How 92Y Is Using Virtual Reality To Look Into The Future

What’s the best way to imagine how an organization can better serve the community? See how it would actually look.

The 92nd Street Y might be a 143-year-old organization housed in a nearly 100-year-old building in New York, but they think globally, launching civic-minded movements like #GivingTuesday, Seven Days of Genius, and the Social Good Summit. (As of May, their Center for Innovation and Social Impact is now called the Belfer Center, in honor of the family behind a $15 million grant that will help them continue that mission.)


Now, to re-think how their brick and mortar space might better serve the local community, the center has made the building itself a tech test case. They’ve partnered with Click 3X, the digital creative studio that’s done work for Grey Goose, Geico, and LEGO to create a 360-degree virtual reality tour of how their complex could be redone. “A lot of the way we use digital helped us become more global,” says executive director Henry Timms. “Now we’ve started to think about how digital can help us become more local.”

To do that, the group first asked people actually using their space what was missing or should be improved. Answers ranged from more ergonomic seating and task lighting, to a proper place to host events, which lead to the thought of converting an unused fourth floor terrace into a mini High Line Park. Click 3X shot the current space using a Nokia OZO camera, and then layered in animations of futuristic conversions populated by people they shot against a green screen. The interactive video is only available in-house, and requires Oculus Rift to view, but here’s a preview of the non-immersive view of the experience from just one angle:

Timms considers this exercise similar to author Peter Simms philosophy about making little bets—Sims actually wrote a book called Little Bets about the joy of taking small risks that yield unexpected payoffs. “These are all experiments about how to think differently about creating community and connecting with people,” Timms says. It’s still low stakes. While the building probably needs to be remodeled, there’s no capitol campaign for that just yet. Instead, Timms has taken the what-if blueprint and shown it to board members and their emerging leadership council as a new kind of conversation starter. As the feedback is incorporated into the next vision, and the next one, he expects people will become even more excited and build on each other’s ideas. “It’s helped people imagine us in a new way,” Timms says. “It kind of reset our possibility of what is next.”

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Reimagined Spaces: Click 3X. Other Photos: 92Y

Correction: This article originally stated that 92Y’s headquarters was 143 years old. It’s old, but not that old: The building was constructed 86 years ago.


About the author

Ben Paynter is a senior writer at Fast Company covering social impact, the future of philanthropy, and innovative food companies. His work has appeared in Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the New York Times, among other places.