Diversions 2020: A Virtual Art Gallery

In the Gensler Houston office, we have been hosting an annual art event since 2014 that showcases the creative “diversions” of our fellow coworkers. Employees are encouraged to submit their personal work and passion projects – nothing Gensler or client related – and our office-turned-art-gallery typically displays everything from traditional art mediums to furniture, handcrafted jewelry, baked goods and infused alcohols.  Diversions has grown to become one of our best cultural and inspirational office events each year because it allows us to learn more about our coworkers and see their creative talents and passions firsthand.

Only a few months after we moved into our new office, the news of the pandemic hit and we all went home. Most of us haven’t been back since. Fast forward to September, we are still at home and we realize that our beloved Diversions celebration may not happen this year – a year when we need inspiration and culture the most.

We decided we weren’t going to let COVID-19’s cancel culture take this one, so we set off to make it virtual. Despite working from home, this year’s gallery was designed to virtually showcase the art in our own Houston Office with over 100 pieces in 20 different mediums.

To enter our virtual office gallery, click on the photo below. To learn more about how we made it, keep reading.

Click Image to Enter Virtual Diversions 2020

The Making of Virtual Diversions

Challenge: Create a virtual art gallery inside the Houston Office where people can interact with the art, read information about it and possibly link to websites where the user can find out more about the artist or maker.

There are many ways to make a virtual art experience. We knew we wanted the user to see the artwork displayed throughout the office and we had a pretty good 3D model started, so that step was mostly out of the way. Then we needed to figure out how we could allow the user to interact with the art so that they could get a good close-up view of each piece and read a few facts or quick description about the art.

This took a bit more thinking and experimentation. We tried a few different mechanisms for dealing with this and eventually ended up using the service Yulio to create a 360 interactive virtual tour of the office. We ‘hung’ the artwork in our 3D model, exported 360 panoramic images, uploaded those images to the Yulio website and added all the custom notes and photos to create the full experience. We ended up doing it this way primarily because it was the easiest way to share a virtual experience with a simple weblink; however, on the way there we developed a more experimental version.

Walking and interacting with art in Unreal Engine

Using unreal engine, a game/experience development software, we added interactivity to our 3D model elements and created an experience that allows the user to freely walk around the office and interact with the artwork in a similar but more custom and personal way. This interactivity was created using the Blueprints system in Unreal Engine which is a type of visual programming similar to Grasshopper for Rhino. Utilizing this workflow allows us to reuse these blueprint scripts in future projects. This R&D brings us closer to being able to deliver this type of custom experience to our clients which will allow them to engage in a more unique way with their projects.

Quick look at player character blueprints system in Unreal Engine

This type of experience could manifest in many different ways including a training experience where clients can take new employees through the building, show them around or train them how to use specific equipment. We could also create an experience that takes a potential tenant through a new development, highlighting the amenities and possible floor plan layouts. From a design perspective, we can create custom experiences for proposals that tell an interactive story where each stakeholder can freely walk around and discover the design in a truly exploratory way. 

While you’re in the exhibit don’t forget to check out my mandala art on display!

Angela Palmer Mandala Gallery 360 Panoramic

The Diversions Team

Design Technologist: Angela Palmer & Bryan Brady 

PR: Nina Miller, Shaina Pherigo, Katelyn Howard

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