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NBBJ, a global architecture and design firm, today announced a new business partnership with startup Visual Vocal to incubate and develop a breakthrough virtual reality (VR) productivity platform. The new tool will allow distributed project stakeholders to immerse themselves into unbuilt environments and provide instantaneous feedback to inform a collaborative design process.
Currently, distributed teams design buildings using 3D modeling software. But when it comes time to share those designs with clients, traditional communication methods such as email often result in time-consuming and inconclusive rounds of feedback.
By combining VR with mobile and cloud-based communications platforms, the new tool has the potential to transform workflows within the architecture industry and beyond.
“NBBJ’s decision to launch Visual Vocal is representative of our ongoing mission to find more informative and inspiring ways to engage clients in the design process. This partnership will radically shift the way design feedback is sourced and integrated into projects, and the speed at which it can be done. As a result, we can more broadly and deeply engage project stakeholders than we could have dreamed in the past. Whether for clients or the general public, virtual reality will deepen design discourse and bring together communities in new and exciting ways,” said NBBJ Managing Partner Steve McConnell, FAIA.
NBBJ and Visual Vocal will leverage current-generation VR and augmented reality (AR) systems, with a near-term focus on mobile VR platforms for optimal accessibility and scale. While a number of firms in the design industry have examined the promise of VR, this partnership marks the first instance of an established design firm incubating a VR startup inside its own offices and developing new tools to improve decision-making and remove waste from the design process. Beyond architecture, the framework can eventually power immersive conversations in industries such as aerospace, product design, and biotech that also make heavy use of 3D models.
“Visual Vocal is building a platform for distributed conversation, collaboration, and decision-making through the power of immersive computing technologies,” said Visual Vocal Co-Founder John SanGiovanni. “For the past year, we have worked closely with NBBJ’s technical, creative, and project leadership to understand the complexities of distributed collaboration. Together, we have forged a new VR framework aimed at making 3D decision-making more accessible, enjoyable, and efficient.”
Visual Vocal is a self-contained venture backed by NBBJ and led by entrepreneurs John SanGiovanni and Sean B. House. Previously with Microsoft Research, SanGiovanni was responsible for the software company’s worldwide research funding for Advanced UI, Mobile Devices, and Augmented Reality, areas in which he has authored more than 20 patents. House has a research focus in large distributed systems and has led both cloud and mobile engineering teams at Microsoft and several high-profile startups. Through previous collaborations, SanGiovanni and House have deployed iOS and Android apps that have been used by millions of people across the world.
External venture financing for Visual Vocal is now underway, with strong initial support from several prominent angel and super angel investors. The company has seven employees based in NBBJ’s Seattle office, with technical backgrounds from Google, Microsoft, and other companies.
Visual Vocal will launch the beta version of its platform as an NBBJ exclusive later in 2016, and NBBJ will pilot the Visual Vocal software on design projects for healthcare, corporate, and urban planning clients. Ultimately the tool will then become available to the greater architecture, engineering, and construction industry.
The initiative is part of NBBJ’s ongoing investment in and development of digital tools. By applying existing and emerging technologies to the unique needs and challenges of its clients, NBBJ is able to create better-performing buildings that support human connection and productivity.
NBBJ creates innovative places and experiences for organizations worldwide and designs environments, communities, and buildings that enhance people’s lives. Founded in 1943, NBBJ is an industry leader in designing corporate, healthcare, commercial, civic, science, education, and sports facilities. The firm has won numerous awards and has been recognized as one of the world’s “Top Ten Most Innovative Architecture Firms” by Fast Company magazine. Clients include Alibaba, Amazon, Beacon Capital Partners, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Boeing, Cambridge University, Cleveland Clinic, GlaxoSmithKline, Massachusetts General Hospital, Microsoft, Reebok, Salk Institute, Samsung, Stanford University, Starbucks, Telenor, Tencent, and Tishman Speyer. (http://www.nbbj.com)
About Visual Vocal
Visual Vocal was founded in 2015 in partnership with NBBJ to create a lightweight collaborative document platform for VR and AR. The technology will enable a new class of “immersive conversations” between stakeholders in large-scale projects with the goal of making the collaborative design process more accessible, enjoyable, and efficient. (http://www.visualvocal.com)