Arch Virtual Gives Madison Officials High-Tech Tour of StartingBlock

Last year, the yet-to-be-constructed entrepreneurial center StartingBlock Madison released renderings of the building it would occupy, helping to bring the project to life in the minds of many observers.

Earlier this week, StartingBlock presented another preview of the space, this time with an added dimension—literally.

At a meeting of Madison, WI’s municipal Plan Commission, whose duties include evaluating proposals for new buildings in the city, some of StartingBlock’s leaders gave the audience a kinetic, 3D look at its planned future home.

Scott Resnick, executive director of StartingBlock, says the virtual tour came about through a collaboration between two businesses based in the Madison area. One is American Family Insurance, which is developing an eight-story building called “The Spark” that would house StartingBlock.

The other, Arch Virtual, makes virtual reality software and tools for its customers. The company said in 2014 that it created a “virtual reality experience app” for the Oculus Rift in an effort to promote the NBA’s Sacramento Kings’ new arena. Some of Arch Virtual’s other clients include the carmaker Suzuki and the America’s Cup, which is perhaps the richest and most prestigious sailboat race series in the world.

“American Family was looking to source local, and was seeking innovative ways to incorporate Madison technology into the building project,” Resnick says.

Resnick narrated the tour but the person who controlled what the audience saw on video screens arrayed across the room, via an Oculus Rift viewer strapped to his head, was Alex King. King, a construction project consultant at American Family, moved his head up and down rotated his body 360 degrees while standing in place, giving onlookers a view in all directions. These movements caused the on-screen displays to shift accordingly, but thankfully were performed slowly to avoid giving the audience vertigo.

There was even an audio component—street noise recorded at the site where The Spark is to be built—but these sounds weren’t loud enough for many in the crowd to hear, Resnick says.

He says that he’s been unable to find another instance of virtual reality technology being used as part of a municipality’s land approval process.

The Plan Commission also voted unanimously to give a conditional building permit to The Spark, though that was widely expected.

Arch Virtual created the StartingBlock simulation using blueprints and other documentation that project leaders and contractors had on file, Resnick says. The company, co-founded by the married couple Jon and Kandy Brouchoud, also incorporated footage captured by a drone that Arch Virtual flew over the future construction site, Resnick says.

“This was essentially a glimpse into the future—an appetizer of what’s to come in building developments,” he says. “It’s been a very helpful tool to understand what we’re actually building.”

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