in the News
in the News
4:52 pm On April 25, 2017
New technology and cutthroat competition for tenants have infused commercial real estate projects in New York and beyond with a hefty dose of virtual realty.
Trying to picture a new building from its “hero shot” — most powerful rendering — and prospective floor plans isn’t always enough to lure multinational companies to commit millions of dollars and sign a leasing or sales agreement on the dotted line.
That’s where virtual reality (VR) comes in.
Startup VirtualAPT has used its unique camera and proprietary software to create videos and 360-degree tours for brokerages Stribling and Forest City to show off residential apartments. Eastern Consolidated has also used its technique for retail spaces, while developer Two Trees employed its cameras at 45 Main St. in Dumbo.
VirtualAPT has found adding builtins, light fixtures and other features through virtual reality doesn’t always sit well when it comes to apartments. But it’s a different story for commercial spaces. When you spin around an empty office floor, it’s hard to picture what the inhabited space could look like.
Now “we are giving a lifelike experience to raw space,” says David Falk, tristate president of commercial real estate firm Newmark Grubb Knight Frank.
Newmark is using a VR walk-through experience for 25 Kent Ave. in Williamsburg, the new 480,000-square-foot office building being developed by Toby Moskovits, CEO of Heritage Equity Partners, and David Rubenstein’s Rubenstein Partners.
“The building is not yet up. So now, when people come into the office, they put the goggles on and can get a sense of what it’s like to be on the floor,” Falk says.
Over at 520 W. 20th St. in Chelsea, Eli and James Haddad of Elijah Equities brought in hip architect Morris Adjmi to upgrade the family’s old warehouse and add a contemporary, two-story glass addition to the top. Formerly used as a parking garage and art gallery, the space will become a sevenstory office building.
To tout the project, Newmark’s Falk created a heavy, oversized lookbook. But to ensure prospective tenants can see something where there is currently nothing, Falk is also creating a VR experience.
“Office buildings never used to go to this extent,” Falk says. “They are all trying to see what they can do to be special to connect to the right audience.”
In Midtown, George Comfort & Sons faced a challenge to lease 150,000 square feet of raw space at 575 Lexington Ave. At the same time, the building’s existing darker-tinted curtain wall windows were going to be enlarged and replaced.
Previous investors had already changed out an earlier dark green-andbrown marble lobby for a bright, contemporary white marble, complemented by blonde wood and a rotating photo mural.
“We wanted to be able to communicate to the brokers and tenants what the finished product would look like,” says Dana Pike,
Comfort’s senior vice president. “We had seen VR in other industries, and felt it was a good application.”
Gensler architects worked up mockups of the space, known in real estate parlance as test fits; those computer-aided design (CAD) drawings were tweaked and handed over to another company, which developed a VR tour. Visitors can now stand in specific spots on each floor of 575 Lexington and — voila — in every direction, the empty space is filled with modern desks and chairs. As for the new larger windows? Already installed.
Reception and waiting areas, pantries and conference rooms are all magically populated with furniture. 575 Lexington’s VR program is optimized for a 5-foot-10 person. On a tour in early April, this 5-foot-3 reporter donned a Samsung headset and experienced what it was like to be tall.
One thing was immediately clear: the backs of a virtual chair and the top of a desk were several inches lower than they would normally appear. Pike, who clocks in at 6-foot-3, noticed his surrounds were higher than usual.
Through VR, the extraordinary terrace that wraps three sides of the building on the 14th floor appears to be filled with lush plantings and seating areas. On the 30th floor, a secluded area is set up as a VR conference room, and a newly enlarged picture window looks out over the East River.
“Everyone comes in and wants this for their own office,” Pike adds. A version of the tour can be accessed through the building’s website575LexingtonAve.com. The company also mailed out 1,000 cardboard viewfinders for brokers to slip over their phones; the feel-likeyou’re-there images come via a downloadable mobile phone app.
Architects and engineers have long used Building Information Management (BIM) 3D to picture the insides of towers. But now, augmented and virtual reality provide unprecedented internal and external views.
At an investor conference in December, SL Green Realty Corp. unveiled a virtual reality tour of Grand Central-adjacent megatower One Vanderbilt. (The 58-floor, 1.7 million-square-foot building is currently under construction, slated for completion in 2020.)
“Our collateral material includes a very cool website . . . and some very cool virtual reality tools using computer game technology, which provides an immersive experience never before used in marketing an office building,” Steve Durels, SL Green’s executive vice president, told investors.
Another developer, Skanska, has partnered with Microsoft to show off its HoloLens augmented reality system, which brings highdefinition holograms to life. Together they created the world’s first augmented reality marketing center to use for Skanska’s upcoming Seattle tower, called 2+U.
This 665,000-square-foot office building rising in Downtown Seattle’s cultural district will have views of the Puget Sound. At 38 stories, the tower will flow into an 11-story companion building so that tech firms can sprawl as they grow. Both structures are lifted by multiple V supports some 85 feet above a varied low-rise streetscape housing its “cultural village,” which will be chockfull of restaurants, entertainment and amenities.
Although its website shows views of the building from all sides looking out, the challenge was for prospective tenants to get a feel for how the interior would look with furnishings and fixtures.
Similarly, at 121 Seaport, a 17-story, 400,000-squarefoot office building on the Boston waterfront, Skanska USA’s president & CEO of commercial development, Shawn Hurley, says prospective tenants had a hard time understanding its unique elliptical shape. “Allowing the tenant to step into that [through VR] is better than a brochure,” Hurley says.
By LOIS WEISS