Metaverse, is it really the end of boundaries for architects?
Everyone talks about the Metaverse, but hardly anyone agrees on what it is. For now, it remains enigmatic, however it seems its ambiguity is a strength, as a new article or video appears on this topic every day, trying to convince people that the Metaverse will inevitably soon be a part of our lives. daily. Architects and designers are essential parties to the ongoing discussion, as spatial innovation requires the Internet to be redesigned as a 3D environment.
When architects think within the confines of real-life architecture, their initial response to this new universe is to celebrate the “limitless possibilities” of the Metaverse. Leon Rost, director of BIG, says that in the Metaverse, ” structure, materiality and cost all go out the window ,” while Rashed Singaby, senior project designer at HOK, believes that ” between designing for the metaverse and take advantage of its capabilities, the potential is almost limitless”. The metaverse seems like a light at the end of the tunnel as a limitless realm for architects, who often design as if resources were infinite in recent decades and are now forced to restrict their imagination due to the current environmental and economic crisis. However, the construction of a virtual environment -experienced simultaneously by the masses- still has its limits, such as budget, gravity or materials, rather than being an unlimited domain.
Budget, still the main issue
Since the buildings and environment will not be physically built in the Metaverse, architects can free themselves from contractors, project management teams, and cranky clients who complain about budgets. However, this time, free from all the previous troublesome parts, the architects will still be part of a team to create virtual habitats, with UI-UX designers, software developers, and coders also needing time and money to build a virtual environment. .
Dr. Tuna Çakar, an AR-VR researcher at the Department of Computer Engineering at MEF University, reminds us that the financial issue remains one of the important constraints, especially if the architectural designs for the Metaverse become more interactive and personalized. . If the architecture does not use the possibilities of new technologies, such as big data, AI and AR/VR, then the opportunity is lost. But if architectural design is combined with programming, coding, or computing, it becomes more challenging in terms of time and budget. While architects tend to ignore money issues in the Metaverse, designing a virtual universe can be just as expensive as a physical one.
Copy of real life or a new universe?
Although the Metaverse was presented as a new digital universe full of opportunities, the main actions of this new domain, at this time, with the rapid rise of cryptocurrencies, are almost similar to our daily lives: shopping and business. Whether buying land or clothing, the main activity of the existing metaverses is mainly buying or selling. Even the parcelling systems of this new kingdom, a virtual map divided into grids, duplicate the cartographic methods used for centuries. For some, the Metaverse will be a copy of real life, including all the details and imperfections that real goods have. But, does it make sense to spend so much energy and time creating a copy of the existing one? Or can we find new ways to inhabit a vast and desolate universe instead of replicating our planning traditions or real-world ambitions, of which we have already seen unsavory results across the planet?
Teddy Bergsman, co-founder of Quixel, a company that aims to scan the entire world to create compelling digital environments, says the digital world needs to be rebuilt by scanning real objects for more immersive habitats . Since the main idea behind creating immersive virtual worlds is to trick our brains into believing that what we see is real, the company’s goal of scanning, say, every rock in Utah’s canyons is legitimate to some degree. But what if the main trigger for people to continue with their daily activities in the digital realm is not similarity to real life, but “newness and uniqueness”?
We are still early in the Metaverse, and this demand for realistic environments does not reflect virtual trends around the world, says Alper Özyurtlu, co-founder of Timelooper , a company that creates virtual environments for clients internationally. Özyurtlu adds that while customers in the Americas expect ideas based on more realistic virtual habitats, expectations change radically in countries like Japan or South Korea, where customers are constantly looking for novelty, innovation and unprecedented digital atmospheres instead of replicas. from the real world.
When it comes to our bodies in the digital realm, being extraordinary is a general trend for users, regardless of their location. Our bodies, as avatars, will be represented in the Metaverse, using all the flexibility and variety that technology gives us. Unlike virtual buildings, avatars go beyond the limits of the imagination. Paradoxically, your unique avatar with fanciful wings or a giant monster head could meet friends at a virtual but ordinary camp. They then climb into a virtual tree house, presented as precisely a duplication of their real-life version, initially designed almost centuries ago. Architecture in the virtual world seems to take longer to adapt to ongoing technological changes than in other fields, as well as in real life. But sooner or later, it needs to be rebuilt considering the new technologies ofAI , VR , blockchain or big data.
The experts who want to duplicate the real world in the Metaverse have neuroscientific explanations. Recent research shows that our brain perceives new images by relating them to past experiences. So even if you don’t need a door in the digital world to enter a space, or pillars on a bridge to cross, we still need to use these real elements to convince our brain, at least in the transition phase. But of course, while the Metaverse isn’t necessarily based on architectural traditions, it creates its own rules for the game. Why would anyone walk down a long boardwalk, or up a modern subway ramp if there is the ability to teleport? With current technology, teleportation is an action that limits the spatial experience, since it is a button that directs your avatar from one point to another without being able to reflect the route. However, it is implausible to walk long distances, with a headset, in a closed space.
Gravity, only when necessary
Gravity binds architects. Many times dreams of exceptional architecture need to be tamed and grounded when structural engineers join the discussion. The architects are glad there is no gravity in the Metaverse, however gravity is another tool to trick our brains into thinking the virtual environment is real. Even in our dreams, gravity is one of the most substantial feelings. People with a fear of heights can’t walk down a catwalk and jump off a 50-story building in a virtual reality demowhere users who manage to cross and jump over the plank have a real feeling of falling. So a bridge in the Metaverse can have thinner columns, since there’s no intervening structural engineer and no geological conditions to worry about. However, it still needs railings to keep people from falling. Also, as Galina Balashova, designer of the Soviet Soyuz spacecraft, said, it is very difficult for an architect to design spaces as if there were zero gravity . Gravity, which complicates things when building in real life, is an important rule when creating the faces of digital life.
The main architectural dilemma in the Metaverse is that if the digital built environment has to mimic reality in order to fool the users’ brains, then it has to be designed as if there were real-life constraints, such as gravity and weather conditions, that They don’t exist in the digital realm. Therefore, rendering details and textures of a virtual environment that will be visited by thousands of people is much more challenging.
Additionally, there is an ongoing discussion about how the energy needed to generate realistic multi-user environments will be produced without further harming the planet. While the result is virtual, the Metaverse will still need to tap into vast resources unless it is designed with a mindful approach, starting from scratch. Considering how much power each render requires from CPU fans, the digital rendering of virtual architecture needs to be rethought for a better future for the planet.
Instead of welcoming this new universe as a borderless territory that will only help hasten the existing crises the planet currently has, the architects have the opportunity to create a hybrid universe of legacy images emerging for this new realm. Unless we as architects find a new language that doesn’t require huge resources, in collaboration with software developers and engineers, the same limitations of real-life architecture will continue to prevail in the Metaverse.
In the first semester of 2022, Sevince Bayrak tutored the ARC 402 Diploma Design / Architecture Design VIII course at the MEF University College of Arts, Design and Architecture and chose the Metaverse topic. All images in this article are from student work produced for this course at MEF FADA .