How One Bennett Park Sold Me on Virtual Reality in Real Estate

I consider myself a tech-savvy guy.  I had an e-mail address before there was an internet.  When I leave my house, robots wake up and clean my floors.  Thanks to a homebrew home automation system, I haven’t touched a light switch in a year.  Even the eggs in my refrigerator are networked, and send me text messages when they’re going to expire.  But I could never get behind the notion that strapping a cell phone to my face would make me want to buy a home.

That changed today.

Today is the day I opened a media packet from Taylor Johnson, the suburban PR firm that for the last year has been racking up real estate and architecture clients like a Michael Phelps racks up Olympic medals.  The packet was a promotion for One Bennett Park, the new residential tower with the asynchronous design going up along the Streeterville shoreline.

One Bennett Park mailer

One Bennett Park mailer

We get lots of mail (e- and otherwise) about new buildings around the world.  For some reason many of them contain carpet swatches or little discs of granite and marble illustrating the finishes available.  This one is different, though.  Zipping open the One Bennett Park promotion reveals…

One Bennett Park's origami virtual reality viewer

One Bennett Park’s origami virtual reality viewer

…an origami virtual reality viewer.

For months the real estate press has been stating that 2017 is going to be the year of V.R. for real estate.  They said the same thing in 2016 and 2015, so I took no heed.  I’m not going to plonk down $1,000 for my own V.R. headset, and I’m far too lazy to turn Google’s free cardboard DIY kit into something usable.  But if Related Midwest, the developer of One Bennett Park, is going to spend the money to shove one up my mail slot, I’ll at least give it a try.

The assembled One Bennett Park virtual reality viewer, ready to be loaded with a smart phone

The assembled One Bennett Park virtual reality viewer, ready to be loaded with a smart phone

Though there were no assembly instructions, thanks to my caffeine dependency and experience with thousands of Starbucks’ origami disposable coffee brewers, I had the IKEA-fu needed to fold tab A into slot B and make the V.R. viewer virtually a reality.  All it needed was a smart phone tuned to the right web address.

One Bennett Park virtual reality viewer loaded and ready to go.

Bingo! One Bennett Park virtual reality viewer loaded and ready to go

Bending the sides outward to make room for my Harry Caray-grade spectacles, I slotted my schnoz into the space provided, and peered through the tiny illuminated circles to reveal…

One Bennett Park's virtual reality doesn't fark around

One Bennett Park’s virtual reality doesn’t fark around

Charlie Brown’s earmuffs! There, spread out before me, was downtown Chicago on a perfect sunny day.  And every movement I made — every sway, every twitch — was perfectly tracked by the image before my eyes sprawling toward the horizon.

I’ve been on the roofs of a couple dozen Chicago skyscrapers, and if there had been the faint sound of taxis honking and the crunch of uneven paving stones underfoot, it would be exactly the same sensation.

The default view is from the 66th floor of exactly where One Bennett Park is going up at 451 East Grand Avenue.  With the V.R. kit on my noggin, I could see exactly what the view would be.  What buildings would block it (none), how far I’d be able to see on a nice day (very), and I could think to myself, “what a great view for a breakfast nook.”

The illusion is created by projecting two similar, but not identical, images onto your eyeballs.  The differences in the images makes them appear to be a virtual three-dimensional landscape.  And the motion tracking adds the “reality” secret sauce.

Virtual reality's secret sauce

Virtual reality’s secret sauce

Even though from a technical standpoint, I was just looking at a web page, the flawlessness of the experience made it feel real.  I looked left, and Monroe Harbor compliantly slid into view.  I looked up, and clouds drifted by.  I looked down 66 stories to my impending doom, and I think I had a wee.

Fortunately, looking down brings into view a pair of arrows which allow you to control the experience.  Gaze at the left arrows, and you’re transported down to the more rational height of the 44th floor to get an idea of how things would look from there (safer, but more obstructed).

But you don’t need the origami VR goggles in order to view the views from One Bennett Park.  Just point your web browser to, and you can see the city on your computer.  Even better — your views aren’t limited to the 66th and 44th floors.  On your computer you can step down to any floor in between and see how the view (and obstructions) change.  It’s a great tool if you’re wondering if it’s worth an extra $10k to step up one floor, or if that’s something you can economize on.

The virtual view north from One Bennett Park's not-yet-built 66th floor

The virtual view north from One Bennett Park’s not-yet-built 66th floor

Views are sacred in downtown Chicago.  People go to court over them.  Having a tool like this to show a potential condo owner what their view would be could absolutely be a deal-maker.

So, is 2017 finally real estate’s year for V.R.?  Probably not.  But if you’re firm isn’t equipped with headsets for 2018, then let’s hope you enjoy ramen noodles and unemployment lines.  Those are virtually going to be your reality.

One Bennett Park virtual view

One more view. Because… why not?

Location: 451 East Grand Avenue, Streeterville

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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