#1109: Tribeca XR: “Planet City VR” is a Speculative Architecture Provocation on Who We Want to Be in the Future

Liam Young is a director and speculative architect who is designing regenerative futures via provocative thought experiments. Planet City VR is the provocation of centralizing all 10 billion humans on the planet to a city the size of Texas so that the rest of the world could go back to seed, and serve to counter climate change. It’s not a literal proposal, but more of a futurist, worldbuilding design prompt that pushes the cutting edge of regenerative science, architecture, culture, and anthropology up to or beyond the edge of what’s possible. Planet City is a multi-media project where there is a Planet City film, Planet City book, Planet City TED Talk, and now a Planet City VR experience that premiered at Tribeca Immersive 2022.

I had a chance to unpack the Planet City VR provocation with Young at Tribeca to hear more about his intention with the project, collaboration with science fiction authors, scientists, anthropologists, and artists, his trip around the world to paradigmatic examples of renewable energy at scale, and how this project allows us to reflect on who we want to be in the future and how technology changes us.


Liam Young: Planet City — a sci-fi vision of an astonishing regenerative future | TED

Trailer for Planet City

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast, a podcast that looks at the structures and forms of immersive storytelling and the future of spatial computing. And I'm supported by Patreon, so you can help me out over at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. So today's episode is about Planet City VR, which is a really interesting piece of speculative architecture. It's a provocation that says, we live on this earth, we're facing climate change, we need to do something drastic. What if we took all 10 billion people on the planet and put them into one city the size of Texas? Now, this isn't an actual proposal, but it's more of a provocation to say, if we did that and moved everybody to one highly dense populated part of the world, and then basically let the rest of the Earth go wild, from there maybe that would be a strategy for trying to recover from the impending disaster of climate change. If nothing else changes, we change nothing, then we're headed to a really dark, dystopic place. I personally have a very strong reaction to that as an idea. It's a provocation. It's designed to do that. Liam Young is someone who is looking at all these different sustainable technologies. He's an architect doing this speculative architecture, doing these world-building exercises. to say, OK, let's try to build this out and to take all these different technologies and then get buy-in from the entire world to be on the same page to do this type of collective action. Metaphorically, that's what is needed, to take collective action. This as a piece allows us to say, OK, if we're not going to do Planet City VR, if we're going to continue to be distributed across the planet, then what are the changes that we actually need to make? And also this project started as a speculative architecture piece, a film and then a book and then a TED talk. And then now it's a VR experience. And so it's crossing many different communication media as well to try to tell this larger story and this world building exercise of speculative architecture, trying to provoke these deeper questions of how to live into a future that's much more sustainable. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Liam happened on Saturday, June 11th, 2022 at Tribeca Immersive in New York City, New York. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:30.267] Liam Young: So my name is Liam Young, and I'm a director and speculative architect, I guess. I'm trained as an architect, but I don't make buildings anymore, but rather I tell stories about the way that technology is changing our lives, spaces, and cities. So I work with film, I work with animation, I work with virtual reality and we create imaginary worlds that are encoded with critical ideas about who we might want to be in the future and how technology is going to be changing us. So here in Tribeca we're showing an imaginary world called Planet City that is both a film, a book, costumes and a VR experience.

[00:03:12.364] Kent Bye: Maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into making these different types of multimedia experiences.

[00:03:19.245] Liam Young: Yeah, I mean, I come from architecture, and I'm interested in the way that immersive media isn't really a filmic medium. It's actually a spatial medium. But for me, the language of architecture is actually a much more appropriate way to talk about an immersive experience than a cut or an edit or the sort of framing or composition that we've been developing for a hundred years of cinema. So really the language of thresholds and transitions, these are sorts of things that are native to my spatial discipline and that's kind of how I start to work through the idea of immersive experiences. So I started working in this space, I guess, when I was moving from traditional forms of architecture. I started getting interested in the ways that the forces shaping and affecting cities were no longer the domain of traditional architects. You know, public spaces, squares, large formal bits of infrastructure were starting to be displaced by mobile technologies and access to the network. Technology was starting to change how we engaged with and inhabited space. but I felt that the traditions of the architectural discipline where I'm from weren't able to keep up with that. So slowly we moved away from making buildings as physical objects to making films, immersive experiences and digital narratives that would talk about those transformations of space. I guess because of the way of prototyping how we might relate to new technologies in a context where architecture is such a slow medium, you can't really keep up. So yeah, ever since then, we've been telling stories with and through space, as opposed to doing architecture as buildings.

[00:05:08.192] Kent Bye: Yeah, I know that Fredrik Helberg and Lara Lesmes were at the Architectural Association. They brought me out and they had a whole architecture of the immersive internet symposium and a lot of larger discussions there with, I'd say, call them the old guard of architectural professors who were much more skeptical about these virtual and immersive technologies because they were really connected to the materiality of the physical buildings and Architecture is such an interdisciplinary practice that you have to know so many different aspects of engineering and building codes and social dynamics, but the physical structures of the buildings, it felt like there was a certain part of architectural practice that is so much about the physical building process, the textures and the haptic experience of that, but it feels like there's Aspects of the virtual reality that don't necessarily translate that in terms of the physical materiality and maybe some of the constraints of the physical constraints are now being Translated into the geometric constraints for how much complexity you can have in terms of whatever resources you have But it's kind of a different type of constraints So there's a number of different overlaps and parallels that both Lara and Frederick could start to map out but love to hear any of your reflections of this dichotomy between some of those biases towards the physicality of the architectural practice versus what you see as maybe what's coming for immersive architecture or speculative architecture that maybe transcends some of those limitations or worldviews and paradigms.

[00:06:31.760] Liam Young: Yeah, I think now we're at a point where it's no longer productive to actually talk about what we used to say was the digital versus the physical. Like now, the way that we relate to digital space, you know, our digital online lives and personas have real consequence in the material world. They're just two ends of a spectrum. You know, they're not binaries. In a way, those two terms are no longer productive and useful anymore because The digital is physical. The internet isn't something drifting around in the ether. It's a bunch of warehouses with stacks of rare earth. VR experiences have a consequence on the physicality of the body. I'm really no longer interested in trying to make those distinctions, but rather I'm interested in the ways that we can start to imagine them as these interlinked, intermeshed experiences. I'm starting to design with that as a conceit, really. That's kind of what we're working with. So, I don't know, that kind of set up of opposites, I think, is of an age that's passed. So what we try and do is think about what it might mean for designers to actually include the digital spectrum in everything that we do, and how physical designers might also start to embrace the metrics of the screen. I mean, I talk about what I call green screen space, where with augmented reality, what we're seeing is that the metrics that drive content on a screen are leaving those glowing rectangles and starting to move into the physical world, right? Like in the context of AR, refresh rates, resolution, poly count, all of these things are now actually becoming the metrics that drive spatial experience. So I do these fun kind of thought experiments about like, you know, in an augmented reality world where we're all wearing our augmented contact lenses, you can start to imagine that something like resolution becomes now a function of the urban, right? It might be like on a Saturday night at like 3 a.m., we go and slum it in a low-resolution dive bar, or like Rodeo Drive is super high-res, luxury objects. It's both dystopian, but also it's kind of interesting to think about the way that the parameters of architecture, which used to be about concrete and steel and tensegrity strength of a beam or the compression strength of a column, we now start to think about refresh rates and GPUs as being part of what defines our experience of the world.

[00:09:10.993] Kent Bye: Yeah, so maybe you could take me to the moment when this project of Planet City VR started. What was the catalyst that really got this going?

[00:09:18.938] Liam Young: Yeah, I mean, this Planet City is my pandemic project, really. I started trying to make a work that was responding to the moment in which we're in, where I describe it as a, we almost were living a real-time dystopian disaster film. A lot of my work before that is really about exploring the subcultural implications of new technologies. And we'd been thinking about, you know, smart city tech, driverless cars, drones, and making films and narratives around how people would co-opt these technologies and misuse them or hack them. And they were kind of erring towards the dystopian because in many ways, the work we make is our counter narratives to the dominant media narratives around technology. And when everyone is trying to pimp out this technology as being revolutionary, it's going to change our lives. They miss the complications of what those technologies actually mean when they hit the ground. So we've been telling stories about that. But at the time of the pandemic, it felt like The world didn't need any more dystopias. All you needed to do was open your window. So I wanted to create a work which would be about a hopeful vision of a possible future. So Planet City started to evolve. So really, at the core, Planet City is an imaginary city for the entire population of the Earth, for 10 billion people. And we started by looking at seminal biologist Edward O. Wilson, who has developed a plan to stave off mass extinction that he calls Half Earth, which is a strategy where you restrict human development to 50% of the planet, thereby leaving the other 50% to return to nature. And we thought, wow, let's try and visualize what that would look like. It felt like a really radical proposition. It felt like a proposition of a scale that was necessary in the context of climate change. And so many people had been working with that, but because it comes from the world of biology, they were very focused on the landscape, the wilderness, the environment that we would leave behind and how to scaffold its recovery. Whereas, trained as an architect, I'm like, how the hell do we compress our already planetary-scaled city into this 50% of the planet? And that's where we started. That's where the project began. And we got a whole bunch of scientists and technologists and environmentalists on board. I call them the city council of the project. And we worked with them to really figure out how we could make this city work. Like, how would it be powered? How would it run on 100% renewable energy? How would we grow enough food in a sustainable way? And what we were realizing as we went through that process is that you could actually put the entire population of the Earth in a single city about the size of Texas. So it wouldn't be half Earth, it would actually be 0.02% Earth, thereby relieving the pressure on the rest of the planet and returning almost the entirety of the Earth to wilderness, to return stolen lands co-opted by colonization, to rewild. You know, creating this national park of the world became the key driver for the project. So we created a 2D film and then we wanted to get people into the city to walk around in it, to feel it, to inhabit it. So we developed the VR experience which is really about creating the creation story of the city and it's narrated by a young child activist who's telling the story about how the city started to form around her.

[00:12:43.854] Kent Bye: And as you're working on this Planet City VR, as an architect, there's obviously a design practice of creating blueprints and designing things. And so you said this is also a multimedia project that has like a TED Talk and a book and a film and there's the costumes and the VR experience. And so where did you start in creating this and maybe walk through the evolution of each of the different media that you're adding in as your process of fleshing out this world building practice?

[00:13:09.751] Liam Young: Yeah, I mean, with our world building, like, you know, essentially I create science fiction worlds now. They always start with a deep engagement with the present. Like, even if I'm doing some kind of distant future project, it always begins by getting on a plane and traveling to various landscapes around the world and talking to people who are there. We're really believers in this much-used quote in futures thinking from William Gibson, the author of Neuromancer, the book where cyberspace, the word, first appears. He has this idea about the future. The future's already here, it's just not evenly distributed. And we take that really, really literally. It means that there must be pockets of the future existing in the present tense you can get on a plane and travel to. And that's a big part of our research, where all these future narratives begin, is to travel around the world identifying these weak signals, these sort of emerging trends. And then really our practice of world building is just one of exaggeration and extrapolation, and we just build from there. So Planet City began by traveling to what I would describe as the modern wonders of the world. The biggest solar field on the planet, which is in Morocco. The world's largest wind farm, which is in Gansu, China. The world's biggest algae farm, which is in Western Australia. documenting these massive, monumental renewable energy infrastructures as a means to think about the tech that would be involved in making Planet City operate in a sustainable way. Of course, what we realize is that all of the technology required to build the city actually already exists. In a lot of cases, it's existed for 10 or 15 years. but they're just kept down by political lobbyists or cultural bias. So really Planet City began just by talking to those scientists and technologists and then imagining what would happen if their wildest dreams would come true and we just scaled up all of those pieces into Planet City. So we started working with their research and kind of mapping out what the city could be, how it would be fed, how it would be powered, working with sketches, models, building that up. And the first iteration of the project was a 2D film where we were trying to both capture what that city would look like, but also to explore the cultures and life of the city. So one of the initial steps we did was to map all of the world's festivals, carnivals, religious holidays onto a calendar, and we realized that Planet City would actually be one giant party. You know, any given day there's like 20 things going on. So we imagined this 365 day procession that was wrapped through the city and we developed a series of carnival costumes and worked with a bunch of dancers and performers and captured what this carnival, this joyous moment in this city could look like. In a way, in making an imaginary future, especially a future city, we thought this would be a way to separate ourselves from so many of the dystopian, cyberpunk, Blade Runner-y cities that we've seen before. We wanted to depict a city of joy and dance and cultural diversity. So that's kind of where it started, was that 2D film. And then we developed a book where we asked a series of science fiction authors to inhabit the world, to inhabit the city. And they wrote a series of short stories within that landscape. And we then asked all the scientists, technologists, the theorists that were involved in making the city, the city council, to write a series of essays that described both why a project like this needs to exist and also described the urgency for this type of thinking by talking about where we're at today. We put the book together in such a way that those fictions and essays kind of interchangeable they slide between each other in the way that you're not quite sure which ones are fiction and which ones real because ultimately one of the takeaways of the project is that the real absurdity at the core of this crazy experiment is business as usual you know the real fictional city is the city we all currently occupy, and the idea that it can continue without us going extinct. So that's the book. And then the VR experience, we wanted to talk about how this city started to form, because we were getting lots of feedback from the 2D film about, you know, how is this created? Where is it? So we wanted to immerse people in that story, that creation story, that origin myth. and the VR experience is a dollhouse VR where the city sort of grows around you and you hear the story of its birth as the city gets bigger and bigger and bigger and starts to consume you.

[00:17:55.640] Kent Bye: Wow. So I guess when I hear the logistics of taking everybody on the Earth and putting them into one location, I just think about all the things that's just not going to work out because in terms of language and culture and the ways in which that culture is specifically connected to geographic points on the Earth because of the resources that are there. things are developed in harmony and then I just imagine this homogeneity impulse to like have everybody centralized that for me might be a dystopia but at the same time humans being extinct is also not so great but it's also so beyond my lifetime right now I don't know I just feel like there's something about how do you take everybody on the planet and put it into like one centralized locations what would be it seems like a crisis would maybe catalyze. I just feel like there's other cultural aspects that feel like a non-starter in some ways, and so I'd love to hear a bit of what the discussions from either the science fiction authors or the scientists, because that to me feels like culturally is maybe one of the bigger blockers in terms of like, you know, technically, sure, maybe you'll be able to pull it off, but in terms of getting buy-in from 10 billion people to come uplift their life and basically become a migrant into this city where, yeah, I don't know, it just feels like a big ask.

[00:19:08.175] Liam Young: Yeah, I mean I want to be clear also that Planet City is a provocation, right? It's not a proposal in the sense that I'm trying to convince you and everyone who's listening to pack our bags and move. But the premise is that if we can kind of get the city working at the scale of 10 billion people, then there's really nothing stopping us reimagining a city like New York where we're currently in or Los Angeles where I'm based. The only thing stopping us is our own cultural bias, right? So we want to start to talk about and get people having a conversation around What might be the reasonable sacrifices people are willing to make? What are the necessary lifestyle changes that we're willing to go through in order to literally not go extinct? Planet City is the most extreme end of that spectrum, quite deliberately to elicit responses. Is this kind of densification something that we might consider? So much of science fiction involves super dense cities that we see on the screen. where density is always imagined as being dirty and disgusting. Yet, what we see in places like New York is that density actually breeds not homogeneity, but difference. That by putting unlike things together in a small space, you create extraordinary moments of overlap, and differences become exaggerated and celebrated, as opposed to nullified. So how do you change people's perception of density so that we become more willing to give up our house with a three-car garage, a backyard front yard, and two bits of space down the edge? Because 10 billion people doesn't fit if that's the lifestyle that we choose. So either we need to make certain moves similar to Planet City, but perhaps at much more modest scales, or we need to radically limit population growth. in which case we have to make decisions about who's allowed to have children and who isn't, which is also pretty messy. Or we just give up and say, let's just party till the end and keep on rolling like we are. But with the understanding that our children's children's children are going to have a pretty rough time of it. So we want to provoke all of those different responses. Planet City is equal parts dystopia and utopia. I think there's immense hope there, hope and optimism in the idea that we could all organize at that kind of scale. And part of the creation story is talking about how that happens, not at the point of a gun, but through a global consensus where we're looking at amazing things like the global climate strike or the women's march that was organized not through some top-down institution, but through a hashtag or a social media page where bodies at the scale never before seen came together in organized protest. Planet City is a movement like that that will happen across multiple generations as we soon realize that we can't just keep on doing what we're doing. So there's immense hope there, but at the same time, yeah, it's a pretty extreme way to live. Again, these are the kind of conversations we want to have, and believe me, we've had all kinds of responses from all over the map. But really, any kind of vision of the future. to be really productive is going to be one that's complicated. Both Utopias and Dystopias are just as unproductive as one another because they're total fantasies. We wanted to present a work that was messy and complicated so that we could really engage with the realities of what is coming so that perhaps we can think about more strategic ways to embrace it.

[00:22:55.088] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'd love to hear you expand a little bit on worldbuilding as a practice and, you know, the influence of Alex Bidal and his process of worldbuilding and how you came across the concept of worldbuilding for the first time.

[00:23:06.383] Liam Young: Yeah, I mean, in a way, we've been world building all along, but someone like Alex McDowell is one of the people who has been really active in sort of branding it as a methodology, as a way to think about the world. At its core, world building is the design and imagination of fictional worlds as a means to understand our own world in new ways. So we're interested in the ways that world building, or an imaginary city like Planet City, have always been places in which we can prototype new ideas and prototype the decisions we might face today. Where kind of risk-free we can explore the consequences of some of the technologies which are just coming down the pipe. We can play them out and imagine if these are things we want to like invest heavily in or that we want to run away screaming from and need to heavily regulate. Worldbirding becomes a really productive way of exploring what a future could be and whether or not it's a future that we want to start to enable, and in which case, how do we do that? Or it's a future that we want to prevent, in which case, how do we definitely do that? But I describe it as like the landscape in front of us is like this dark and shadowed unknown territory and world building and fictions above the future are like little torch beams that illuminate that landscape in front of us. The more stories we tell, the more imaginary worlds we create. the more of that landscape becomes legible and the easier it is to navigate our path through it to get to a future on the other side that maybe is productive or preferable. I'm a big believer in this idea that the future is not a noun, it's a verb. It's not something that just washes over us like water, it's something that we all play a role in actively shaping and defining. So world building becomes a way of engaging audiences and what those futures could be as a means to help them to think about the futures that they actually want to be living in. So hopefully it's a way that we can collectively explore where we want to go together.

[00:25:17.624] Kent Bye: As you're saying that, I'm reminded of the process philosophy has a lot of discussions around the actual and then the possible, and the difference between what is actually manifest, which is the realm of different possibilities. And so it seems like there is a wide variety of different possibilities as we move forward, and that what you're saying is that as you project yourself into that future and really focus on both an individual's experience, but that individual experience is in the context of a world, and then as you flesh out that world and those potential futures, then you're able to understand those matrix of possibilities so that as you move forward to try to make those decisions now, that may bend the arc towards justice in a way that tries to shape the futures that we actually want to live into. For me, I just feel like that world-building potential of VR is some of the most exciting possibilities of the medium because it allows us to imagine those futures, but to not just have them in the platonic realm of ideal forms, but to actually bring it down into an embodied experience that people can actually make it real in a sense that they can experience different aspects of that imaginal culture before it's been translated into the realm of the physical and of the quote-unquote real, or what I would say is just more of the physical manifestation of that. So it feels like a powerful practice that, I don't know, I'm just excited to be able to see that there's other people that have been out there doing that. Love to hear any thoughts on that.

[00:26:38.300] Liam Young: Yeah, I mean, what we're exploring, what we think about is, you know, especially in the context of like climate change, which is something that Planet City, obviously, is attempting to engage with. We began thinking about Planet City in response to the rising red line on the graph of climate change. in a context where we kind of all know what's happening. We've all seen the numbers, we all understand there's more carbon in the atmosphere than there was, but we need new ways to relate to that kind of data set. At the moment, the existing narratives aren't really doing anything. We know we're screwed, but we still keep on going as we're going. A medium like data visualization, as a practice, takes a lot of that information and identifies patterns and tries to visualize those patterns in ways that we can start to connect to it. What I like to do and what I think world building does and what immersive media can start to do is what I would describe as data dramatization, as opposed to data visualization, where we imbue those data sets with drama, with emotion. We immerse people in them and therefore they can start to, they're forced to develop responses to them. They can't just kind of passively sit in front of the news and letting it wash over them and go and check Instagram. They're complicit in these narratives, they're compelled by them, they're repulsed by them, but they're certainly forced to develop a reaction to them. And I think that's kind of where we're at right now, is trying to think about how storytelling how fiction can help us to engage with the problems and issues of the world in new ways and hopefully generate new responses. I'm a massive believer of the power of fiction. It's really how we've all shared and disseminated ideas across time. And the mediums I'm trained in as an architect, plans and sections, drawings, are really kind of coded mediums that I trained seven years to be able to learn and understand and decipher. They're sort of illegible to the general public. But ever since we can sit up, we're put in front of the TV, we fall asleep into the pages of a novel, we spend our Friday nights in front of the flickering movie screen, we're all literate in stories. And we're all literate in worlds because, hey, we live in one. And the way that we can actually encode, like Trojan horses, critical ideas about who we are and who we want to be in those worlds and in those stories and Use the power of the medium to communicate them as widely as possible Because I think what we all need to be doing right now as creators You said the Planet City project and the VR and the book and the film and everything else is a provocation They've got a wide range of different reactions.

[00:29:28.688] Kent Bye: What are some of the reactions that you've been getting so far?

[00:29:31.643] Liam Young: Everything from, like, we can't do this, this is horrible, how dare you, this is violent and dangerous, to I want to move in, I want to live here, when are we making it, how much money do you need, let's do it. And I think, like, you know, again, that's why I say it's both utopian and dystopian at the same time. Depending on your worldview, depending on who you are and who the audience is, they're going to have different kinds of relationships to it. And that's by design, because we're trying to force people to start to think about what it means for them. So, you know, if everyone agreed with it, I think they would be problematic, actually. And all we're doing with it is trying to start a conversation, so maybe the person that hates it and the person that loves it can start a discourse, and maybe we somehow meet in the middle, I don't know. Yeah, I mean, I did a TED Talk, and TED Talks are usually full of optimism and hope. I've invented this new technology, and it's going to change the world. Click, next slide. Here's how to do it. Here's my website. It's never that easy. It's never that easy. So my TED Talk, yeah, got a lot of mixed reactions. But the main thing is people watched it and people clicked on it. You know, when it gets written about, people comment on it, and it becomes a touch point. And at least, at the very least, people are talking about what cities are and what cities mean. Because ultimately, you know, the science fiction safari we take through Planet City and the immersive experience and the VR and the film, At the end of that journey, our hope is that we're able to just look back in on the cities that we all call home, but with fresh eyes. And again, to see that we just can't keep doing what we're doing. The cities that we currently live in don't work. We think they work, but on a given timeline, they're just on the road to collapse.

[00:31:22.950] Kent Bye: One of the things that Alex Bedell has said in his practice of worldbuilding is to bring together a lot of different experts in a wide range of different fields and to either set a place and a time and start to then facilitate a conversation about what does that world look like from their perspective of their expertise and living into the ultimate potential of whatever they're working on and taking the seeds of those ideas and percolate them out into different phases of evolution to the point where it's actually fully bloomed and born into the world. And so I'd love to hear about that process for you of engaging with these different experts and some of the different insights that you got from a variety of those different domains.

[00:32:02.427] Liam Young: Essentially what we're doing is a form of public outreach for scientists and technologists. A lot of times their research is trapped in scientific journals and academic papers that are totally inaccessible to the general public. But we can visualize those ideas and visualize those stories. I mean, some of the scientists we're working with is a group in Australia who've been developing what we call pumped hydro storage. which is in response to a lot of the political groups that are trying to prop up the fossil fuel industry and keep down renewables, where they say the problem with renewables is that it's not a consistent feed. The sun doesn't always shine, the wind doesn't always blow. So it relies on massive resource intensive battery networks to store the energy for when you need it. What they've been developing is this amazing process where you use excess energy when the sun is shining to drive turbines that pump water to high altitude holding lakes. And then in times of peak demand or at the night time when the wind's not blowing and the sun's not shining, you just kind of release the tap and create these waterfalls that drive turbines that generate electricity. So essentially lakes and canals become batteries. So in Planet City, it almost looks like Venice. There are these canals and lakes that run through the city that both are filled with fish for food and algae for biofuels and also calories. Algae is the most efficient way to convert sunlight to food. But they're also the batteries of the city. They've done this amazing thing, they've written an algorithm that scans the topography of the earth looking for areas of high altitude that has lakes near areas of intense urban activity and they've identified that they need like 6,000 sites in order to convert the world to renewable energy, their algorithm found 60,000 sites. So ultimately what we found when, I mean this is one example, but when talking to a lot of these scientists, we realized that climate change is no longer a technological problem. It's an ideological one, it's a cultural one. All the technology we need to solve these problems are here. We get to meet those people and then I guess we get to visualize what they imagine so that people can start to connect with that.

[00:34:19.012] Kent Bye: Have you talked to any other sociologists or other domains? I'd love to hear any other insights of what this city would be like.

[00:34:26.117] Liam Young: Yeah, and we obviously are talking to scientists and technologists, but yeah, we talk to cultural theorists, we talk to anthropologists. One of the things we also tried to do with the project was think about how dominant dystopias are in science fiction and the ways that they present particular worldviews. Particularly like, you know, even utopian films that present cultures of high technology, they imagine that things like ritual practice, mythology, folklore has somehow been evolved away from. You know, it's a function of our, in quotations, primitive past. But what we're seeing now is actually that the way we relate to newness, the way we relate to new technologies, is through the construction of stories and new rituals. We carry our phones with us, our laptops, they're no longer just devices of technology, they become extensions of ourselves. relate to them in these really interesting cultural ways. We decorate them. They become part of our lives. We did a project about drones a few years ago where I was interested in drones as cultural objects. We imagined drone pets. We imagined what a punk rock drone would look like. What would a goth drone look like, you know? So in the context of Planet City, we were trying to imagine what it would mean to bring these cultures together and how you would start to shape neighborhoods not around geographies and places anymore, but around shared cultural practices. Planet City imagines All the invisible lines that we currently have drawn on the earth to divide us fade away beneath a sea of trees. And when people come together, they start to identify with not where you're from, but what you believe in, what you love. You know, there's probably like the Justin Bieber fanboy district. You know, there's a district which celebrates Christmas. There's a district that doesn't. So we start to imagine how different areas start to be shaped and formed. around who we are, which I guess is a reaction to what we see today, which is this revival of nationalism, where we seem to be building borders, you know, America First policies and so on. This dated and archaic way that we start to define ourselves doesn't really have a place in Planet City. we've worked with a lot of anthropologists to help us imagine what those shared practices could start to look like. You know, what it would mean for everyone to not have a kitchen in their flat. Like the idea that we're in an apartment building and there's like 200 kitchens all sitting next to each other is nuts, you know. But we might have neighborhood kitchens where we share making meals and sit together and eat as opposed to lock ourselves away in our apartment collecting stuff we don't need and finding our identity through the acquisition of Products, you know, there are other ways that we can be and be together and form community And that's kind of what we were trying to prototype in the city as well

[00:37:20.464] Kent Bye: I think a part of the when I think about like just even the kitchen example I think of like the tragedy of the commons of how you have these public spaces and there have been a long explorations of communes and communal living and there's trade-offs I'd say in terms of like the benefits you get from living in a community but also like people taking your food or just having privacy so I feel like there are like legitimate reasons I'd say at least from the kitchen example for why you might want to have your own kitchen to have that sense of autonomy and dietary restrictions and people who have allergies. I mean, the list can go on and on and on. But for me, when I think about that consolidation of that many people in that small space, you have not only the political issues in terms of what's the governance system of that, and also the economic dimensions of, like, what's the economy of this as a place for people to live? Because so much of both the governments and the distribution of power within the United States has the federal government, and then it has all the states. Well, what happens when all the states are one geographic location? Then you kind of fraction of things up into representative governments in that ways or like not even everybody on the planet has the same governance system. You know, there's some totalitarian systems. And so it feels like to me in some ways that there's advantages of having that diversity and plurality because in that diversity and plurality you're able to have different types of experiences that maybe people have the ability to self-select to some degree. So there seems to be, at least for me, maybe an eradication of a biodiversity of having people like, what happens if there's a pandemic and it wipes out everybody on the planet just because there's no ways to have enough social distancing. So, I mean, these are the provocations, like you said, that come up, but there's all these other questions around the governance and economy. I don't know if that's something that you also looked at.

[00:38:59.445] Liam Young: I mean, in the book, there's a great piece by George Oskalis, which is talking about degrowth as a model. At the moment, we've made a success based on expansion, which is obviously totally impossible in this world that we're all walking into. So degrowth as a model of practice becomes really interesting as an economic model. But equally, we also talked with Benjamin Bratton, who is doing a whole lot of work around the ideas of algorithmic governance, AI governance, and think about what that might mean as a form that starts to shape the systems of power within the city. And I think there's really interesting things there that can start to emerge when you move away from the nation state as the model. That's things that we've been prototyping and testing, and really Planet City, if anything, becomes a stage in which to explore those different ideas. And yeah, it's not simple, right? Like, even the kitchen example is super complex, and there's so many things that go on with it, but part of it is to explore, like, well, how might we deal with something like that? You know, we worked with virologists to start to talk about, because obviously it evolved through the pandemic. The idea of putting everyone in one place seemed at the time like a really bad idea. But at the same time, actually, what you create is potentially a really robust system because so little is coming from the outside into it. So the chances of creating the sorts of diversions that generate something like COVID are actually much smaller because the bifurcation that happens from people going from all parts of the world and everywhere into one place, like once you're there, those inputs actually are restricted in a way that global jet set travel isn't. So that was one point of discussion. Another was like, what would it mean to move and travel through a city like this? At the moment, we can get on a plane and in a couple of hours be sort of anywhere. Maybe in the city, traveling through it is really hard work. Like, maybe it takes two weeks to get from one side of it to the other. And at that time, deliberately slowing down the pace of movement is about also slowing down disease vectors. So maybe we're prototyping a future which was about stillness and slowness in contrast to most futures we see which are built on the hype of the Hyperloop or imagining supersonic travel that we can go to London from New York in 45 minutes. All the future we see is generally about being fast. what if we have to be slow again? And maybe I don't know if that's a great thing or a bad thing, but it's certainly something to start to talk about. And hopefully this is a format and a platform through which to have those conversations.

[00:41:39.560] Kent Bye: Yeah, I've had a number of conversations with Protopia Futures thinker, Monika Bileskita, and one of the things that she talks about is how a lot of the science fiction that we have is like the space opera, that it is going away from the Earth and it's set in the context of space. with the assumption that we've had to either escape from an earth or it doesn't have a real robust vision of more of the solar punk vision of having right relationships of humans with the earth around us and so it feels like in some ways the planet city vr is in contradiction to a lot of that space opera like elon musk style hey we're just going to occupy mars and Escape off the planet as that's some sort of plan to go to another planet to start to have humans settle there But that colonial mindset of going outwards rather than so really being connected to the world around us So it seems like this Planet City VR is trying to in some ways provide a provocative opposition to some of those escapist styles of science fiction Exactly.

[00:42:39.757] Liam Young: I mean It's really, really hard to colonize another planet. Like, it's much, much easier to solve our problems here, I guess, and that's part of the premise. But yeah, and I think, again, we were trying to be aspirational, hopeful, but also actually extremely pragmatic with Planet City. If anything, It's the most extremely pragmatic thing we could do. A lot of people have talked about it, why this planetary-scaled wilderness? Why are you romanticizing nature? But really, at its core, what we've done is create a massive machine to sequester carbon. The landscape we leave behind becomes a forest to clean the atmosphere. And that's the cheapest and most pragmatic way to do it. So it's filled with solutions and hopes and possibilities for what we can do here. As opposed to, and to be an antidote, I guess, to the idea that we're already screwed, we may as well start figuring out how do we screw the next planet. So yeah, I'm really interested in what it would mean for the Billionaire Boys Club to move away from the vanity experiments of space, which is really what they are. There's no genuine thought that these are solutions to the problems that we've created. They're just fantasies, PR stunts, ego contests. At very best, they're attempts to create endpoints that might allow us to work backwards and develop new propulsion technologies or something, but we should be thinking about how to create really efficient direct air capture carbon scrubbers. We should be thinking about how to solve the problems on Earth, and Planet City is trying to foreground that part of the conversation of speculation as opposed to, like, what would it be like to live on Mars? For me, those stories are works of fantasy. You know, they sit alongside Star Wars and laser beams and spaceship skies. The stories I want to be watching, listening to, engaging with, debating are stories about who we're going to be on Earth in the future.

[00:44:45.151] Kent Bye: Yeah, if there's anything that I have a problem with Planet City VR, it's just that it feels like there's such a vast world there, and that I just get like a really small snippet of what the story is and what it is. I mean, having this conversation here, there's so much more about the larger context of this as a project that is so endlessly fascinating, but I don't see all of that same interest as translated into the experience quite yet, and I don't know if it's... VR's medium or the film medium or if it's just a matter of continuing the project but love to hear where you are going to take the project next to be able to start to kind of flesh out these ideas and if you really think that it's grounding that through the lens of individual stories and give them like little spotlights through the drama you know turning the data visualization and the data dramatization or if there's other mediums or ways that you feel like are going to best suit this as a project to continue to flesh out what this world is and what it means.

[00:45:36.420] Liam Young: Yeah, I mean, the beauty of an imaginary world is it can be all of these things. So part of making the book was to tell these little stories that would give you glimpses into different parts of the culture. One of those stories we're adapting is a graphic novel now. It's a story written by Chen Shoufan, who's an extraordinary Chinese science fiction author. The VR experience as well. We're getting more funding to Span the experience so it's not just the creation story But it actually becomes inhabitable and occupiable and you can wander around the city at the moment It's kind of dollhouse where you see it around you But we're intrigued by what I would happen if you essentially turn into a game environment, you know I think it's a really extraordinary kind of working city and encoded with all these ideas about how cities could work, to be in it and to explore it, to turn it into a game environment, I think is really the next step for us. We're a little bit limited by, a city for 10 billion people is big and has a lot of polygons, so as a real-time experience it's already at the moment pushing the edge of what's possible, but With Unreal 5, with cloud processing, we can start to do more and more and more. And across the next year or two, I think we'll keep on expanding the immersive side of the city. But in parallel, I still also want to be taking another one of the short stories and developing it as a film. We're working on the documentary series for Planet City, where a lot of the conversations we've had and what I call these massive, monumental infrastructural sites that we've visited, get talked about in documentary form to show audiences the behind the scenes of the city and the technologies that drive it. Imagining David Attenborough not waxing lyrical and romantic about the natural world, but Attenborough in the world's biggest solar field, using the same sort of language that we talk about previous versions of nature to talk about this kind of new nature of the world, I think will be really interesting as well. So we want to keep on spinning off all of these little fragments and pieces, each of which isn't a complete cross-section of the city in whole, but the aggregate starts to give more of a picture and a portrait of the entire place.

[00:47:48.580] Kent Bye: You said that this is a pandemic project, and so did you go to all these places during the pandemic? And I'd love to hear a bit about what you experienced at these variety of different locations around the world.

[00:47:58.879] Liam Young: Yeah, I mean, a lot of that research was completed just before we shut down. And then the production of the project happened across the pandemic in the sense that, I mean, one of the advantages we had was that Hollywood shut down. You know, I'm based in L.A. and my day job is essentially building and designing worlds for film and TV. We got access to people that we never would be able to afford on the kind of art world budgets that were driving this thing. You know, the costumes were developed in collaboration with Ann Crabtree, who did the iconic red gown and white cowl of Handmaid's Tale, and she did the first season of Westworld. And, you know, the project, she was unstopped, and all of a sudden, you know, we'd always wanted to do something together, and she had time. And we got to create those costumes. A lot of the VFX artists on the 2D film that are normally tasked with like, you know, Marvel explosions and alien invasions, got to render and build out Planet City because the stuff they normally were on was on hold. So the ambition and scope of what was possible radically shifted because of the pandemic. Because all of a sudden our budget would go much further because we weren't having to pay the usual rates that we were having to pay. We weren't having to compete with Hollywood rates. So that emerged across that whole year. It also helped us with the scientific collaborations. Planet City needs to be a global project, and if it's just made with a bunch of people that I can bring to LA, then it really denies the potential of the project. But as people became more fluent in the language of Zoom, we got to engage scientists from Brazil and Australia and the Middle East. We got to talk to anthropologists working in the islands of Fiji. All of these people were able to come together in the zoomscape and talk about the project in a way that we might not have thought to do if we were in the before times. So, you know, I think it changed what the thing was in a whole number of different ways.

[00:49:55.995] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think you mentioned to me yesterday that talking to HTC, they were really interested in architectural visualization and more the technical side. I'd love to hear a little bit more about, from the XR industry, what the interest in this project is in terms of really pushing the edge of what's possible in terms of architectural visualization and real-time rendering of some of these planetary scale with 10 billion people. Like you said, it's a lot of polygons, so I'd love to hear about how this as a project is pushing the cutting edge of what's even possible with the technology right now.

[00:50:25.810] Liam Young: Yeah, I mean HTC got interested just because I think the richness of the world and they could see it as a story space where we could start to tell different kind of narratives. But at the same time, they were like, we've got this new headset. There's these new GPUs that are coming out. How far can you push the design of urban spaces and architectural environments as a real-time experience? How complex, how unique could the buildings be? How much do you need to create these kitted parts and reorganize them, which is essentially what most games are? how much diversity, how much scale could you create. And that was really the driver for us. And we get like putting more in, is it breaking? Yeah, okay, let's take this little bit out. How do we optimize it? Let's put it back in. Is it still working? Yep, all right, now let's fill it with drones. Is that working? No. So it was just a constant game of like a glass of water, like how can you keep on pouring more and more into it without it kind of spilling over and running at like 12 frames a second. So yeah, we were constantly in discussion with HTC and the hardware suppliers, like how can we optimize, how can we get this thing out. And I think the problem with VR is that we started making this at the start of the pandemic and we couldn't show it to anyone because the last thing you want to do in the middle of a global pandemic is stick a diseased ridden bit of rare earth to your face that's just been on someone else. So we kind of sat on it for a while. And now, you know, if we were to start again today, we could do so much more. And then if we started again in about a year's time when UE5 is working in VR, do the whole project again three times over so it's constantly this kind of arms race and I hope that we keep on like like any city, growing it as the hardware allows. But right now, we're kind of right at the edge. I mean, so many experiences we see here in Tribeca are untethered. In order to make this run robustly, we're still tied to a cable, we're still tied to a massive workstation with a stack of GPUs in order to make the experience work. But we're interested in exploring what happens when we try and port it out and make it legible and allow audiences to see it outside of the festival context.

[00:52:31.995] Kent Bye: The other thing that you have here at the Tribeca is an installation that has a number of different features including the costumes that you mentioned as well as the VR experience and then a film that's being projected across two big huge walls in the corner at the end of this space here at the Spring Studios. But I'd love to hear you expand a little bit about the costumes and what they mean in terms of what you were trying to design and how they fit into the story world of the Planet City VR.

[00:52:57.648] Liam Young: Yeah, so one thing we were doing was prototyping the different cultural types and groups and jobs and roles that we might perform in this city. You know, a big part of the work I do as a designer in making films is also designing props and costumes, so that also when we come to festivals like this, we're not just screen-based, we can have objects and things that people can interact with and move around. So the costumes and the masks in particular are really important for us. So we were thinking about people like, you know, the drone shepherds of Planet City. These are people that might have worked the land and been on farms previously, but now they're manning the automated stacks of vertical farms. But in the carnival and the festival that we're prototyping and the 2D experience, we imagined that they might enact our historic relationships that we had to animals. You know, when beasts of burden, we would drag them across the land, plowing the soil for us, whipping them as we went. The idea was that these costumes would be about the citizens of the city enacting and remembering the past. in a way so that we learn the lessons and don't repeat what we did. So the drone shepherds is one example. Also shown here are the masks from the zero-waste weavers, where the fashionistas of the city work as zero-waste designers, meaning all the costumes from the city were made from zero-waste patterns. So if you weave a rectangle of fabric, The costumes are designed based on patterns that use every little piece of that rectangle, as opposed to what we do now, which is just cut out shapes and throw the rest away. And then the masks, these amazing woolen woven masks, were developed from yarn that we got from old sweaters. We unraveled them and then re-wove them. or we used a whole lot of felts where we reclaimed old t-shirts and fabrics from vintage stores and like chopped them up into little pieces and ground them together and made new felts and new fabrics. There's high altitude bot herders, there's algae farmers which are wearing these masks which are kind of enacting kelp and the life of the oceans that we're leaving behind. So it's all about thinking about new rituals and new mythologies for this new city. Because in many ways that's how we start to, as I mentioned, that's how we relate to the world around us is through those kind of behaviours and practices. Anything carnivals are about enacting our stories and we wanted the city to be rich with those stories and rich with those cultures.

[00:55:34.012] Kent Bye: You mentioned earlier that you had both science fiction authors as well as scientists and that it was sometimes difficult to know what was real and what was fiction, but I'd love to hear some of the science fiction visions that you had since we talked a little bit about some of the scientists, but what were some of the insights that you were getting from the science fiction authors as they start to embed themselves into this world and imagine what kind of futures they were interested in exploring?

[00:55:56.560] Liam Young: Yeah, so one of the authors in the book is Ryan Griffin, who is an indigenous Australian producer, director and writer. He created the series Clever Man, which is an extraordinary science fiction TV series, kind of reimagining Aboriginal Dreamtime myths. And his perspective was amazing because Aboriginal culture is deeply rooted and connected to the landscape. Their stories, their Dreamtime narratives are literally about the shape and formation and physicality of the earth. Removing them from their land, as we have done through 200 years of colonialism, is the most extraordinary of violent practices. So with him we were talking about the idea that A big part of Planet City and the move to Planet City is actually an act of returning stolen land, and that a lot of Indigenous communities would remain on their land as sort of stewards of the landscape. But the people that would move, and that's what his science fiction story is about in the book, he tells a story of an elder who brings with her to the city a jar of soil from home, and she's tending it and taking care of it, And she's giving it to her granddaughter, sort of passing it down almost like an heirloom, talking about the idea that one day, when the soil is rich again, we all might be able to move back and take that jar of soil back to the landscape where she came from and pour it back onto the earth. But in the meantime, it becomes this little piece of country that's traveling with her. And then Nelo Hopkinson, who's an Afrofuturist Caribbean Jamaican author, she's got this extraordinary story about a creation myth, another kind of creation myth for the city. Chen Chou Fan, the Chinese science fiction author, he wrote about a funeral in the city and talked about a pilgrimage that would take place from the very top floor of the city going down to the earth where someone's going to bury the ashes of their loved one and telling that story as this journey, this pilgrimage all the way down to find the earth again to bury that person. So we tried to ask the authors to lean into their particular cultural responses to something like Planet City and to tell the narratives from those perspectives. And my role was to kind of curate a series of people from all over the planet, not just the same kind of voices. I mean there's still, you know, there's obviously celebrity writer like Kim Stanley Robinson who's in the book. But he was much more interested in talking about the landscape outside of the city. So he tells the story of a group of people going on a visit to the National Park of the World, traveling by airship, of course, to explore that landscape as some kind of weekend away. So I think there's a whole series of different kinds of voices in there that provide different perspectives and different slices, some positive, some negative, but all, I think, unique to the author and the culture they're representing.

[00:58:55.658] Kent Bye: Incidentally, Ryan Griffin had a piece at South by Southwest called Lustration that premiered in that. It's a whole VR experience that is exploring the dream time, but allowing you to go in between different realms of the story being told at the same time at different dimensions. And so, yeah, definitely check out that experience as well. Yeah, it sounds like a really amazing project. I can't wait to dive into the book that you gave me a copy of that can pour through a lot of these different scientists and science fiction authors and kind of dreaming of a potential future. And like you said, I keep coming back to this provocation and the Hegelian dialectic of how there's a thesis and antithesis and then a synthesis and that sometimes in order to really provoke conversation forward you give a vision of one extreme or the other like utopian versus dystopian but to in that conversation be a provocation to say if we do nothing this is what happens and so is that what you're suggesting which could be even more radical and the momentum of that apathy versus something that this is trying to catalyze a dream about what we can do in the future so yeah really excited to dig in more and i'm just curious for you what you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality in this type of speculative architecture and world building might be and what it might be able to enable

[01:00:09.162] Liam Young: Yeah, I mean, I think that immersive media allows us to confront both the realities of our world in really profound ways, but also to confront and engage with alternative perspectives on what that world could be. You know, like it's about confrontation. and immersion as opposed to much more passive experiences which are about forms of visualization. So I think hopefully that's where the project continues to go is allow people to move deeper and deeper into these landscapes. and hopefully that's where the future of the media goes. I imagine that what we call VR, AR, XR, whatever prefix we're describing right now, very soon we're going to get to a point where we're just going to be wearing quite invisible sorts of headsets, and VR is just meaning we're turning up the opacity through which we see the rest of the world, or we're turning it down when we're running to a bus. We turn up more real world and we see navigation laid out on the streets to make sure we go the most efficient route. On Friday night when we've had enough of work, we just want to escape. We turn down the real world and now we're immersed completely in our experience. I'm intrigued and excited by the potential where we're no longer just strapping a headset to our face to have these confrontational experiences with other realities, but rather We're living in this soupy, interesting mess between the digital and the physical, between the real and the virtual, between the fictional and the actual. I think there's really interesting stories to tell in that kind of space. And as a spatial designer, I'm excited by the layered potential of what it means when we totally dissolve the boundaries between all of these things. We live in a post-truth world, so I hope that when these fictions of this world get enabled through these spatialized technologies, we're just telling the right kinds of stories.

[01:02:09.885] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, Liam, thank you so much for working on this project. The whole process of just talking to all these different people and imagining these alternative futures and yeah, just really appreciated the provocations that you've created here. So thanks so much for joining me on the podcast to help unpack it all.

[01:02:25.211] Liam Young: Yeah, thanks so much. It was great to talk to you. I'm a massive fan of the podcast, and I love all of the stories and creators you get to meet. So I really appreciate you, all the work you put in to share these stories. It's really valuable.

[01:02:36.656] Kent Bye: So that was Liam Young. He's a speculative architect who's telling stories about how technologies are changing our lives, spaces, and cities, and working across the medium of film, VR, animation, and a book, talking about how worlds are embedding information of who we want to be in the future and how technology changes us. And the piece was called Planet City VR. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, well, I really, really love the idea of this piece. And I was able to get the book. I've been reading through it a little bit and to get a little bit more from the science fiction authors as well as the scientists. I really love this as a provocation. I'm extremely resistant to it. There's a lot of things that I say, OK, this is not feasible. Metaphorically, it's asking us to do this type of collective action that seems so impossible to get everybody on the planet to agree to migrate and to move into this giant metropolis city that's the size of Texas that is housing 10 billion people. But it's doing it in a sustainable way of trying to do all the different sustainable technologies. It's really leveraging that William Gibson quote, that the future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed. And as I think about technology evolution and technology diffusion, I look to the work of Simon Wardley, who breaks it up into distinct evolutionary phases of there's a prototype idea, there's a custom bespoke enterprise deployment that is an early indication of where things are go, but it's very expensive. You have to do a lot of hand crafting and customization. Eventually, you're able to find the structures and forms, economies of scale, to scale it up into the consumer deployment, and then it's mass ubiquitous. That's the idea, to take these ideas of sustainable technologies, to look at some of the large-scale deployments of some of these, and then start to do that extrapolation of what it would take to then scale that out further and further. I'm still not convinced that it's even necessarily a good idea to put everybody on the earth onto one city. I feel like there's value in the biodiversity and seeing how cultures are unique to different geographic regions and how they are shaped and formed by those regions, by their cultural practices. If you move into a place where something is reliant upon, you know, a festival, if you're not in that spatial context, then it may not even be possible anymore. So yeah, I have to read more of his book to see some of the ideas and push back on some of those different concepts. I think for me, the cultural dimensions of trying to get everybody in the world to agree to do that. It seems like such an impossible task But we're also dealing with so much polarization and ways of people being on the polar extremes of two different dimensions And so this as a piece is trying to put us like if you were facing some level of crisis that you were able to get enough consensus to be able to do that then how that start to play out and So I guess the thing that is a bit frustrating with this project is that the ideas and the project is so so fascinating that I just want to see more of that within the context of the VR piece. The VR piece is just the origin story and telling, okay, this is the conditions that came together that didn't actually have everybody agree to do that. And this is the origin story and the myth for how this city came about. But I want to be able to walk around. I want to see it. I want to just be immersed into the city and discover more of those different stories. And so there's so much more about that I want to see in the future, which it kind of left me wanting a lot more, especially after talking to Liam, who's so eloquent in describing his vision and. using this as a provocation and using the forms of architecture and speculative architecture that he's not actually building the buildings, but he's building this container of spatial context and using the structures and forms of thresholds and spaces within the context of his architectural training to be able to embed information about who we want to be in the future and how technology is changing us. So really, really provocative piece and I just love talking to Liam and I want to dig into the book a little bit more and just be immersed in these different types of cities. For me, this type of protopian explorations of using VR as a philosophical provocations to be able to get us into our imaginations. what would it be like to go and visit the city in a way that's not so much into this cyberpunk dystopian sprawl that we've been covered so much, but in a way that is actually in harmony with the earth, in a way that is sustaining not only the world around us, but also human life, and how something that seems so impossible within the near term, if we actually have an experience of this and if there's enough buy-in, then it can actually start to happen. I mean, stuff like Snow Crash is written in, like, 1992, talking about the metaverse, and here we are in 2022, 30 years later, that a lot of that is coming to pass. And so there's a power in that speculative world-building in science fiction that maybe the gap between being able to build these types of immersive worlds and give people a direct embodied and immersive experience of that, it'll shorten the gap between something that comes out in a book or a text and gets enough buy-in with the urgency of all these different issues. And also just maybe Planet City VR is one polar extreme of how far you would have to go. And if it's technically possible to do that, then maybe you can scale that down and start to bring in some of these different ways of architecting these spaces that work in harmony with the Earth and to really sustain life. Also, just to think about the different sacrifices and our different behaviors that we'd have to take. and how the Planet Civity VR starts to give us a way of imagining, like you said, you wouldn't be able to fly across or they'd have to slow things down a little bit. And so what are the ways that we need to bring those principles into our daily life right now? It's a challenging thing to get everybody to kind of agree that the way that we're doing right now isn't necessarily going to work in the future and that you have to make some real shifts and changes. Yeah. To actually communicate that as a message and embedded into a story, but also, you know, dystopias or cautionary tales, but is there more of a way of doing it? That's more inspiring of our imaginations and wanting us to actually build the physical representation of something that we've seen within a virtual context. So really powerful ways of, for me, at least the power and potential of the medium itself. that this is a project that starts to really dig into that. And I get really excited to not only experience it, but also to kind of unpack it with creators like Liam. And there's some other interviews that I've done with other architects that I'll be digging into some of the similar types of ideas as well. So. Anyway, that's all I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast, and if you enjoyed the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you could become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

More from this show