Tech wall centerpiece of collaborative space


A panel of a dozen 50-inch screens make up an interactive digital wall that can help real estate professionals with their demonstrations. Photo by Mike Nichols

Even though commercial real estate space in Grand Rapids is filling up, the digital real estate landscape has endless acres.

When Holland-based Haworth Inc. and Rockford Development opened Blue35 as a collaborative workspace in downtown Grand Rapids in early February 2014, the centerpiece of the space was its Bluescape technology, a jointly owned collaboration between Haworth and Obscura Digital, located in California.

Over the course of the last year, Bluescape, a cloud-based platform for real-time collaboration that involves a panel of 12 50-inch screens that make up an interactive digital wall, has impacted how real estate business is conducted, both on the eighth floor of 35 Oakes St. SW in downtown and throughout the community.

“From a real estate occupancy cost, it really does save people money. The goal of this building is collaboration at its core,” said Mike Mraz, vice president of real estate development at Rockford Development.

“GRid 70, right next door, was really designed for design professionals in various companies, so we have Amway, Steelcase, Wolverine Worldwide and Mercy Health there. Really, those shared conference spaces are private just to those companies, whereas Blue35 is open — it’s open to anybody at any time.”

At a Commercial Alliance of Realtors West Michigan breakfast Jan. 20 at Blue35, Rockford Development and Blue35 demonstrated the use of the Bluescape wall, and explored its practicality as a solution to local real estate needs.

Blue35 is currently the only location in the world where this kind of technology is available to rent, said Mraz.

Sarah Abel, conference and program manager at Blue35, added that pre-session training is available and onsite staff are always available to assist.

“(One of the benefits of) Bluscape is that you have potentially endless real estate to fill. This is 160 acres of digital landscape, and once we fill this, we can start a different work session, so it’s literally endless,” she said.

“That brainstorming session you have when you flip the last sheet of paper and you kind of think, ‘Well, we’re out of paper so we’re out of ideas’ — that does not happen on this platform.”

With an organization inspired by orchestra scores, the digital wall truly looks as if it is part of the world of Marvel Comics. Infrared sensors behind mounted screens allow 10 people to use the wall at the same time by tracing commands with their fingers and a specialized marker. Images from multiple computers can also be cast onto the screen, allowing for content to be uploaded and streamed from practically anywhere on the planet.

The technology has helped showcase Rockford’s projects and portfolio for clients, Mraz said. Using a digital whiteboard allows the company to not just present more real estate spaces in a dynamic, interactive way, but also allows for clients to respond with their own input.

“From a presentation perspective, especially on the real estate side, it’s really easy to pull up a map and draw on maps. Let’s say if you’re doing a site selection, you can have six different projects all up here at the same time, so a client can look at it all and write the pros and cons and work together on that, (instead of) flipping through a book,” he said.

“Some of our senior planners draw live during a meeting. We’ll be talking about a particular site, and he’ll be back on his iPad already planning it, and (then) uploads it to the screen. And the ‘wow factor’ is there because it’s done in real time. It’s pretty powerful.”

Abel said she could see this kind of technology becoming a real estate norm, with a smaller residential version using a household computer and television screen. While that house has yet to be built, someday whoever does build it may have designed it on Bluescape.

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