Within the design service industry, custom virtual reality (VR) experiences have historically been reserved for private meetings on big budget projects that require specialized, expensive equipment. Owing to cost and perceived technical complications, they are seldom used at the campus- and community-scaled projects, or open freely to anyone who can access a web address on their smart phones. However, with new low-tech solutions such as cardboard goggles and web-based platforms, VR can be an easy and accessible way to engage communities and share the experience of urban-scale interventions-especially to those neighborhoods who have historically been underserved or have had limited collaboration. Through accessible immersive design experiences, we hope to empower all communities to imagine, test, and provide input with these more equitable approaches.
Our project at The Sea View Healthy Community, a collaboration with the NYC Economic Development Corporation, helps define the vision for a mixed-use community focused on holistic health at this historic TB Campus on Staten Island.
As part of a group tour for the American Planning Association (APA), our NY design technology manager Vina Aboshaira worked along with our senior urban designer Daniel Windsor to create a unique Mixed Reality (MR) tour that would easily allow the tour-goers to walk through an existing historic, decommissioned healthcare campus while visualizing a new potential design implementation. The potential design included the beatification and updating of historic buildings and surrounding landscape to create a true sense of revitalization and activation within an urban revitalization scenario.
We took over 40 participants around the Sea View campus and stopped at four VR locations that distinctly highlight key aspects of the proposed design. As tour-goers stood in front of historic landscapes and structures that have sat unused for over 50 years, they slipped on the provided cardboard goggles and accessed a web link teleporting them into an immersive experience that revealed the same buildings restored, activated, and complemented with a new thriving public realm.
The tour-goers were easily able to move between view virtual panoramas on their mobile phones as we moved along the tour viewpoints.
At Sea View, we provided every participant with cardboard VR goggles, a card indicating the location and number of each view on the map, and the web link to access the VR images. We identified the exact location of each viewpoint with clear color marks on the ground, allowing the user to align precisely with the VR images. The participants could stand there wearing the goggles and enjoy the experience without any extra technical support. While looking into the potential 'future,' a tour guide explained the details of how future tenants could be using each facility on-site woven in with a history of the historic buildings. Being able to picture the story while it is being told resulted in an effective form of interaction and a lively debate on potential implantation strategies.
As we continue to discover new ways of bringing diverse communities and individuals together, tapping into existing technology that most users are already comfortable with is key. And while we don't pretend this is the only answer we think it's a step in the right direction. The exciting thing about this approach is that the links live on beyond a curated event and anyone can go to the site own their own and access the VR views with or without goggles. This democratizes the design process, allowing people to understand, through immersive accessibility, the new designs and extends opportunities for providing input and being part of the process of change and revitalization. We encourage you to check out the views live, with or without goggles, the next time you are at the Sea View Campus!
For an interactive view of the project, please follow the link below: