This is a virtual recreation of Frank Lloyd Wright's Banff Pavilion, which was demolished in 1939, but now exists in exact scale in High Fidelity, so people can explore Wright's classic building as avatars. (In this case, HiFi founder Philip Rosedale and many others, including a knowledgable guide.) It's made possible by a partnership between High Fidelity and Archilogic, a company which converts 2D blueprints into 3D models.
Philip's first virtual world, Second Life, was once promoted by some top architects as a visualization tool; however, the unrealistic proportions of buildings versus avatars in Second Life, not to mention the difficulty of moving around in SL buildings while in first-person on a flat PC screen, mostly made that unfeasible.
In full VR, Philip Rosedale tells me, it's much better:
"Obviously," as Philip puts it, "the correct perception of physical space and distance granted by the HMD is a big difference. You can certainly judge whether you would have wanted to live in such a place, for example." But he thinks the fact that this is now possible in social VR makes architecture as a use case for virtual reality even more powerful:
"[The] more nuanced improvement is the ability to walk around in the space with other people," says Philip. "There is something inexplicably different and fun about using VR to stroll around in a real place with other real people. In a manner similar to how we first spoke of 'presence' as fooling the mind into believing that from a single-person perspective you really were somewhere else, the backdrop of a real place as the subject of discussion somehow deepens the sense of social 'presence'. I have little doubt that architects will put headsets in their office to allow clients to explore spaces together."
Philip makes the interesting argument that this means architecture simulation in VR is even a better use case than gaming:
"All of this VR future stuff is gated by the adoption rate of HMD hardware," says Philip. "To make VR take off, we have to give people reasons to use it 'deep' enough to go out and buy an HMD and then to actually go through the inconvenience of putting it on. For example, that means most games probably won't cut it. This is an example of something where the value (touring an amazing historical space with a guide and a group) is great enough to justify the cost in both time and money. I also think that teaching fits the bill, as does generally socializing where you can meet interesting new people."
That sounds right to me. To judge by the low adoption rates, only the hardest of the hardcore gamers are going to use VR for gaming, while most of the rest of us will mainly stick with our smartphone games. And I can definitely see architecture firms and universities spending a few thousand to take a group clients and students on tours which wouldn't otherwise be practically feasible or even historically possible.