When Avalara Hawk Tower, part of a $350 million development in Seattle that overlooks CenturyLink Field, was still just a vacant lot, prospective tenants could get a view of the city from the top floor, peering 240 feet down into the stadium where the Seahawks and the Sounders play. The vantage point offered views of Pioneer Square, the ferry terminal and Elliott Bay beyond. Snow-capped Mount Rainier, the highest mountain in the Cascade Range, loomed in the distance.
The experience was thanks to augmented reality technology, which the site’s developer, American Life, used to give potential tenants a feel for the completed building before the first brick was laid. The strategy paid off: The entire 200,000-square-foot office tower was leased before it opened in early 2018.
The technology “could take us up to the 18th floor and show us the view out to Mount Rainier or over Puget Sound,” said Karen Sherwood, a vice president for corporate experience at Avalara, a tax automation software company that occupies the top six floors of the building.
“We could understand what it would be like to stand inside our office and look out the windows, or on the deck and look over CenturyLink Field, all while standing in a dusty, empty lot,” she said.
Virtual and augmented reality has been widely popular in entertainment, including V.R. consoles like PlayStation VR and A.R. games like Pokemon Go, but their use has lagged in commercial real estate. Only recently have developers, architects, brokers, and builders started to use the technologies as a way to save money and time in two aspects of large commercial real estate projects: leasing and construction.
In a 2018 survey of 500 commercial real estate investors, nearly half of them felt that V.R. and A.R. should be a priority for commercial real estate companies, according to the consulting firm Deloitte.
Worldwide spending on augmented and virtual reality products and services is expected to reach $12.1 billion in 2018, a 38.4 percent increase from 2017, according to the International Data Corporation.
V.R. creates a fully immersive digital world that users explore wearing goggles. It is more widely adopted than A.R., thanks to the growing popularity of virtual reality video games and the military’s use of the technology for training simulations.