Architecture is vital to human life. It is the world we live in. Each era in human history has been defined by its own architectural styles and the monuments they gave rise to. Slow-moving though it may be, architecture is a field that’s used to changing styles and trends. However, this is going to be architecture’s biggest update yet:
The metaverse is an immersive digital world that both mirrors physical reality and breaks out of its constraints. And nowhere is its revolutionary possibility more evident than in its architecture.
Online reality is not a new concept, as users of the popular ‘Second Life’ game can attest. However, the metaverse is unique in its timing. The COVID-19 pandemic created an unignorable need for robust digital infrastructure that can act as a stable alternative to an increasingly unstable reality. This realisation attracted the funding and thinking minds that are the force behind the metaverse. However, interest hasn’t declined since social distancing has — more workers, educators, artists, and fans are seeing the ongoing benefits of the metaverse.
Imagine work from home that didn’t exclude anyone from an office’s social life, collaboration possibilities and amenities. Imagine an office that had no commute, minimal overhead costs, and could be accessed equally from anywhere in the world. Both of these imagine one thing — a metaverse office. And this is just one example of the possibilities — schools, colleges, museums, concert halls, monuments, and places of worship — are all getting metaverse reboots.
If you can see it in the real world, chances are someone’s working on the metaverse counterpart. This, and the complete novelty of the metaverse, means it is virgin territory. Not only does the ecosystem of metaverses need thousands of buildings, the word ‘building’ itself needs to be rethought entirely. After all, the metaverse is not just another trend; it’s a new medium. What should a building look like when it’s freed from the constraints of codes, size, constructibility, material sourcing, cost, and even gravity? The styles that arise from this unprecedented freedom will tell the story of human creativity truly unleashed.
An Architect’s Approach to the Metaverse
The metaverse as a concept has the importance of architecture baked directly into it. The top popular metaverses all use virtual ‘land’ as their passport and primary asset. Users and brands can buy land and collaboratively shape the face of that metaverse. Near-infinite blank land and users itching to consume something interesting raise the need for architects — lots of them.
As with any industry undergoing the effects of technological revolution, there are those committed to tradition, and there are early adopters. Architectural firms have been called upon increasingly in recent times to shift their focus to virtual spaces — for open-world games like League of Legends, or most famously, Fortnite. Now, with more brands opening metaverse storefronts (e.g. Balenciaga) or offices (e.g. Vice), the demand is getting higher, and more serious. After all, a metaverse space doesn’t just need to be ‘playable’, it must be livable.
Some architects are using this new sandbox to take concepts from the real-world, but push them further to new, impossibly luxurious and perfectible heights. One example is the architect Luis M Fernandez, who has been building metaverse villas that feel like a breath of Mediterranean air:
They are like real-world buildings, but dreamier, somehow. Everything has an air of weightlessness, any crack or dent is intentionally placed by a designer, and it seems impossibly expensive. This just scratches the surface of the already nascent metaverse architecture. And it only gets dreamier. Architects like Hugo Fournier are using the new canvas to create spaces that belong in the hotel catalogues of the distant future:
However, even this isn’t the true limit of metaverse architecture. Because there isn’t one. There are no building codes to adhere to. No government whose regulations one must follow. Materials have little cost and infinite supply. Geography is no limitation for the creator or the visitor. Constructing the building takes a team of engineers and a few months, rather than an armada of construction crews, inspectors, designers, planners, and years of their work.
This freedom is incredible, and many architects find themselves inspired by it. However, it can also be daunting. Architects, rather than optimising and focusing on dodging logistical issues must now do the opposite. They must look at the big picture and ask the audacious questions. What does a building look like without gravity? How does a city look without petrol pumps, traffic, and municipal offices? Luckily, there are artists. Artists like Krista Kim, whose awe-inspiring ‘Mars House’ was the first house NFT ever created and is valued at USD 3 Million. She shirks replicating reality by setting a minimalist, white building in a fiery martian landscape. Then, again, there’s Hugo Fournier with his creations that blend seamlessly into the sublime environments that surround them, like ‘Blueberry House’.
Finally, like in the real world, there are some spaces, some constructions that aren’t made to be lived in, or used. They’re created to be admired, thought about, and in the metaverse — to be interacted with. One such artwork is ‘coral arena’ by OMA new york, Charlotte Taylor, and Nicholas Préaud. A living sculpture that made its debut at Miami Art Week 2021.
There are examples of excellence in metaverse architecture popping up all over the world, from large firms, to newly independent contractors, to breakout amateurs. But if architecture is going to keep up with this new demand, structural change is required.
Ever since architectural drawing and planning have moved from the iconic blue paper to the computer, the architectural industry has begun to incorporate tech and tech experts. Softwares that convert plans into 3D models already exist and provide a useful stepping stone to virtual architecture. Architects and their associates already use much of the same software as game developers — like Blender and Unreal Engine. So the shift is not completely jarring.
However, architects who didn’t want to learn code were completely free to do so, as it could often be delegated. Now, things are different. Code is not just a way to convert a plan into a different format, it is the clay that will be shaped into the building. Coding ability will be inextricable in the metaverse from architectural thinking and skill.
As the artists showcased earlier show, it’s not just technical ability. Metaverse architecture calls for a whole new level of creativity. The creation of a fantasy, not just a room or building. This evolution of both methodology and ideology will be a force for great change in the world of architecture — not just in what it produces, but in how it is taught and thought about.
What’s all the fuss about?
- Changing Construction – 3D architectural plans can be made into VR-compatible walkthrough plans, allowing clients a holistic tour, a better understanding of the building, and maybe even a trial period before the real-world building is constructed.
- Collaboration – These walkthrough plans are not just projections, they are part of an immersive and interactive world. This means architects from all over the world can gather, discuss, and even make and see changes in real time.
- Creativity – As mentioned, the metaverse eschews constraints that define real-world architecture. This means the metaverse is a paradise for the architect, who can become a true creator rather than playing consultant. NFTs mean that receiving decentralised funding and fair payment is also an incentive the metaverse offers.
- Experiences – The metaverse is a completely immersive and interactive virtual world, which means that performance, architecture, art, music etc. can be integrated like never before. A building can be a home and a living, transforming art piece, a venue can be a stage and its own artwork. The digital aspect also means that virtual and hybrid experiences can be democratised — cheaper, with no geographical barrier to entry.
Perhaps the coolest one, with the most potential to integrate into and transform everyday life is the idea of the Digital Twin
A digital twin is a completely to-scale and accurate, detailed recreation of a real-world building in the metaverse. A recent disaster like the fire that devastated the heritage cathedral, Notre Dame, in 2019 proves the necessity of such a technology.
Metaverse architecture, integrated with sensors in the real-world counterpart could create a completely lifelike experience of any building in the world. A virtual experience that completely parallels the real one, down to a minute change like the sunlight.
This could be used to:
- Preserve heritage sites
- Recreate sites of anthropological importance for easy ‘on-site’ research
- Provide a virtual ‘overflow’ space for real venues that mimic the structure and event (e.g. a Travis Scott concert) but accommodate thousands more people, from anywhere in the world.
- Eventually, this relationship between the real and virtual could flow backwards, with this technology used to create interactive signs and digital overlays in real life, for educational and informational purposes.
The Future of Meta-Architecture
There is near-infinite potential and near-zero scarcity. The story of metaverse architecture will be the story of human imagination unleashed. Work in the coming years will be focused on developing Meta-cities, standard builds for venues and offices, and individual ‘monuments’, yes. However, the way in which these virtual spaces transform our real lives will be the real fruit of this massive transformation.