our website at Eric is an absolute Archicad expert, so we teach how to integrate the Archicad model and Twinmotion. The second main distinction is balance. We balance, on the one hand, over-delivering on client expectations while, on the other hand, maintaining a very similar schedule, because bothelated clients and profit are fun. It took Chris and me maybe 2 years (watching, studying, and implementing what we learned from the free videos) to become experts on Twinmotion. We want that timeline to be cut in half for you — and then — cut in half again. We also want to eliminate as much as possible the frustration of learning the program and pass along the valuable tricks that we have learned over the past 4 years, including the ones that have impressed our clients the most. Lastly, we will also teach you how to think about marketing your Virtual Reality talents to potential clients.  Because if you are not marketing Virtual Reality, you might as well be one of the many firms not capable of it. 

About the Author

Peter Twohy is the founder and principal of 2e Architects in Maryland.  Peter has been an Archicad user for around 25 years. Much to his clients' delight, he discovered Virtual Reality (by accident) a couple of years ago and taught himself Twinmotion.  Now he is an expert in both Twinmotion and Virtual Reality and has taught hundreds of architects all over America and across the globe.  

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