The Dream is real.
There’s an iconic scene in the mind-boggling movie Inception where Ariadne, the dreamer architect in charge of designing the mazes in which the inception would take place, bends the city in an physics-breaking way. In this scene, the whole urban fabric is transformed in real time with the thought of it, creating a paradoxical city where up is also down. Following this, while they stroll down the streets, she generates an on-demand bridge to cross a highway below. Finally, as they walk through the riverfront, Ariadne uses two mirrors to generate an infinite design loop that materialises as a huge bridge that spans kilometres across. At one point during the scenes she says:
“ I guess I thought the dream-space would be all about the visual, but it’s more about the feeling. My question is what happens when you start messing with the physics of it.” — Ariadne
The feeling Ariadne describes is what is called presence in virtual reality, the sensation of being in the digital realm or for this matter, being conscious in a dream. Before the current technological advancements that have made presence in virtual reality convincing to our senses, the recreation of this feeling could only be achieved via lucid dreaming or strong imaginative thinking. We could imagine how it would feel like and therefore represent it in movies and other mediums, but actually experiencing it was not really possible. City morphing, space bending and similar feats Doctor Strange could easily perform were therefore subject to movies and representations.
Experiencing glimpses of this feeling regarding the built environment in the real world requires the ability to lucid dream or special training in spatial thinking to effectively imagine it. Architects use different types of tools to adequately visualise and plan that feeling of space before its construction. We represent that space in papers, screens and models as drawings, perspectives, plans and 3D models in response to the impossibility of truly materialising the feeling of presence. The only way of actually materialising the feeling is by building the actual version. Don’t even think of stuff like city bending and transforming it in real time. But, with the maturation of virtual reality, this door is starting to slowly open.
Welcome the Space Benders.
“ Now, in a dream, our mind continuously does this. We create and perceive our world simultaneously, and our mind does this so well that we don’t even know it’s happening. That allows us to get right in the middle of that process.” — Cobb
So far in our architectural design process, the closest interaction with space before its final realisation has been with representations of it, call them drawings, plans, scale models, renders or even 1 to 1 mock ups. A great part of the architects role in this process is anticipating that future, how that space will be created and how it will feel and perform. The idea of designing space within the space, designing it while it materialises and projects its scale upon us was only relatively possible in very stringent conditions. With the dawn of virtual reality, first glimpses of designing space within space are starting to become real.
So, what happens when architects are given the ability to create and perceive space at the same time? How will his change the way we design and which new tools will become available?
In this new dreamlike playground, we will be able to feel the scale of space and interact with it simultaneously. Plan, section, model and space will be all integrated. This will become evident when, while drawing the building plan, it will start to get materialised around ourselves. The use of sections will greatly expand, becoming a tool to inspect every aspect of the building at every scale when matched with BIM. The design speed and iterations will greatly increase when partnered with AI aided design and this unknown future in which buildings were designed will dissipate. What will happen when these tools become massively available and the learning curve of them are close to zero? Essentially making anyone an architect or digital architect. How will this impact the profession of architecture?
As virtual reality technology advances and presence in the virtual world becomes indistinguishable from reality, a whole new concept of architecture and design will emerge. Is it necessary to build real life buildings if we have complete virtual worlds? Which ones will be indispensable? How will real ones be augmented? The potentials of a mixed reality will impact our concept of architecture, greatly expanding its domain.
The Mixed Reality.
The whole idea behind the design process is to anticipate how buildings will be produced, look, feel, operate, function, impact their context and thousands of other variables depending on the specifics of each project. Different buildings have different design challenges but in the end, the built form is the common denominator.
As virtual reality’s capabilities of fooling our senses comes to a 1 to 1 relationship, the design process will cease to be a representation of the future built form and true feeling of space will be achieved before construction. How will this change the conception of the real built environment? If we can simulate buildings close to perfection, it means we can integrate certain functions into the virtual world, or even expand functions without physical constraints.
What could also happen if we achieve a 1 to 1 relationship regarding thought, design and materialisation in the virtual world? Something similar to Inception, where our mind thinks and the space is formed, basically a program that translates our thoughts into space. Will the skill of future architects will focus on the ability to ‘morph’ and ‘imagine’ in real time the built form rather than actually building it?
All these futuristic factors won’t eliminate the profession but will change it and certainly, expand it. We will still have room for the traditional architecture because there are micro-spheres everywhere and the world advances at different paces, but there will be a new frontier of architects dealing directly with this concept of virtual design. Definitely the digital world is penetrating into the physical. And the digital is also real in its own way.