NBBJ and Visual Vocal to develop Virtual Reality-based productivity platform

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NBBJ, a global architecture and design firm is developing a virtual reality (VR) platform in partnership with startup Visual Vocal. Visual Vocal is a self-contained venture founded in 2015 in partnership with NBBJ to create a collaborative document platform for VR and augmented reality (AR).

The new platform will enhance productivity by allowing all stakeholders in planned buildings to immerse themselves in unbuilt environments where they can provide instantaneous feedback to inform a collaborative design process.

This is the first time that an established design firm has created a VR startup inside its own offices to develop new tools to streamline the design process.

Visual Vocal is a cloud-based platform that uses a smartphone as a computer and screen to view 3D models of architectural designs using an app. Using a mobile headset or a VR viewer like Google Cardboard, collaborators on a project and clients can have an immersive view of a model and make certain design decisions, which are uploaded to the platform where architects can see what choices were made by whom and why. Architects, designers, engineers and clients can also communicate with each other through the app, reducing the number of in-person meetings.

This NBBJ initiative is an example of how VR technology can positively impact a design process by speeding up feedback from different project stakeholders.

"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 led by entrepreneurs John SanGiovanni, previously with Microsoft Research, and Sean B. House who has led both cloud and mobile engineering teams at Microsoft and several high-profile startups. The company has seven employees based in NBBJ's Seattle office.

The startup is in the process of raising venture financing and several prominent angel and super angel investors have already shown interest.

Visual Vocal will launch the beta version of its platform for exclusive use by NBBJ later in 2016, and NBBJ will pilot the Visual Vocal software on design projects for healthcare, corporate, and urban planning clients. At a later stage the tool will be made available to other companies in the architecture, engineering, and construction industries.

Founded in 1943, NBBJ has offices in Beijing, Boston, Columbus, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, New York, Pune, San Francisco, Seattle, and Shanghai. Clients include amongst many others Alibaba, Amazon, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Boeing, Cambridge University, Microsoft, Reebok, Samsung, Stanford University and Starbucks.