VIRTUAL REALITY BRIDGING THE GAP OF EMOTIONAL CONNECTION

Max Schramp

Experiencing virtual reality (VR) was previously limited to reading books, watching television or movies, and experiencing one’s own imagination. Whether it was through the “OASIS” from Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One or directly embedded in your subconscious like Christopher Nolan’s Inception, people have been fascinated by the concept of alternate realities where anything is rendered possible.

A common trope among all examples of such environments is that these realities are generally accessed through some form of game platform. I’m willing to bet there’s a whole generation of architecture students who, when asked why they chose this their field, would respond “Minecraft.” Not only is Minecraft the world’s best-selling, with more than 176 million copies sold, it is also widely considered to be the perfect sandbox game.

“Sandbox” is synonymous with the genre “Open World”, which according to Wikipedia can be defined as “a level or game designed as nonlinear” i.e. “open areas with many ways to reach an objective.” For years Minecraft existed without any storyline or objectives, but as a virtual universe where players created their own narrative. This poses the question: How does a low-resolution world of cubes with no objective or narrative keep people of all ages immersed for years? For me, the answer is an emotional connection. Experiences with other humans in real-time that harness multiple senses are the key to compelling immersion.

Virtual Connection

Over the past year, a group of friends and I have organized three “virtual festivals” in Minecraft. Our group grew up playing hours upon hours of the game during our formative years, while concurrently pursuing careers in electronic music. As we became more established artists in the electronic scene, we realized there was a clear gap in our community: it’s financially impossible for a community of international, independent musicians and fans to meet up in the same place at the same time and perform.

Using our knowledge of Minecraft, we collectively “hacked” a version of the game that would allow us to create a music festival. We built a virtual world that involved not only stages, but an entire environment to explore. This included various sculptural works, houses, carnivals, city streets, and even an art gallery featuring visual artists from our community. We asked artists to record sets and stand on the stage, “DJ’ing” in front of the crowd of virtual characters, who listened to the audio “in real life” streamed through an external website. All our marketing material was parallel to that of real-world music festivals, the exception being that the entire event took place in a virtual world.

Most people can relate to the feeling of getting goosebumps when they witness their favourite artist live, surrounded by hundreds of people experiencing the same feeling. We successfully recreated this phenomenon within a virtual reality for the over 100,000 people who attended our events. This has many implications for the future of performance art and the integrations of architecture.

VR and Architecture

There have already been multiple derivative events, but now there is now proof that virtual experiences don’t belong strictly in art galleries. As virtual reality becomes more accessible, will architects be able to immediately integrate international communities into their work? Why couldn’t millions of people attend the largest sermon in the world, all from their own home? How would one go about designing a cathedral, a temple or a mosque, for millions of people to experience? Without the limitations of physics or budget, how would the formation of spaces change? When speculative architecture has a feasible platform to exist, will it?

Applications of virtual reality in the field of architecture are still far from their full potential. Walkthroughs with VR headsets can engage with our visual senses, but truly experiencing architecture is more than that. How can we as occupants engage emotionally with the virtual representations of the built environment? How can we as architects simulate or encourage human interaction while in a virtual world? These are questions that will push the field and the technology further, as the possibilities remain infinite within virtual space.

DESIGN DISRUPTION

David Premi

Rendering of a proposed streetscape by dpai.

Historically, disruption has been associated with bad behaviour; we all remember those disruptive students at school. But today it has evolved to have a different meaning. From a business or organizational perspective, “disruption” is defined as changing the traditional way that an entity operates, especially in a new and effective way.

Disruption is now ubiquitous. Profound transformations in industries such as transportation, hospitality and music continue to occur through disruptions sparked by Uber, Airbnb and Spotify. The design industry is no exception. Tradition must be challenged if a design process is to be robust. 

Creating a virtual reality

Today, designers can create functional, virtual replicas of their projects, neighbourhoods and cities. These virtual models can be navigated in 2D or visitors can be immersed in virtual reality. Bus schedules, tree species, existing built fabric, complete with materials and textures, and an accurate daily cycle of the sun’s path can be embedded into these models. Cars and pedestrians roam the streets based on actual traffic data. Soon we will be able to include dynamic computer simulated wind, air quality, and temperature data to assess the environmental impacts of a change to the built fabric.

Unlike the cumbersome, expensive and time-consuming practice of wind tunnel testing, unlimited iterations of a proposed building or park can be studied “live” with this technology. Designers can see the impacts of their design as it is in its virtual context. Through web sharing of the model, the visual and environmental impacts can be experienced dynamically by many groups of people simultaneously. Public consensus at this scale could have a profound impact on any political issues surrounding a proposal.

Disrupting traditional processes

As a public engagement tool, this technology has the capacity to seriously disrupt both the traditional development and planning processes. Imagine a proposed building, twice the height permitted by zoning, is empirically and publicly demonstrated to have only positive impacts. Conversely, what if a permitted height is shown to have unacceptable impacts, pressuring developers to reduce the density on which the economics of a development were based? Land values could be affected on a hyper-local level.

Could virtual reality hold the answer to a truly democratic and participatory urban design process?

A RENDERED WORLD

Jamie Schneider

Render by Tim Stephens

Studying a map is a great way to understand relationships between geographic areas. Spinning around a globe (remember those?) and seeing these areas in a relative way is even better.

Our world has been changed by technology. With GPS based 3D satellite map environments, we have access to an immersive and increasingly accurate perception of the real world. The same is now true for designers who convey perceptions to the people who will inhabit these spaces.

It seems like gone are the days of the ‘pin-up’ at the local library. Thanks to the adoption of building information modelling we have much greater power to communicate our ideas effectively. It is up to us to figure out ways to leverage these new capabilities to achieve the desired outcomes.

In a recent article by Tim Stephens, a Digital Innovation Lead, Registered Architect and Associate Principal at Jasmax, visual imaging is discussed along with his learnings of the tool.

Read the full article here.

With the latest technologies, we are producing higher quality visualizations through our design process, faster than ever before. With the growing ease of producing ‘photo-realistic’ visual outputs, comes the risk of miss-managing the design process with our clients.


Tim Stephens, a Digital Innovation Lead, Registered Architect and Associate Principal at Jasmax