Founder Story: Studio 216’s Jamie Fleming On Developing For Microsoft’s HoloLens
Studio 216 co-founder Jamie Fleming can’t help but get excited when he talks augmented reality and real estate. Recently, the Seattle-based agency was one of a select few invited to work with Microsoft’s new HoloLens headset to help global developer Skanska build the world’s first holographic leasing center.
The ultimate goal? To enable a potential customer to experience the finished space at the 2+U (Second and University) tower as a realistic hologram some three years before any ground is broken. Bisnow spoke with Jamie about the promise of virtual reality for real estate, the journey to becoming a tech company, and what it’s like to work on the HoloLens.
Jamie trained as an architect at the University of Washington after getting his undergraduate business degree at Wake Forest. That passion for design and architecture led him to co-found Studio 216 with the mission of “immersing someone in an unbuilt world, and let them experience it as if they were there,” he says.
Real estate in many ways provides the ideal use case for AR. “Because real estate is so expensive, mistakes are too costly to justify,” Jamie tells us. “With AR, we have an opportunity to test ideas at scale, walk around in them, overlay information (like mechanical or structural systems) and correct mistakes before it’s too late.”
Taking advantage of the potential AR offered meant becoming a full-fledged tech company. Just five years ago, more than half of Studio 216's employees had an architecture background. The company now hires from a variety of disciplines, including software development, UX development, and video game experts who know how to build a virtual world. “It’s been super exciting to get into software development and build real estate focused platforms in addition to the service projects we continue to do every day,” he says, reflecting on Studio 216’s evolution.
Working with such a revolutionary technology means understanding the role timing plays in marketplace adoption. One of the company’s first projects as a VR company was designing a joystick to navigate virtual environments. Despite the product’s “cool” factor, broker clients didn’t find it intuitive. “People were spinning around, crashing into walls, and generally wreaking havoc," Jamie says. "But the controller was so cool and beautiful. Just because you have a great idea, it doesn’t mean you can sell it!”
Studio 216’s partnership with Microsoft marks another chapter in the company’s continued growth. “I think Microsoft understood the perfect alignment between the work we were developing and their hopes and dreams for HoloLens,” he says. “They were drawn to us because we had immediate, real-world projects for the device.”
Jamie says developing for the HoloLens was familiar to Studio 216 as generating and uploading content into the device was highly streamlined and echoed the work the team did earlier with VR. From there, the focus shifts to optimizing the geometry to play in the headset. Finally, the team spends considerable time thinking about how to “mix” the digital world and the real world, and how to interact with it using voice and gesture.
Now Studio 216’s six months of hard work in collaboration with Skanska is about to be unveiled. Jamie can’t wait for the wider world to experience the 2+U leasing center: “One thing that I am particularly excited about is a moment in the holographic presentation where you see a dollhouse model floating in front of you with a cutaway of a floor plate. It is as if you are a scale figure standing in that model…mind bending.”