Imagine walking into a hospital looking for a surgical suite visitors' lounge, only to be confused by the maze of corridors and signs pointing in various directions, and then noticing a computer kiosk with a sign saying “Find Your Way.” Hitting any key calls up a map with the lounge clearly marked, and clicking on that mark brings up a photograph that enables you to virtually tour that surgical suite and surrounding areas. That is one promise of a new type of architectural photography I have been developing since 1996. No, it is not “virtual reality”-I call it “immersive imagery,” because it immerses the viewer into an environment and enables him or her to examine that environment extensively.

Without going into great technical detail, I'll explain that the process begins with capturing still images with a 35-mm digital camera mounted upon a specially designed tripod head. These images are then “stitched” together, creating a panoramic flattened file (Figures 1 and 2), allowing us to perform the necessary digital editing. These flattened files are then programmed to produce a spherical environment, placing the viewer inside the sphere at the center. The viewer thus becomes immersed in the environment and can maneuver around the space by simply moving the computer mouse.

Flattened, panoramic view of the Phoenix Children's Hospital lobby. This “spherical” image allows the online viewer to look around the lobby and up to the ceiling. Inset is a two-dimensional image that can be exported from the immersive program for use in print media

Flattened, panoramic view of the surgical suite at the Vail Valley Medical Center, Vail, Colorado. This “spherical” image can also be exported for display as a standard photograph

This type of imagery offers many options for viewers and clients alike. For example, consider the patients or end users who find themselves perplexed when looking at plan drawings or renderings. They can be “walked through” a hospital in three dimensions. They can look 360 degrees around and 90 degrees up or down, and zoom toward and away from various details that catch their attention. They can travel between different rooms and corridors and can even select “hot spots”-designated areas that can trigger features that play back live sounds, audio commentary, still images, text pages, or streaming video relating to the area “visited.” The viewer is immersed in the environment and, at the same time, receives additional information about the space or services provided.

Not only can architects use this imagery in presentations and on Web sites to describe their designs in three-dimensional detail, but they also can export two-dimensional files from the spherical image to use in brochures, have prints made, or use with PowerPoint or Web-based presentations; the shots are of high-end architectural photographic quality.

Phoenix Children's Hospital neonatal ICU

Design by Karlsberger Companies

Phoenix Children's Hospital neonatal ICU

In viewing Phoenix Children's Hospital (also see p. 46), one can, for example, visit a water feature through the glazing, notice natural light falling on it, and then tilt upward to its source (i.e., windows in the ceiling). Zooming closer to the ceiling, one notices that turquoise-colored pieces of cut glass have been implanted into it to reflect the incoming sunlight; zooming back out shows the full effect.

Future uses of this technology are just beginning to become clear. Consider the possibilities for the wayfinding function mentioned earlier-as you “travel” to the surgical suite, for example, you can stop at various places to examine a particular piece of art or view the food court. Click on a designated “hot spot” within the food court, and the menu and specials of the day appear before you. Not only can you find your way to a particular physician's office, but you can also view his office hours. Using immersive imagery, you've acclimated yourself to the hospital without ever leaving the lobby.
Shaw Regional Cancer Center chemotherapy

Design by HLM Design

Shaw Regional Cancer Center chemotherapy

Brenner Children's Hospital patient room

Design by Stanley Beaman & Sears

Brenner Children's Hospital patient room

For a sampling of immersive imagery at work, visit the HEALTHCARE DESIGN Web site at, or visit On the latter site, you will find a hot link for downloading Apple QuickTime Player to activate the system, if you don't have it already. HD

Gary Knight is president of Gary Knight + Associates, Inc., a photographic and new media studio with extensive experience photographing the healthcare sector, based in Atlanta, Georgia.

For further information, phone (404) 888-9599, e-mail, or visit

Healthcare Design 2003 May;3(2):79-80