Pocketing the Future: This Innovator is Making VR and AR More Accessible

Adam Chernick

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Adam Chernick is on a mission to bring sophisticated 360-degree architectural renderings to the hands of anyone with a smart device.  

As firm-wide design technology specialist based in HOK’s New York studio, he explores potential new applications for virtual reality, augmented reality and adjacent technologies such as hand recognition and 360-degree photography.

Chernick’s ingenuity has spawned the development of HOK VR, a free mobile app available for Apple and Android devices. The app comes pre-loaded with 360-degree renderings of two HOK projects so users can experience the panoramic view on their smartphones or by placing their devices in a VR headset such as Google Cardboard.

Version 2 of the app, expected to go live this fall, will enable the firm’s designers to upload new architectural visualizations, which clients can view and download by entering a unique access code.

“Our clients will be able to carry their projects in their pockets so they can review and OK a design anywhere,” says Chernick. “The app will also support collaborative VR meetings so projects teams and clients can refine a project design in real time.”

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Building a 3-D Career

Chernick’s ascent to the forefront of architectural technology began in a high school geometry class. His fascination with cubes, cylinders and spheres attracted him to geometric styles of art, which led him to enroll in the environmental design program at the University of Colorado Boulder.

During his freshman year, Chernick’s career path came into clearer focus when a local architect spoke to one of his classes and described Building Information Modeling (BIM) as “the future of architecture.”

“That night, I downloaded Revit and started learning it,” Chernick says. “It was one of the most beneficial things I’ve ever done.”

BIM proficiency earned Chernick several immediate opportunities to help local architecture firms transition from two-dimensional (Autocad) to three-dimensional (Revit) software platforms. 

But he had his sights set on grander horizons, choosing to pursue a master’s degree in architecture at Pratt Institute School of Architecture in Brooklyn, N.Y. There, his mastery of 3-D modeling software naturally progressed to an exploration of VR and AR technology. “I watched hundreds of YouTube tutorials and realized that AR is actually a lot more accessible than most people think, which was incredibly eye opening for me,” he says.   

Chernick’s passion for technology impressed a fellow graduate student, who worked for HOK and paved the way for him to interview for a position there. He joined the firm in 2016 as a design professional/BIM coordinator, providing technical support to the project team overseeing the interior design of the GroupM global headquarters, a 14-floor office located in the 3 World Trade Center tower.

Outside the office, Chernick built mobile VR and AR applications and developed a business case for translating his hobby to a full-time role at HOK.

“I approached our design tech leadership and pitched them my ideas for building custom applications for our clients,” he says. “It ended up being a really great opportunity to create a new role within our firm-wide team.” 

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Envisioning the Future

Chernick views his role as an opportunity to extend the reach and impact of the photo-realistic building visualizations produced by HOK’s in-house visualization specialists.

“It’s wasteful not to squeeze as much value out of the 3D model as we possibly can,” Chernick says. “Through augmented reality, we can share our 3D model with clients and let them explore it in a new and novel way. It gives them a spatial understanding of a project that they’ve never experienced before.” 

Beyond the wow factor, Chernick says VR and AR have bottom-line implications. “If clients can understand what we’re trying to build faster, then we can identify and solve problems quicker and ultimately save them money,” he says.

And those benefits can extend to everyone in the A/E/C industry. “Right now, when you hand a set of documents to a subcontractor, they have to flip through 30 sheets of complex drawings just to understand what’s going on spatially,” Chernick says. “Dropping a 3D model on a table with an iPad allows them to really explore it, which could cut hours or days off their schedule.”

A sizable portion of Chernick’s job involves writing code, and he’s currently expanding his skillset by completing a full-stack web development programming course at Columbia University.

As he continues exploring potential new technology applications, Chernick believes the processing limitations of today’s smart devices are his greatest challenge. “My constant battle is figuring out how to optimize our models to make them as light as possible so phones can handle them,” he says.

But he predicts future mobile devices will support increasingly sophisticated technology applications.

“We’re at the calm before the storm,” Chernick says. “Hardware is going to continue to get better, opening the doors and windows to more realistic virtual building environments.”  

Download HOK VR on the App Store.

Download HOK VR on Google Play.

HOK is a current Plotlines client. 

 Chernick and his brother catch Dungeness crabs off the coast of Seattle, where they grew up.

Chernick and his brother catch Dungeness crabs off the coast of Seattle, where they grew up.