I speak with three recent graduates of architecture school about how they’re using virtual spaces for speculative design. Paula Strunden is working with the interface between physical objects and mixed reality environments. Nicholas Zembashi uses the architecture of virtual spaces to create 2D film essays exploring concepts of media theory and the ontology of space. And Sebastian Tiew uses real-time game engines to create speculative futures exploring the architecture of rehabilitative immersive experiences for people with mental illnesses and prisoners.
Strunden, Zembashi, and Tiew all presented at the Architecture for the Immersive Internet Symposium, and I had a chance to catch up with them the day after to debrief them on their major takeaways on the gathering and to reflect upon how immersive technologies and real-time game engines were changing the field of architecture.
LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE OF THE VOICES OF VR PODCAST
All three of them were highly influenced by the speculative design work of Keiichi Matsuda, who I interviewed back in episode #639 on the Voices of VR podcast. His HYPER-REALITY piece of speculative design for AR went viral, and has been a highly influential cautionary tale for the entire immersive industry. Zembashi, Tiew, and Nathan Su showed a series of video essays of architectural speculative design during the Architecture for the Immersive Internet Symposium that are embedded down below.
Here’s Keiichi Matsuda’s HYPER-REALITY:
Here’s Telescape & Terra Media by Nicholas Zembashi that showed during the Architecture for the Immersive Internet Symposium:
Here’s Angel’s Alone by Sebastian Tiew that showed during the Architecture for the Immersive Internet Symposium:
Here’s Through Leviathan’s Eyes by Nathan Su that showed during the Architecture for the Immersive Internet Symposium:
Here’s the trailer for Micro-Utopia by Paula Strunden:
Here’s the latest piece of speculative design from Matsuda called Merger
This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.
[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR podcast. So continuing on in my series of looking at the future of immersive architecture, I feature three recent graduates of architectural school who were speaking and presenting at the Symposium on the Future of the Immersive Architecture of the Internet. Paula Strutten, she's a recent graduate of the Bartlett School of Architecture, as well as Niklas Zimbaschi and Sebastian Tu, who both recently graduated from the Architectural Association. So the thing that was really striking about going to this meeting and hearing these different presentations by architects is that there's a certain style of speculative design and world building that happens with architects who are trying to communicate different types of ideas. So Keiichi Matsuda is an architect that I had met back in 2018 when he was still working at Leap Motion and he released a piece called Hyperreality that came out in 2016 and it's kind of dystopic vision of what an augmented reality world would look like if you just had like pop-up ads everywhere and you just started to gamify all aspects of the human experience. And so I think the piece that Keiichi did with hyperreality has had a huge impact on the larger augmented reality evolution and to be able to look at almost like this cautionary tale. And these three architects were highly influenced by that type of speculative design and being able to think about the different concepts and to be able to give these actual embodied metaphors that people can really get a deeper sense of the messages that you're trying to communicate and kind of pushing the limits of what is even possible the technology and to kind of look out into the future of the broader implications from more of a spatial design perspective. Both Nicholas Ambashi and Sebastian Chu use the medium of film to be able to create these spatial environments with lots of speculative design, and they use these environments to be able to amplify the different arguments they're making about either the future of these mediascapes, or the ways in which that we relate to media in general, or look at the future of rehabilitation. And Paula's student, she had a very embodied experience where she was looking at all different aspects of haptics and the materiality and physicality of physical objects within the mixed reality environments. And so she had created these different experiences that were being shown as location-based experiences and just really exploring and interrogating this relationship between digital objects and these mixed reality environments. So we'll be covering all that and more on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Paula, Nicholas, and Sebastian happened on Saturday, March 2nd, 2019 at the Architectural Association in London, England. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:02:58.522] Paula Strunden: Hey, I'm Paula Strunden. I studied at the Bartlett School of Architecture and did my graduation work on a location-based experience about the future of domesticity. So I'm researching at the intersection of physical objects and virtual environments. And I've recently funded a company called Soft Bodies with whom I continue doing this research and currently exhibiting a piece at the Royal Academy called Weightless Breaks.
[00:03:30.050] Nicholas Zembashi: Hi, I'm Nicholas Zambaschi. I recently graduated from the Architectural Association, so also background in architecture and currently working at Forensic Architecture. And my past work sort of deals with media theory, sort of discussing ontology and space and try to construct sort of arguments by using our architecture as a tool for creating essays through film.
[00:03:56.490] Sebastian Tiew: Hi, I'm Sebastian Tu. I'm also a recent graduate from the Architectural Association. My work has looked at how virtual technologies could be used in ways to rehabilitate people with mental illnesses or prisoners.
[00:04:08.579] Kent Bye: Cool, so we just had the Immersive Architecture of the Internet Symposium yesterday, and each of us were speakers there. And so it seems like each of your work that you were doing as students in architectural school was leading you towards looking at these questions that were being brought up with virtual reality technologies and looking at architecture through the lens of VR actually gives an interesting perspective as to what architecture even is, but I'm wondering if you could each kind of set the context for how your journey led you to looking at these issues of virtual reality and what were some of the either problems you're trying to solve or questions you were trying to answer in terms of what was intriguing to you about these virtual perspectives.
[00:04:51.000] Paula Strunden: For me, I think my first experience in VR was working for Herzog & Demer in Switzerland and I was creating 360 spherical panorama images for client meetings. So it was mainly for reasons of communication with people that are not educated with looking at drawings or models and What I realized very quickly is the emotional impact it has and the possibility to judge much more intuitively on the spatial content you're being shown even if you don't have the education to create an opinion about it. So I continued working with VR in the film unit at the Bartlett, and I quickly became mostly interested within soft design factors that also can be hardly represented within CAD drawings and tools we currently use as architects, like how to communicate atmospheres, how to communicate material qualities, how to communicate the mood of spaces. And as a result of a lot of research and a series of VR experience, I started working with highly site-specific and object-based experiences that really think about a future of inhabiting mixed reality environments that are looking into spatial creation that is informed not by physical materiality, but much more intangible factors.
[00:06:19.118] Nicholas Zembashi: For me, I guess I would say that my kind of past work doesn't necessarily deal with the traditional conceptions around VR as a technology, but more from the standpoint of world building in general as a practice in architecture. And I worked, like my past work resides in film a lot and filmmaking as a tool to access sort of a I guess what we were talking about as a virtual experience or a virtual sort of realm. And it allowed me to use sort of cinematic techniques and to play with them as different ways of constructing perception around certain topics. So different questions that I would post to myself out of the areas that I'm interested would sort of lead to projects into these areas, like how could we talk about issues of sort of fact construction and perceptions of truth through sort of mediated realities and the media we consume. It was something that in one year in my sort of architectural education I was really interested in unpacking, but there was also always this issue of what relations do these kind of very theoretical discussions around these topics have to space and how could we talk about these in spatial terms. And this is what sort of drives me to try and interpret and build these issues around sometimes issues that have to do with meaning and how we convey meaning or how we represent meaning and I'm very interested in how sort of architecture has always been this vehicle of representation in itself as well or vehicle of representing different languages or different other sort of forms of media and like in one of the projects that I showed yesterday as well which is literally treating media as a territory was again like this exploration that started from an interest in how do we construct identity or what does identity mean and in the way that we construct our realities or our worlds and how can we represent that spatially and sort of these bigger questions always drive me and questions around how space can represent or can like put you inside a bigger theoretical argument and how that could be understood and what does that mean in redefining the way that we build our worlds or we communicate our worlds or generally mediate realities.
[00:08:22.976] Sebastian Tiew: It's actually quite interesting, the journey into this path, I guess. So when I came back from working in the practice as well, I definitely felt a bit lost in terms of what to do architecturally. But at the same time, I was starting to become really interested in notions of interiority and old Elizabethan palaces in England. partly because you would step into these buildings and be greeted by a kind of crazy elaborate interiors full of murals and so on and so forth. So I think as an architect that idea of the palace and the enfilade brought me to kind of think about what it meant to be inside in a way and what it meant to be in an interior. So I guess my first project really working with VR was to almost question the role of such technology within the confines of a standard apartment. and how a series of fictionalized characters will almost interact with this new sort of domesticity, where obviously there are obvious extensions into different spaces from their rooms, almost like an enfilade or like a palace. So that was the kind of tension that I was trying to push. And I guess more recently, my work has really delved into VR from a kind of architectural spatial point of view. as a way to almost try and slow it down and to try and almost think about it from a very pragmatic point of view as to how we would use it and how we would learn from it.
[00:09:43.339] Kent Bye: Yeah, the thing that has been the most striking for me coming in as an outsider, coming to this immersive architecture of the internet, the symposium surrounded by architects who have been trained as architects and either practicing or at least have the training that they're applying that training in looking at VR through the lens of architecture, is that I was surprised to see how holistic as a topic and domain it is and how many things you're pulling together. just an interview with Frederick where he said, architecture as a field has kind of resisted this splitting up to what may be 20 to 40 different domains. And the other type of profession I can think of that's similar in that way is like a game designer who they're trying to pull together all these different aspects of creating these worlds and designing these interactions. And that when I talk to game designers like Robin Haneke, I'm like, what is the theory by which that you are going to modulate human experience by the game design? And what her response to me was that, She would design an interaction. She would have the interaction. She would see how that interaction felt to her. And then she would show it to other people, see how they reacted. And then you just iterate and do that over and over and over again until you cultivate that design intuition. And that seems to be a similar sense of what happens with architecture. And it seems like that with VR, you have the capability to enter in this realm and actually interrogate what architecture even is through this lens of VR and start to see what the fundamental component parts of it are as a discipline and as a domain. And so I'm just curious, as you've gone on this journey, like what is an architect and what does an architect do?
[00:11:14.592] Paula Strunden: I think in relation to working with VR it's a very exciting process which really creates this joy because it's almost like a fast forward version of creating spaces and having this immediate feedback that is also often very emotional with people coming out of VR. Just seeing them walking through the spaces you have designed and seeing them interacting with the pieces you give them as a choice to interact with is really powerful. I think to me it was like also re-believing in the value and the power of spatial design again, because it made me show that if I distribute a few objects within a space that act as portals to these spaces, like similar in the way Sebastian just described it, that people are actually almost addicted by continue to open these spaces because these spaces create a value within their way of seeing or like they would have a very different reaction on being enclosed within like a grotto than being opened up to a huge vista of a space that is much bigger than anything you could like build in reality and I think these quite, I don't know what they are, but quite intuitive emotional reactions to space are really hard to simulate. And working with VR as an architect, you almost feel it by their bodily reactions. It's not so much what they say afterwards about it, but it's more this thing that they say, I want to go back to that, or I want to have that space. It's almost like a desire for a certain spatial quality.
[00:12:48.154] Nicholas Zembashi: For me, it's about mediating different perceptions from the standpoint of me as an author of a space. Also, my perception being changed by people reacting to the ideas I try to communicate to them through spaces. And that's usually interesting. Sometimes people would be like, oh, I've seen this film and I was totally immersed. I've never thought about that idea in that way, or I never thought like, You can explain an idea in that way, or sometimes it will be like, I have no idea what the hell you're talking about. And yeah, so I also feel like it's as a practice, like I never try to define sort of where I come from too rigidly because I'm excited to see that what you put out there is something that could change. And I guess maybe this is like a notion of the VR. feedback is where this is what I guess we discussed a lot yesterday about sort of the clinging on to certain understandings of authorship and what it means to like give up a certain degree of authorship is kind of this interest and yes it's something that in architecture school sometimes you learn to be too precious about the role of the architect or the architect sometimes it's good to like forget about that or not forget about it but maybe change the way that that role sort of has to interact with the world that it's not just somebody who puts a design out there or it's more like somebody who wants to have a discussion through their design or like have other different sort of debates with the world out there and that they also learn and it's a constant learning process and so yeah that's what I find interesting with this kind of different territory of world building and designing space is that interaction and that conversation that you get to have with people.
[00:14:21.895] Sebastian Tiew: Yeah, I think going from that, it's almost really important to almost try and inhabit multiple careers because things are changing so quickly and so fast. It's almost necessary for architects to try and inhabit the position of a stage designer or the position of a script writer even. So I think when it comes to working with VR as a larger technology, It also comes at a point where the tools are starting to actually bleed into different industries as well. So we're seeing a lot of game design principles and techniques coming into architecture, like more than it ever was before. So when Unreal Engine became publicly available two years ago, I remember architects picking it up almost at the same time as game designers. So we're not getting a kind of delay anymore. And that we're learning and almost developing our own ways to think about these technologies as well. So how has real-time game engines influenced the way we think about spaces as well? So I think the culture of drawing and representation have definitely come from a long lineage of history. and we can definitely trace it back as much as we want it to. But we've come to a point where the way in which we think about space is actually beyond just fixed mediums in a way. So we've gone from drawing in the kind of flat 2D projection to perspective, to the 3D model, or being able to navigate between satellite imagery and Google Earth to the site. So I think having a real-time environment, I guess, as a deeper level from VR is, I guess, the purest form of virtual experience is actually extremely beneficial for the design of space, I think.
[00:15:57.525] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, the thing that comes up is the role of world building in virtual reality seems to be a pretty key concept and idea of that. If you're creating an experience, there's a spatial dimension to that, but there's also a whole design philosophy for what does it mean to design a world in that way. And I've talked to Alex McDowell, and it seems like he's coming from a very narrative perspective of creating worlds. And he was involved with being the second person hired on Minority Report before there was even a script. And so he was building out that world before the script was even written. So getting all these futurists and world builders together to imagine this potential future. And then from there, the narrative is emerging from that, that you're telling through, in that case, the film of Minority Report. But I'm curious from the architectural perspective of the lineage of world building and how you think of world building and what type of design influences you're taking in order to do the type of world building that you do and the art experiences that you're creating.
[00:16:51.748] Paula Strunden: I think in the case of Micro Utopia, I did it in a similar way that it was based on a speculative documentary that went up to the point of 2034 that starts within the now, describes the involvement of London's housing crisis and then starts setting up this new topology that is the virtual home and how it's being taken over by the people and how the objects that sit within it starting to be more and more connected within the Internet of Things. So they, by unobtrusively collecting the data of the inhabitants, actually create their own characters and their own voices within that home that starts to exist as the dialogue between the people inhabiting it and the objects. becoming animated, like they leave that physicality and create role within the imagination of the people and create these spaces. So after having set up that, like there was a very big freedom for me to design the spaces because it was not anymore about like the six exemplary spaces that I designed, but it was just as like an example of inhabitant ABC, what they were seeing in that moment, touching that piece of object. So I think freeing up oneself as a designer, as we've been saying, not even seeing myself as the author, but just setting up a narrative within which any shape or space could be possible. But I just show an example to explain a concept. But the idea is to, or at least in my case, I freed myself through this narrative of saying it's a speculative piece that sits in the future. Within that future, there's basically no architect. And I'm just showing this example to allow us to think in a much more open way about VR, to me, it's really like the device we are currently using, but my work is more thinking about living within a mixed reality environment. What are the spatial possibilities? What is an object within that? What can it be? What can it become in dialogue with the person using it? So that's the idea behind the project. Today, I'm using VR to show the idea.
[00:18:58.855] Nicholas Zembashi: Yeah, I mean, this journey that we, in any project, you put not only yourself as the author of the project, but also the people who experienced the project is essentially you're creating a world that could sit as a form of fiction or speculation, but you discover through that fiction, and I guess this could be generalized to a lot of things, that through that story, you discover real things about experience. Real, I guess, is a very contested word. But I mean, for example, a very prolific figure in architecture, in architectural fiction that architects love referencing, and even in architecture school, is this architect from the 1700s, Piranesi, who is prolific in his drawings of Roman ruins. through his drawings that were partly ways of him funding his practice, which at the time he sort of created these what we interpret as postcards today for pilgrims to the city, but also as ways of sort of debating and like repositioning himself towards like Roman antiquity for example. And like this is a person who like produced hundreds and like even in the thousands of sort of all these images that you can lose yourself in, essentially. And a lot of those spaces have a history of like fascination in architecture with, you know, can they be realized? Can they be realized? Like they're almost like a surrealistic dreamscapes of ruins beyond the scale that they were, or sort of packing them with ideas and things that could not be realized sort of in a built form. So you get these weird examples of students who are trying to recreate like Piranesian dungeon in like in Rhino, and often things don't work. and this is somebody who's like in his career like has almost not built anything and if anything he's one built project was this church santa maria del priorato which is on one of the hills in rome and uh it was for the uh knight's temple and what i find fascinating about that project is like him grappling with all the topics that he's been dealing with It's sort of in a more theoretical way and sort of designing all of that through the ornamentation of that space and communicating it through space. And again, it's this balance between what you're trying to say through the story that you're trying to tell with the audience that's receiving it. through whatever medium you're communicating it in, could be totally up for grabs. And sometimes we take it too seriously. And it's still something that's limiting in the way that some people think about architecture in a more traditional sense that, oh, because you haven't built something in material, physical reality, somehow there's a different way of looking at you as an architect or as a designer, and there's less validity and and the way that you're looked at if something sits within a more speculative narrative. And I think that's being reassessed and like broken up now, which is refreshing to think of things differently. And what I try to say through the example of Piranesi is that it's not necessarily a new thing. It's just like a different understanding and a different acceptance that we've just gone through a period where like the profession of the architect is sometimes it's a hindrance to itself, where it's never had to be that way and it wasn't.
[00:21:56.167] Sebastian Tiew: Yeah, I think going back to what you were saying before about the relationship between architecture and game designers, I think Architecture as a discipline has really transformed within the last couple of years, at least for me, that it's very much moved away from, say, the designing of facades or structures to much more the designing of interactions and designing of how humans would generally use space. And I think when it comes to actual world building, you know, boring aspects of programmatic scores or even asking questions of, you know, who this is for, what it's for, and when it is, and I think these are very basic questions of almost putting your work in a context. And I guess, from a personal point of view, my work has also been very film-based, so the principles that I borrowed from worldbuilding have been applied directly towards film. But I guess in Paula's case, where her work is much more iterative, it'd be almost quite interesting to see how elements from let's say film or storytelling could actually become much more evident, let's say within the process of engaging an audience or the process of presenting this world as convincing and contextual world, you know.
[00:23:03.842] Kent Bye: coming in and seeing these presentations from architects, it was really striking to me, at least to see the presentation styles and the diversity of different styles. And for both of you, you were showing a film depiction that you had actually edited and created highly rendered, polished and narrated sort of almost stories that were like these speculative futures. And then Paula with the footage that you were showing from the actual experience of the black and white and Showing the different scenes and showing that like the haptic experience and you know really a more immersed embodied experience and unpacking that and so I'm curious for each of you as you were invited to come speak at this immersive architecture of the internet and When you were putting this presentation to be speaking to a context of other architects, what were the big theoretical aspects that you were trying to get across from your investigation into this blending of the virtual and the practice of architecture? And what were some of the big points that you were trying to make to the architectural community that was gathered to listen and digest and interpret what's happening here?
[00:24:05.584] Paula Strunden: I think first of all what was really refreshing about yesterday and knowing that in advance is that I didn't have to prepare a presentation for architects who don't want to listen about VR or immersive technologies. So I'm used presenting my work within an environment where people sometimes say I'm not going to put on the headset and then it's really hard of course to bring your points across. So I mean, I knew that yesterday there would not have been the possibility to let you experience my creatopia, but still I knew that there's like an enthusiasm about these things. So what I tried to concentrate on were really the aspects that I've learned. by not only making the experience but maybe more because it's almost a year old seeing people going through the experience because there might have been like maybe 300 people by now that have been in my Kreatopia and there were things that have been repeated and that have become much more important for me now developing the next location-based experiences. And I think, yeah, principles I spoke about yesterday were the importance of the body and the way it moves through the space and the way you can guide it by spatial design and really seeing the body as the agent that activates these spatial environments. So really like tracking within Unity the position of the head, the position of the hands, working with leap motion. And having the person that goes in, like when you open a door in real life, activating these things, but thinking about this interaction of how that could be within another space. What are doors in the virtual experience? So there were things like the tactility, like thinking about materials and architectural design that's really native to the medium that we might not know from our traditional architectural education, but this is what is something that has been developed through, within and for that experience. One other point I spoke about was the idea of trust, which is really important to me, guiding people through the experience. So of course it's possible to let somebody go through it by themselves, but depending on their experience, going through virtual reality, location-based pieces where they move very freely and change the position of their body, I feel it's really nice to have the presence of the other even if not being seen within the experience. So I work a lot also with little tools like using the Leap Motion camera to actually see through tracked frames. who is standing around them and to play a bit on this notion that, yeah, a VR experience today still is a very individual thing, but there are ways of already starting to play with the other and with more collaborative aspects within that. Just to give some examples, but these were things I spoke about.
[00:27:06.214] Nicholas Zembashi: Yeah, for me, it was always interesting when it comes to like repositioning yourself every time to your own work, whenever you have to talk about it. And that's what's beautiful about like having to put it out there in sort of a debate that you don't, like Paula said, you don't have to worry about the expectations of whether or not it's going to be accepted, because that shouldn't matter. It's more about what can you say or what could the work say about what you were looking at? And like my personal issue throughout, like being in a in sort of a an education that prompts you to be very multidisciplinary and exploring a lot of things from philosophy to the regulation of step height to the so as to anthropology and sort of behavior and sort of psychology even and perception and phenomenology that we discussed yesterday there's so many overlapping topics that the bane of my life in in sort of architectural education was to edit and every time that i have to grapple with like presenting my own work it's always like a version of a editing also my thoughts and not in a way of like editing the way that I want to present myself, but also in the act of editing like everything that you've thought about in the past, you're also rejigging the way that you position yourself within the ideas that you've explored. That's one thing and another thing about the kind of projects that I've always been interested in and the kind of projects that I showed are in a sense these Imaginariums where I want to invite people to enter in and imagine like space working differently through a cinematic experience. And again, like having to touch upon multiple disciplines. And like Sebastian said, like we try and borrow things from the film industry, or we try and borrow things from psychology, or we try and borrow things from different worlds. But like, one of the things that I was exploring with my project on TerraMedia and about how we build identity is like, how does somebody like, try to tell a story through objects. In a filmic sense, there's this French term called the mise-en-scene of how we construct a scene and how we communicate meaning through the way that we arrange objects and arrange the components and the elements that constitute that scene. And that for me as sort of a filmmaking tool becomes a way of communicating ideas. And again, it's a form of spatial editing where I remember at some point where I had no idea what like my project would have become very early on is that I invited some speakers to put VR headsets on and enter this landscape without them knowing that I asked an AI to build this criminal narrative which was on a website where an AI would like rummage through texts of crime novels and then mix them up and create like a crime story for you and then took those texts and I was like okay this object is associated with this story etc and then place those objects in the space put the audience in that space and ask them to tell me like what had happened there and like I didn't know what happened there and this was an interesting again way of like putting whenever you're engaged like in a world you're always trying to unravel the world or unpack it and you're like what was okay so this is a world that was designed but then what were the designing principles or It was them also trying to think, okay, what's the story that you designed? And in a sense, that story didn't even come from me. And I didn't even know what was the logic behind that story, because this AI put the story together and it doesn't know what its logic was. So it was interesting through that, and through my work in general, to see how in the way that you enter a wonder room or a room of wonderment or wunderkammer, I guess, we like to think of them as these spaces where there's a level of interaction that's interpretative through the user and it's I think what we were trying to touch upon yesterday and you also brought up this idea of the mind palace or kind of the the way that we look at knowledge spatialized whether it's in a sort of museum or an archive and all these different typologies mean different things in an architectural sense but how we interpret and interact with objects of knowledge and what they mean for different ways of looking at how we interact with space is, yeah, like what I find interesting about how every time it's a process of editing and whether it's an editing from my side or an editing from the person who's accessing the space as a member of the audience, like everyone's sort of always engaging in a form of editing what they're perceiving and then putting those elements together to form like some kind of story or to make sense, I guess.
[00:31:18.793] Sebastian Tiew: Well, I think for an architecture school and a series of architecture projects, we definitely get a lot of freedom to try and explore as much as we can. But then that also means that you are in an architecture school in the end, right? So like the kind of ramifications of that is that you kind of have to deliver a building in the end. You have to deliver something that is somewhat architectural. So I think the question of why our projects are so glossy and whether that's an issue, I don't know. But like, and I do think it's worth asking why these things are so polished. But that's also, I guess, the culture of architectural education, that it's like a very high caliber environment. There's a lot of pressure and there's a lot of requirements when you think about work. But beyond that, I think from a personal point of view, rather than trying to almost solve anything in terms of VR, to try and bring about change in terms of the technology, I just really wanted to think about it in terms of what it could do for us and what this notion of, I guess, boundary meant. So my work is always about threshold, I guess. What does it mean to kind of be in a space and how do we expand these boundaries through various technologies. So whether it's VR for now, or a more evolved headset that combines both AR and VR in the future, I don't know. But I think for now, it's to almost question what it means to perceive, I guess, on a very, very simple level. So I guess in terms of my work and the film, the most common thing that I hear from it is that there's a duality in the work. And that duality is always the tension about what limitlessness actually means.
[00:32:53.923] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, for me, I'm familiar with the architect of Keiichi Matsuda and the work that he did with hyperreality. And so there's a bit of speculative design that he had created there that when I saw your pieces, I saw it and categorize it in my mind as a form of speculative design. But Andrea, who was watching it, she didn't actually know if it was a VR experience or if it was actually like something that she could experience, if it was a trailer for an experience. And so I think looking into the future for these types of gatherings, what I would love to see personally would be a whole demo day to have an opportunity for people to have an embodied experience so that we're not just sort of talking about these things in abstract because as an experiential journalist, I actually want to have an embodied spatial experience of the experiences before we talk about it and that There seems to be using these pieces of media as forms of argument, but they're for me, they're so much more compelling as an argument. If people can actually have a direct embodied experience of them and then have a whole day afterwards, where after you've had a chance to have all the experiences, now you can kind of unpack and talk about it because there was a bit of. a lack of emphasis on the direct embodied experiences just because of logistics. And it was a day symposium and, you know, in terms of just prioritizing the theoretical discussion, that's great place to start. But in the future, I feel like in order to really bring in people who may be really super skeptical about whether or not architects should even be looking at the virtual reality and the absence of materiality and the haptic experience that what it means to actually build a physical building without them having a direct experience of what is actually being created for them to have a more direct Embodiment for what's it mean to add agency? What's it mean to add haptics? What's it mean to add all these things that to just talk about these things in abstract without having those embodied metaphors? I think you're limited for how far you can go in terms of what you are directly experiencing with the medium and and then making these larger arguments. So that's sort of the observation that, you know, for me, I would love to see the emphasis put onto those actual experiences rather than something that may be like a 2D frame that is sort of polished in its own right. But, you know, there's a difference between doing a rendering of an architectural building and actually having embodied experience of it. And that's something that may look great, may not actually feel all that great. So it's just the ethic and the ethos within the architectural community to start to put that focus on embodied experiences.
[00:35:10.027] Paula Strunden: I mean, Keiichi Matsuda was my tutor at the Bartlett, so I think that's also why my work has this speculative touch and is very much, of course, influenced also by his attitude towards designing for these mixed reality environments. I think towards the aspect of the possibility of showing this embodied experiment. I think yesterday was a mixture. Some people presented work that speaks about VR. Some people presented work that theorizes it. Some people presented work like I myself that is their embodied experience. But I think it's really nice to see the way these can actually influence each other and create like a common narrative somehow or like thought process and is really inspiring I think to see these different angles of it because of course each of these angles creates a different set of priorities working with the technology. I think in my particular case because I'm working with location-based experience that really involves physical objects that have the size of the body so it's a set of furniture pieces that can't fly to London when it's exhibited in Amsterdam last week. But I think it's a very important task also I'm currently working with soft bodies on to actually develop these home kits that allow for material and mixed reality interactions with your hands and your body with pieces, but still have a virtual embodied experience. But to integrate these physical pieces within it. So we're developing home kits basically to allow for location-based embodied experiences that are not bound to the location, but bound to the object itself that you interact with?
[00:36:49.327] Nicholas Zembashi: For me, there's the question of what embodied experiences, what constitutes that? And I guess for me, it relates to issues of perception and where does perception lie and does an embodied experience rely on you having agency or not having agency? Perceiving a space passively or actively and being able to enter levels of interactivity, does that mean a more authentic embodied experience, etc? Another interesting thing that came out of the way that we looked at things yesterday at the debate was also, what kind of senses do we choose to activate? Not only with what technologies are available in activating those senses, but Can every aspect of whatever we want to call an embodied experience be embodied in the way that we can access sort of a VR realm? And I mean, when I say perception, like something that we also talk about, kind of the work that I, the practice where I'm at now, is how perception is very tied to aesthetics and like from the Greek word Æsthesi, It's literally the way you feel, and the way you feel can rely on a lot of different things that aren't necessarily related to, some are related to some senses over others. Yeah, and the history of what constitutes senses, are there only five, which one's more important, like the emphasis on vision, or like, I'm not sure I might be getting it wrong here, but it was either I think Aristotle that found touch was more important somehow, or like, sort of the importance that we place on which sense makes an experience more embodied than something else, and whether or not certain experiences can be even conveyed. We had this discussion yesterday and somebody from the audience very interestingly brought up the issue of death and how we talk about death, and it's something that we can never experience because you can never come back from. But the way that we interact with it as a whole sort of notion, there's something else to the quality in which we talk about certain topics that are outside of experience. So for me it's more about like a wider question of like what we consider first of all as like the faculties through which we perceive the world and what faculties are important and sometimes it's not that they're all important and for some experiences some things matter more than others and Whether or not you're able through a certain piece of work to change the way that we perceive something, it could be very different across what you're trying to communicate. And I think there's multiple kinds of embodied experiences that we can talk about that are not just like there's no one way of perceiving. It's more about how can you change the ways that you perceive and depending on what you're trying to talk about.
[00:39:18.643] Sebastian Tiew: I really, I mean, completely agree with you in terms of judging an immersive experience, right? Like the best way to actually make a thorough judgment on a supposed VR experience is to actually try it. But I guess it's really interesting that you brought up Keiichi Matsuda because I think that is perhaps one of the most important projects in terms of speculation and almost thinking about these forms of technologies where they might not be as mature. So if we think of AR at the moment, it's probably like the brick phone phase. And if we were to limit experiences based on the capabilities of the technologies at the moment, we risk limiting the limits of our ideas as well. So I mean, I guess I completely agree with you in the sense that it's super important to, and I guess that's why Paula's work is so inspiring, especially for someone like me, because you know, I really want to engage with that sort of territory a little bit more. So ever since I graduated, I've been focusing on making real-time experiences that I can test and I've been actually putting forward ideas constantly just around notions of therapy and I guess the environments of nature, which is my main focus at the moment. So how looking at the emergence of meditation apps and therapy apps, almost listening to waves to relax, I kind of almost thought, from a visual point of view, a lot of these things could be represented as well. So I think in order for me to have gotten here, I had to almost dream a lot bigger. I had to almost kind of aim a lot more than, you know, if I had just kind of gone straight to the limits of VR, I don't know whether I would have been able to think about it, I guess, as laterally as I did.
[00:40:55.708] Kent Bye: It's interesting, yeah, because I see Kichi Matsuda's piece of hyperreality as that form of speculative fiction to see what does this world look like projected out in the future. And to me, I've seen those pieces of speculative design come more from people who have architectural training. And for me, as I've been covering the VR industry for the past five years and talked to over 1,000 people, the thing that I love about VR is that it's such a cross-disciplinary melting pot. and that architecture has also been a cross-disciplinary melting pot but been limited because you haven't had all the game designers and real-time engines and that in some ways VR is almost like opening up the palette of the human experience to the full range of different aspects of psychology and neuroscience and game design with looking at rehabilitation and trauma or looking at like real-time environments that are dynamic and changing and What are the edges of those objects? And with you looking at haptics and the embodied experience that is really focusing on the sensory experience of modulating a mixed reality experience, it's really trying to cultivate and really explore these different speculative design concepts in a very specific way. But it feels like with the virtual reality and augmented reality and mixed reality, it's opening up this palette for the architects to already coming from a cross disciplinary perspective to be able to integrate even more disciplines that are being pulled in.
[00:42:16.472] Paula Strunden: Yeah I can't really add anything to it because basically I think it's that moment that feels to all of us and I think we also felt that yesterday pretty exciting because yeah it's very freeing and it opens up these possibilities to actually just try to integrate as much as we can and explore and experiment and I think this is something that I think having started studying architecture I didn't know it's possible to that extent and I've been speaking to people from so many different disciplines within the last year and everybody's just excited to collaborate and to test things. I'm sorry I can't really add anything I just agree basically.
[00:42:57.900] Nicholas Zembashi: I mean, it's like the multidisciplinary nature of it also comes with like there's a trade off I always found because we want so badly to be experts in so many other areas that you can only ever dream of like touching upon. Like I would never be like. It's fully versed in the history of anthropology, for example, as much as I find that it overlaps with a lot of topics or an understanding of certain technologies that game designers have a much better grasp on. But I think what puts us in that unique experience is how we take all these different tools that we touch upon, or we scrape the surfaces of, and we think about how we can talk about them spatially. And that spatial sensitivity And as to why it's important, it's sometimes not something that's easily explained, but it encompassed it. Yesterday when Andrea was talking about simulated engines for different car companies and why it's important to have a spatial context for them, and they didn't understand it, you find it difficult to explain as somebody who has a much higher sensitivity towards the importance of space but it's not again something that you could put into words but in the end it just boiled down to it feels nice and it does and yeah it does have to do with sort of faculties of perception that we might not be able to quantify in words and this is I guess where everything intersects and where kind of that multidisciplinary approach is important and I think yeah like it's more like what aspects of architecture in general do we value more now are more important than you know keeping things rigid is more like yes we do have like spatial sensitivity that is quite important that other professions could benefit from or other kind of disciplines could come under and we can interact with and it's refreshing to see that that's starting to happen and the VR space is allowing for that to blossom.
[00:44:46.909] Sebastian Tiew: Yeah, no, I think I'm very much on the same page as everyone else in terms of the position, but I think going slightly deeper into how we could collaborate a little bit more, there's just this relationship between, I guess, game environments at the moment. I guess a very kind of present thing would be almost the spatialization of these things and how we as architects could somehow contribute to thinking about these things a little bit more. beyond just a visual experiential element. If you think of first-person shooter games, the most common typologies would be corridors or hallways or interstitial spaces. I think as architects, we would be much better off thinking with game designers what would be the most suitable spaces to almost incorporate. That's a very basic example. In terms of actually kind of coming back to talking about this work in this context, I think it's slightly getting better over the years. People are definitely becoming less resistant towards whether or not architects have an agency within this sort of space. I definitely remember coming into architecture school and idealizing this idea of, would I come out of this actually designing games instead? And I think that's very much a generational thing. I would argue that I visited a lot of cities before I actually went to them. So I mean, through GTA, I saw most of America before I even went to America. So I think that relationship between virtual environments, almost synthetic environments have played a very interesting part for me. So I'm just kind of looking forward to seeing that grow.
[00:46:21.811] Kent Bye: Well, there was a almost like a dual aspect to the conference yesterday because there is the talks that were being given in real time, but there was also the organizers of Laura and Frederick had asked everybody that were presenting to submit a number of different concepts or ideas that were really trying to putting a stake in the ground or exploring different aspects of what the virtual reality means in terms of what should architects be thinking about how to approach this. And then we had this whole wide ranging two hour discussion covering a wide range of variety of different topics. So I'm wondering if you could either share some of your takeaways from that discussion or share some of what you were trying to communicate with some of the prepared remarks that you had submitted to be able to have a broader discussion about the deeper theoretical aspects of some of these either open questions that needed to be answered in the context of looking at this relationship between architecture and virtual and augmented reality environments.
[00:47:16.969] Nicholas Zembashi: I found it really interesting how very quickly the discussion like also went into like in the beginning into like areas of concern and to posing questions about if issues that could come out of like accountability of sort of like putting eyes on your feet like Andrea was saying or you know sort of there's a like a sinister side to the designer and his intents and how you know in a subtle ways you can change perception without people even realizing it and we see this as well through targeted advertising or through like issues that emerge from like the workings of say entities like Cambridge Analytica and all of this like it's things that we are already like we are seeing like the threats as well as and there was this interesting balance of where like the threats and the potentials like come into play There was a lot of things that we also didn't get to touch upon and issues that we did, but something that I wanted to contribute in a way was also how we operate in a system. Design is interesting when it comes to topics of access, but we touched upon access yesterday, also through the tools which we access a world. the capacities but I'm interested always in also the ways that you navigate a world and sometimes the way that the navigation is like set up defines like the experience a lot like how many of us like the default starting point with the current understanding of like how we navigate in the internet like usually comes through you're presented with a search engine or there's a certain like way that you even in the way that you manage data like on your own like computer let alone like online comes through a history of like how things have been designed in a way for you to access them and to sort them and that are totally constructed but like the way that we navigate around spaces totally changes the way that we experience them and that's what I think was interesting when you sort of try to touch on the topic of How does it become a mind palace or how do we spatialize that? Also how do we spatialize knowledge and how do we access it and how do we navigate it? Does it become a form of indexing or does it become a form of like quantification and categorization for like different systems of exploiting knowledge in a realm of consumption? So all these questions are kind of defined like there's all these systems or reality systems in a way that interact. that kind of prioritizes the way that we are able to navigate or access them and like I find that really interesting in how that totally changes the way that you even start your experience or your journey through a certain space is like through the mechanisms of navigating around it.
[00:49:50.980] Sebastian Tiew: Yeah I mean I think The really interesting points that came out yesterday was how difficult it is to speak about this stuff as well. And I think that's because we're not really sure about everything. And I think we've had moments where we tried to physicalize these worlds, where we tried before. Facebook was even around, or even internet browsers, like Second Life was an attempt of thinking of the internet spatially. So I think we've learned from those mistakes, right? So I think yesterday the main concerns were almost, you know, how do we build this place? How do we think of it architecturally without making those same mistakes again of planting trees and just doing things as if we would do it in reality? So I think What I tried to tackle, at least in terms of my points, was almost speak about the more, I guess, fundamental aspects of how one were to build in this space. So what are almost these extremely cliche questions that architects ask themselves all the time, which is sustainability, or what is vernacular material, what is ownership, and how do we plan things? And I think the most interesting question yesterday that came up is the fact that we still fall back to the idea of the map or the idea of this grid. I'm not saying that I'm completely against that idea of the grid, but it just doesn't seem very new in a way. It doesn't seem like it will solve the kind of issues that we've faced with this sort of typology in the past. So I think it's just being really weary of all these issues that come with this sort of world, that yesterday we were speaking about the risks of this becoming another capitalist machine, and I think The fact that we're aware of that now I think is an extremely good thing because when previous virtual worlds were coming up to life, I guess these notions of consumerism and capitalism weren't as clear. The effects of it weren't going to be as clear as we see it now.
[00:51:44.349] Paula Strunden: I think the points that I tried to add were quite closely related to the thesis I've written about Microtopia. So it was a lot about the idea of inhabiting these mixed reality environments and thinking about ways of co-inhabiting them and sharing physical resources while having these unbound virtual spaces. So my thesis was divided in three parts. So it was about the objects we desire, the objects we desired and the objects that are going to desire us. So the idea was going from the contemporary, like looking at Second Life within the virtual and looking at contemporary image production within architecture to see what is happening nowadays and what we seem to want and then contrasting that with past utopian designs, but always looking really at the domestic and very, very small scale, like really our direct environment. And I think what I was missing a lot, like seeing the way we produce contemporary imagination was the actual imagination. It's a bit like what was missing, it's a bit those things that cannot be explained or those that don't have any meaning. I think that is then what I've tried to do with my Creatopia, with the idea of having the objects that will desire us, that there's like a lot of it that we don't have control about. So the objects don't have any meaning and they are just there to make us feel a bit not at ease or to make us not understand it. Yeah, I think for me it's so hard to speak about it because I really don't know what it is. So I think with an architecture and like product design and like working with this like virtual dimension, it's really like this very big question to me personally, which I care about in architecture is like, what is that dimension that is somehow like out of our control and that it's really hard to find words for. So I think that's the reason why I, within my work, try to concentrate exactly on that weirdness that we can't describe. So it's really about these very, very soft factors within design that have an effect on us without being able to call them.
[00:54:01.354] Kent Bye: Yeah, well this is something that comes up in VR as a journalist doing these different experiences where like Marshmallow Lizard Feast at Sundance had a whole experience called Sweet Dreams where they're integrating taste into the experience. So I'm tasting these things while I'm having this sensory overload and then they asked me afterwards like what memories came up when I asked you to think about those tastes and then it wasn't until that moment that those memories actually materialized. And so then I was like, wow, there must be this sort of invisible matrix of connections and associations that you're starting to paint with the palette of your sensory experiences. But it's at this sub symbolic unconscious level that you're starting to tap into these things. And I look to metaphors of like machine learning where you look at computer vision that has these neural network architectures that are able to see the gestalt of how all different aspects of an object are related to each other, but if you were to say, hey, this algorithm, can you explain why you said this was a cat versus a dog? Like, it's unexplainable because it's sub-symbolic. It actually is a matrix of relationships that is on this higher dimensional geometry that can't point to any one individual thing, which I think is probably something that has plagued architecture forever, which is like, how do you articulate and put words as something that is fundamentally spatial and subsymbolic? So in some ways, the best way to make an argument or to talk about it is to give someone a direct embodied experience and then let the work speak for itself without having to put a whole layer of language and meaning on top of it that may be disconnected from what's actually happening at a subconscious perceptual level.
[00:55:33.205] Paula Strunden: Yes, I like that.
[00:55:36.963] Nicholas Zembashi: So yeah, I guess something I've been thinking about through what we've been just discussing is essentially like, yeah, with this ability that we have to use space as a tool to talk about things that are outside of experience, like, yeah, this is what I find, like what Paula was saying about this difficulty to speak about certain experiences or like some things that can't even be spoken about, or it's very difficult to like speak of these things that make us feel a certain way, but we can't like necessarily quantify them or It presents, and this is what's amazing about this discussion in general around virtual environments, is that it really confronts us with our own faculties of reflecting upon the ways that we try to interpret and explain the world. A famous lecturer at the school that's been doing this for 30, 40 years now, Mark Cousins, he always used to say this thing to us as students that like how complexity is the enemy of like any kind of like totalitarian system and how certain things that we try to explain through language like we're always limited it's because like for example the experiences of like eating shitting and having sex predate language and how can you explain things that predate the mediums through which we grapple with reality. It's interesting that now we're confronted with our own faculties of explanation in a way that makes us dumbfounded. And this is, I guess, what it comes to the most successful exercises in world building, in architecture, in its history, is that when you enter spaces like the Saint-Chapelle in Paris, you're just in awe and like I think that sense of awe when you enter a space like an awe in general is like an emotion that sometimes you can't explain because there's so many factors that play into that but somehow we still find ways to convey that through space and I think this is maybe what like it's the most interesting thing about it is that yeah you're put into like questioning every sort of way that you thought about like oh why am I representing this in this way why am I using like 2D to talk about 3D. Why is a grid relevant or not relevant? It's because we're forced now to confront all of these ways of interpreting space and what it makes us feel that maybe predate our own mediums of explaining or exploring.
[00:57:54.047] Paula Strunden: Maybe just to add on that, because this, how to create this feeling to be in awe, like, I mean, I think we all have had many discussions about, we know within like natural environments, it's much more easy, but with like actual traditional architectural terms, there's like a design process that we have to go through in order to create this emotional reaction within people. And I think this design process, this is like one of the things I really enjoy working with virtual technology, because I can test that on myself and I can test that on other people and I have a feedback that like you spoke about yesterday like calling it like this design intuition and this is really refreshing to realize that after I think all of us having gone through a certain architectural education that we actually have developed this intuition and that we are able to have a judgment on a space that makes people feel elevated or that makes people feel lighter. And I think within Micro Utopia what I tried to do is to find these symbolic space almost like what is a space of diligence that makes us work more easy or what is the space of comfort that makes you want to close your eyes or like what are these spaces that don't have a function than the value of its expression almost.
[00:59:11.227] Sebastian Tiew: I guess architects have, what you're saying is about presenting the content to somebody else, I guess. But even from a personal point of view, as an architect, the effect and feedback of being able to see 4K materials being dropped onto a mesh in real time does have an effect in terms of a material sensibility towards what you're making. I guess I would really want to challenge myself as well to almost leave the domain of the architectural world and to start testing these things within the domain of not just the game industry, but also healthcare or where these things are being spoken about most. And I guess why yesterday was such an interesting and refreshing experience is because if you've chosen to make work around this subject matter, you're going to be definitely challenged throughout the process. And I think sometimes people give you the wrong advice as well. They tell you things that they think are the right things to do. So yeah, I think maybe the issue is almost moving away into a context where VR is the kind of topic of discussion or these sort of environments are the topic of discussions. And I guess if you were to kind of homogenize everybody that was in that community, it'd be easier to almost see what's good or what's bad in each experience, right? So, yeah.
[01:00:32.695] Kent Bye: So I'm wondering for each of you what some of the either biggest open problems that you're trying to solve or open questions you're trying to answer that's kind of driving your work forward.
[01:00:44.987] Sebastian Tiew: I think the most interesting thing about the technology or the experiences is that they're so synthetic in terms of just the nature of these things. So the VR headset in itself is just two screens. But I guess from a kind of perception point of view, we all agree that it's very much part of life. It's very much part of experiencing something. So I guess as a larger challenge to myself, I really just want to kind of push what it means to experience. And I guess that would fall into the more serious categories of almost treatment, I guess, and therapy.
[01:01:23.189] Paula Strunden: Yeah, given that Micro Utopia was a work that was very personal and very much for one person, I think the next one I'm working on now, Weightless Bricks, together with John Cruz and David Flug, is about the future of virtual work environments. And I think for that one, what I'm very interested in working in is the idea to spatialize concepts like collaboration and communication. and to really think within everyday work we do within different fields, but how to think about the idea of communicating in a much less verbal way and thinking about space as a tool to use in order to exchange information. And I think this is something we are basically starting to explore and test out with different constellations. So yeah, and the collaboration I think is very much meant in a way that actually within the game engine to be there with another person and to be productive within it, not by yourself, but in collaboration with somebody else. So to be able to share processes by sharing spaces.
[01:02:31.232] Nicholas Zembashi: For me in general, the kind of stimuli behind the work I've always done and where I take it is it's usually been about things that I either hated or disliked and how to try and talk about them in different ways or unpack them and see why do things have to be a certain way. I remember even in sort of like my fascination for example with why people like have this ready acceptance of things like like entities for example entities like the military for example i always find like really weird as sort of how somebody enters in such a sort of domain and what prompts people to to agree or sort of not think about certain aspects that we take for granted like that and this was in my third year then i i built a project around military as like in its cultural role and the reconstruction of sort of a war zone or like a post-war sort of Sri Lanka and that was something that came out of my like questioning something that I actually really disliked or really had like reservations for and like in the projects that I showed yesterday as well like what's beautiful about this really disturbing sort of deconstruction of or existence of multiple truths in what I call the telescope. It's you know how do we make this space that everyone's concerned about like the traditional ways in which we understood sort of truth through sort of media in the 20th century is like having like an institution that guides what sort of something is and now it's sort of democratized or kind of like dispersed and how different kind of entities try to find ways of turning it into a sort of managed perception through it. And again, it was something that fascinated me, but annoyed me or like, I found like, you know, how do we reposition ourselves to look at it differently? So I guess, yeah, and like, in general, this issue about identity and like edges also come from a a country like Cyprus has a very very like it's a small place with a very complex history of of identity and also of thresholds it's a place where there is a very like rigid kind of understanding of that there is an edge within a country that's sort of already an island and like how do people sort of talk about that or how do they react to it? So like I always like sort of showing these projects also to people that are totally like outside of architecture but like had similar sort of reservations about these concepts like either whether they're people that come from home and we also have like this understanding of like what it means to like live in a space of like very rigid thresholds and like how can we talk about those thresholds differently or So yeah, I guess like taking these things forward for me is also like maybe finding sort of like new ways of looking at things that like we'd like to question and how to represent them and then what's the audience through which I can get that feedback from. And yeah, this is maybe something that came up and was interesting that Sebastian said was how in architecture generally, there's like, there's a lag. There's a lag in the way that, and this is what came up yesterday as well, that the lag through systems that we develop through which to make communication more efficiently and this is something that people like Derrida touch upon a lot in their sort of body of work and of grammatology he sort of tries to talk about the history of these systems of communication and language and how their ways of packing information more efficiently to communicate more efficiently and what does it mean to communicate that information spatially makes it more efficient. In the way that a memory palace used to have a very different role for ancient practices or classical practices of oration, where it was an efficient way to use space as a way of remembering and storing information in your head. before the press was invented, and then how the cathedral, and this is something I mentioned even in my project of the Telescape, how different architectures also represented ways in which we stored ideas or communicated ideas, and how Victor Hugo in Notre Dame talks about how the cathedral has fallen in demise and disrepair, and he was trying, like his book as well was arguably like a way of trying to influence an audience at a time where these spaces were falling into disrepair, like the Notre Dame at the time was falling into disrepair. And he wanted to encourage architectural preservation through saying that, what's the feedback between these new technologies of mediating ideas, which is like the book. And this is where that quote comes from Frollo in the book where he says, this killed that, like the cathedral. was killed by the book because as a way of like a space conveying information, like the way that these technologies changed or like had an impact on the way that we use certain like media to communicate, like changes our way of thinking about the world. And I guess the next question is like, what do these new tools in architecture, what's the feedback and what do we get in the way that we interact with not only space, but also with ideas, like have to say about the way that we communicate.
[01:07:27.579] Kent Bye: Memory palaces. So finally, what do you each think is the ultimate potential of virtual and augmented reality? And what am I able to enable?
[01:07:42.866] Nicholas Zembashi: I think it's something that I've already said and it's I think new ways of expressing things that we couldn't express in the past or to confront issues that were difficult to confront. So like somebody brought it up yesterday about like how VR is used for example in like therapy and like not only through Seb's project but also like you know how somebody with body perception issues is put into like looking at their body differently, or how we explore ideas differently, and all of that. For me, it's also how space can inspire the same kind of awe that somehow is missing through the profession of architecture at the moment, in that it's in that rigidity that makes it very difficult to, through all the different systems, there's this lag again. I think we discussed this yesterday briefly about the workflow that we're put in, or the pipeline that we generally have to traditionally put a building out there. And it is not to discount, there is definitely a very big importance, we still have bodies and I don't believe we're going to transcend the body anytime soon, but it's more like that feedback between how we can look at space affecting the body differently and I think this is where we're provided with a landscape or a ground to explore. those questions that like I think traditional architecture so far has is already like in a workflow of full of sort of regulation and full of sort of things that have a legitimate reason why they exist in a history that obviously it's not to say that we shouldn't appreciate it but it does become limiting in other ways of sort of exploring the human condition and the experiences we have with space that I think this is where VR opens up this potential that we have a role to play in and like sort of any kind of new technology we should also be careful that it doesn't fall like in sort of the tropes that it falls into like with the way that the internet for example has had the same problems with falling again into sort of capitalism's like production line or the machine of like the realities that we already have And then the tool sort of is appropriated by them. It's more like how can we allow the tool to affect and change those realities that is more exciting about any kind of tool.
[01:09:54.255] Paula Strunden: I think to me it is the idea that there's a new dimension that doesn't follow the same rules and I think it's the idea that there's a world without gravity and without scale and distance and that it's like ultimately I think there's like a like a new relationship between these things that are like space-time relationship that is somehow waiting to be sculpted as well and I think this idea of being part of sculpting that dimension is like This is, of course, a great potential, I think, for architects, but not only architects, but for anybody who is happy to think about designing and forming and sculpting and shaping. And to me, that's the potential, isn't it?
[01:10:40.553] Sebastian Tiew: I think aside from being an empathy machine or an excellent way of treatment, I guess from an architectural point of view, it's definitely going to give us more room to collaborate, I think. and to allow us to, I guess, generate ideas in ways that we haven't been doing in a while. And what I mean by that is to experiment again and to test different things out within an actual space with real circumstances and feedback towards your presence in that space. And I think that's the essence of VR at the moment and how it's been most successful. And also if I can be a bit optimistic, I think the real potential of VR in the end is to bring us all together or to bring us closer to each other in a space of the internet that has actually distanced us from each other further and further within the last decade or so.
[01:11:27.530] Kent Bye: Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the immersive community?
[01:11:34.337] Nicholas Zembashi: I think that space in general is a common denominator and this new space invites everyone to collaborate in a different way and to rethink the way that we shape and understand the human condition.
[01:11:47.128] Paula Strunden: I think I'm just looking forward to meet more people working and caring and liking these fields. And I think yesterday was, to me personally, a really nice start of a conversation. And the greatest thing left is having, I think, met these people and learned about their work.
[01:12:07.260] Sebastian Tiew: I guess just to encourage more people to think out of the box and to acknowledge that this is a very real and serious type of space to deal with. And yeah, we have full responsibility in working with it. Yeah.
[01:12:21.315] Kent Bye: Awesome. Great. Well, thank you so much each of you for joining me today on the podcast. So thank you.
[01:12:26.180] Nicholas Zembashi: Thank you. Thank you very much.
[01:12:28.282] Kent Bye: Yes. Thanks. So that was Paula Struden. She's studied at the Bartlett School of Architecture, and she's been creating these location-based experiences, looking at the future of domesticity, and she's got a company called Soft Bodies. Nicholas Mbashi, he's a recent graduate of the Architectural Association, and he's currently working at Forensic Architecture, and he's looking at media theory, the ontology of space, and using architecture to create essays on film. And then finally, Sebastian Tu, who's also a recent graduate of the Architectural Association, and he's looking at how VR can be used to rehabilitate people with mental illnesses or people who are in prisons. So, I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, Well, one of the things that Andrea Kashukaru was mentioning to me after seeing a lot of the different presentations, she was wanting to see a lot more embodied experiences, actual examples of immersive architecture. And when she was watching some of these different presentations, she had a hard time of knowing whether or not these were actual experiences, if they were trailers and, and talking to both Nicholas and Sebastian, they were trying to take a very specific approach, which is to do this process of world building, to build out these different worlds. and to be able to explore the potential of where this could all go and to expand their minds of the trajectory of where this is heading, and then to allow them to explore these different dynamics that pushes the limits of where the technology is actually at, so they don't have to run up into the boundaries of what's even going to be possible. They can push the limits of what's possible by working in these other mediums. but also just using the medium of film to be able to build these worlds and to talk about these variety of different concepts in a way that they're able to use the metaphoric space that's represented in these different experiences they created to be able to talk about these different philosophical concepts or ideas that would be difficult to just talk about in the pure abstract. So that was one of the things that I took the most away from going to this gathering was to see like a series of these different speculative design experiences, both from Nicholas and Sebastian. And there's another one from Nathan Sue looking at through Leviathan's eyes. So just to use this practice of architecture to be able to have this level of spatial awareness. And architecture, it's looking at space. And so in order to take this interdisciplinary approach, they're able to take all of these different disciplines and try to, through the medium of space, look at the lens of neuroscience or anthropology or human dynamics, all through the ability to be able to modulate space through the design of architecture. So that I think is super fascinating because one of the other big things that I think came out of this conversation, especially from Sebastian too, who went into architectural school not knowing if he was going to go into game design, which is using a lot of the skills of spatial design, but to go into the more of the interactive media realm. And that he was saying that now that the Epic Games Unreal Engine had created this more open source license, that it started to see a lot more adoption into the different architectural communities and to see how game engines were creating, in some ways, this lingua franca to be able to communicate with different disciplines and domains, whether it's architecture to be able to start to collaborate with the game designers and anything that kind of gets reduced down into these 3D models and can be put into a real-time game engine and start to explore different concepts of spatiality and interactivity. It seems like games are much more focused on the agency and expression of your will and interactivity and engagement, whereas architecture in the past has been so much more about the static spatial experience. But I think as those two worlds come together, you kind of see this fusion of the principles of game design with the principles of architecture and how to actually fuse those two together. So it seems like Sebastian is in some ways on the frontier of those two worlds coming together. Impala with her micro utopia and exploring the materiality and the embodied experience and the mixed reality and projecting out to like 2034 again training under Keiichi Matsuda and being highly influenced by this process of speculative design by watching these documentaries to see, okay, this is what is going to be happening in the home by 2034. And then start to kind of prototype out these very visceral experiences of exploring different aspects of for a materiality and physicality and how those are going to be starting to be interfacing within these mixed reality environments. So there did seem to be just a broader, either skepticism or resistance to, you know, thinking too much about virtual reality from the lens of architecture, um, seems to be different camps of people who are going all in. And then also for people who have been doing that, like Paula said, that she's kind of used to facing a lot of resistance from people who are not even really willing to put on the headset. And so it was a relief for her to be able to gather lots of people together and to be able to just openly talk about it without having to worry about trying to convince people about the merits of virtual reality. So that was, I think, just an interesting kind of sociological element that I guess I wasn't necessarily expecting, but I think there was a sense of camaraderie and relief for everybody to come together and to talk about all these variety of different things. There was quite a wide ranging discussion and debate that happened over like two hours at the end of the day. And there's a link to that on YouTube. I highly recommend people to go check that out. And, you know, some of the different aspects that I had brought up in my 20 minute talk were just around memory palaces in general, but also moving into this much more iterative design process and having this fast feedback loop cycles. And I think that is something that all of these different creators were starting to think about a lot more. and working with the actual immersive environments and seeing how, you know, so much about the design process with both architecture and a lot of these immersive experiences that it's very difficult sometimes to pin down and put into language why it is why you feel the way you feel about stuff. you have to really get down to a super granular level and also appreciate the relationship for how things are related to each other and specific context. And it's just something that I think is just very difficult. The analogy I keep coming back to is like this metaphor of machine learning, of trying to look at the fundamental features that happen within a neural network architecture, and then the difficulty of to break down and get into that sub-symbolic layer to see what is the magic behind these different relational patterns. Maybe we'll get to the point where we'll start to formalize the different language in a way we have more of a deeper intuition of it. We could start to actually use the spatial metaphors itself to be able to communicate, to be able to, you know, use space as a language to be able to communicate. But it feels like we're still fairly far away from that, that there are certain elements of design principles that can be certainly applied and architects know how to create these different spaces that invoke these different states of awe and wonder. But it's still very difficult to break down what precisely is happening. And there's still a bit of alchemical magic that happens to be able to create the right combination of all these things and to have an experience that's actually very difficult to reduce down into specific words. I think a theme that starts to come up more in these virtual spaces is who's in control, who has authority, the ways in which these deeper market dynamics, how are they going to be impacting people and how to create a space that is free from a lot of influences that may be trying to control and manipulate us in different ways. And so that seems to be a topic of discussion that has a lot more deeper awareness of. Going through the first iteration of how the internet and web turned out and then looking into now that we start to take a much more embodied vision of what the future of this immersive internet is going to be. I think there's a lot more of these deeper questions about authority and control and trust that the architects are trying to also just kind of flesh out the different dynamics that are happening there and try to really navigate it in a way that has these healthy boundaries and good design intentions behind it. I honestly think there's just a lot of like really interesting, compelling, nuanced insights into the process and the biases of architecture just by looking at it in contrast to virtual reality and the creation of spatial design and to pull out some of these deeper principles of world building and what's it mean to create space and what is sustainability look like in these virtual worlds? Who owns what? What is ownership? And how do you actually plan things out as you're designing these different immersive experiences? And falling back to the map and these previous metaphors, what are the merits of all these other 2D representations of understanding space? And can you still leverage that or other new fusions that have to come together with all these different ways that we're used to thinking about it and have to come up with new ways of orienting and discussing and thinking about how to navigate and design in these immersive environments. So I'd highly recommend checking out some of the videos that are attached to this podcast episode just to get a deeper sense of some of the ways in which Sebastian and Nicholas are using these immersive spatial environments to be able to have these different essays and talk about these deeper concepts and for sure be including Keiichi Matsuda's hyperreality. as a reference point and also a link to my conversation that I had with Keiichi back in episode 639 that I did back at GDC 2018 where I started to really unpack his process and his approach to these different conceptualizations of the future of these immersive technologies. So I think this is the last conversation that I had at the Architectural Association. I have another interview that I did with Alex Coulombe, who is at this intersection of theater and architecture and talks a little bit more about this fusion and interdisciplinary approaches and the ways that he's combining those with his practice and the different projects that he's working on. But I just had an amazing time going to the Architectural Association and having these different conversations with architects and to, really start interrogating their process. And, you know, for me, it's just fascinating to see that there are these different interdisciplinary approaches, and that Nicholas had said that there's a bit of this trade-off between being interdisciplinary versus like really focusing in on a very specific thing and becoming an expert on one domain, but It seems like the big takeaway is that there's this need to try to be these interdisciplinary points of collaboration. And to me, I think it's very interesting to see how architects and game designers are at the forefront of being at these nexus points of being able to bring together so many different variety of different perspectives to be able to create these different spatial experiences and interactive, immersive experiences. And just how these real-time game engines are not only impacting so many different other areas, but specifically within the realm of architecture, to see how it's going to start to change the field of architecture and how it's practiced. So that's all that I have for today. And I just wanted to thank you for listening to the voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, uh, send this to some people who you know are architects or might be interested in this series. I think there's a lot of interesting conversations here, interrogating what it means to be an architect and also what type of insights that architects might be able to provide to the future of immersive technologies and the future of the metaverse and the future immersive architecture of the internet. This is a list of support a podcast. And so I do rely upon your donations in order to continue to bring you this type of coverage. And if you've been enjoying these series, then please do become a supporting member of this podcast. Just $5 a month is a great amount to give, to be able to help sustain what I do here on the podcast. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voices of VR. Thanks for listening.