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Move Over Fortnite, CRE Goes Gamey With VR Spaces

Through a gaming-like environment, construction firm Mortenson brings architects, contractors, developers and other interested parties together through virtual reality. Rather than flying thousands of miles to oversee a project, virtual reality allows everyone to see projects full scale before they are even built. Everyone can virtually enter the space, point and communicate through the system.

Mortenson Emerging Technologies Director Marc Kinsman demonstrates the company's VR application.

Mortenson, based in Minneapolis, is one of the first commercial development firms to employ this technology to the pre-design, construction and leasing phases in both residential and commercial buildings. Its Kirkland-based Virtual Insights service group creates true-to-scale virtual reality spaces that allow interested parties to step into projects and units from anywhere in the world.

The technology, which costs about $4K for a full setup, including the software, headgear and controllers, can save thousands of dollars by bringing everyone together in virtual reality before the ground is even broken, Mortenson Emerging Technology Director Marc Kinsman said.

The technology is connected through the internet, so a developer in Amsterdam, for example, can step into the virtual world with a contractor and architect in Seattle. The participants can virtually walk around the space and talk to each other. They can see each other and use markup tools to accentuate a point or request a design change. The markups are left in the virtual reality world after the VR session is complete so the changes are all saved.

The VR spaces include details all the way down to the texture of a tile and the pattern and color of wallpaper. If something doesn’t look right, it can be swapped out before the products are even purchased.

A screenshot of the VR program designed for the AMLI Arc apartments in downtown Seattle.

Once the project is underway, interested parties continue to monitor progress from afar as the project is updated in the program.

When the lease-up phase begins, potential tenants can take virtual tours of the 3D space before construction is complete. By virtually moving around a unit, a potential tenant can look through the closet or the bathroom, examine the stove and see how much space exists between the counter and dishwasher.

When seeking new digs, there is no longer a need to tromp around town looking at every vacant condo and apartment unit. Thanks to virtual reality, potential tenants can now just don a mask and move from place to place virtually.

“The advantage of VR is that it’s truly 3D,” Kinsman said. “You’re mind and body can understand this in a way that it can’t do when you look at it when it’s flattened.”

A screenshot of the markup phase of the Chase Center in the Bay Area.

In addition to the long-term construction savings and cool factor, Mortenson launched this division to improve customer service, Kinsman said.

So far, two-year-old Virtual Insights has completed about 30 VR projects, including the new Chase Center arena in San Francisco, home of the Golden State Warriors. There are currently three VR projects underway, including the citizenM Hotel in South Lake Union. The citizenM Hotel group is based in Europe so the VR communication saves plenty of transatlantic travel.