Quiddale O’Sullivan is an architect who is using his spatial design skills to design environments within virtual reality. We cover a wide variety of worldbuilding insights from an architectural perspective, and how the process of architecture is an iterative process that is informed by critical a theory of design for different types of spaces can cultivate human emotion or drive specific behaviors. When asked about any sort of universal design framework for architecture, O’Sullivan said, “You think you’ll discover some sort of rigorous process, but at the end of the day, it’s actually all about intuition.”
O’Sullivan was also really inspired by the avant-garde movements of so-called “paper architects” such as Lebbeus Woods, the Archigram Group in London, Ant Farm Group, & Cedric Price. These speculative architects weren’t as concerned with building actual buildings as much as pushing the limits of what’s possible with the medium of architecture, but with virtual reality, there aren’t the same physical constraints or limitations which means a lot of this either impossible or non-feasible sci-fi concepts designed by paper architects could start to find a home within virtual reality.
We cover a lot this design process, what social VR experiences can learn from stadium design for cultivating group experiences, the open questions of how environments really influence our behavior, where will the art be in VR, and why as an architect O’Sullivan strives for people to misuse the architectual spaces he’s designed.
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[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. So in today's episode, I'm going to be talking to an architect who's now working within the medium of virtual reality, creating spaces and designing social VR experiences, but using his architectural training in order to inform the type of design he's doing within VR. I've talked a lot about architectural visualization and how architects are using VR to do their job, but what is it about the process of designing spaces in order to encourage different human dynamics and behaviors that architects do? What does that process look like, and how do you actually do this mysterious translation of designing spaces and ambiance, and how is that going to drive a specific type of human interaction? So I'll be talking to Quidel O'Sullivan about all these different insights about architecture, but also how he's been so inspired by what he calls these paper architects. These are architects that have never actually built anything, but they are just doing these sci-fi concepts to really explore this maginal space of what's possible in architecture without really worrying about whether or not it's feasible to be built. And now with virtual reality, we're actually able to start to implement some of these sci-fi concepts of world building and architecture that were just not even feasible before. So we'll be covering all that and more on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Quidel happened on Tuesday, October 9th, 2018 at the Magic Leap conference in Los Angeles, California. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:01:39.664] Quiddale OSullivan: Hi, my name's Q or Quidel. So I work for Sky in AR and VR. We're currently looking at entertainment in the sports arena to like massive scale and what it's like to really be at a football stadium, but then down to a much more intimate scale of like a cricket match as architecture in a virtual environment.
[00:01:54.683] Kent Bye: Great. So maybe you could tell me a bit about your background in architecture and how that gets translated into either AR or VR.
[00:02:01.225] Quiddale OSullivan: So I've worked for Foster and Partners. I've worked for Populous on Spurs' new football stadium. So there's some similarities in the sense of, like, I believe architecture is a public space. So this is where AR and VR is similar. So then it's, like, what skills and what knowledge can I take to actually build virtual environments that really feel like spaces we want to be in? So, yeah, that's the bridge, I think.
[00:02:22.752] Kent Bye: So how does space get translated into an experience or emotion? Like how do architects think about that? Or how do you go about designing a space? And then how does that space get translated into an experience?
[00:02:34.499] Quiddale OSullivan: We tell many stories to each other. So we constantly keep saying, do I want to visit this place to have a cup of coffee? Or do I want to do this with my friends? Or will my mother want to do that? So you kind of play out these stories and try to think about the environments that at least allow that possibility of that interaction to occur and then you start to think pen to paper then to modeling and then to visuals and now with the game engines we can start to simulate these interactions and that's where it becomes interesting. At Oculus I was super interested in talking to the audio guys because I think in sports arenas that's something that's going to be super important to our experience and our emotional communication with that. Especially in contrast to like a cricket game or a football. Those noises are very different and people know them so well so they're really difficult and we have to get them right.
[00:03:20.965] Kent Bye: So do you start with the human interactions and behaviors first and then try to design a space around that?
[00:03:28.156] Quiddale OSullivan: Yeah, definitely you'd start off both at the same time. What's your site? Who's going to be using it? Then you just start to knit this story together simultaneously. And then as you're picking up new technologies, you put them in and you start to see what's possible all simultaneously. But then you might reach out and we're quite good at wanting to talk to anthropologists and psychologists and bring them into our work process to understand society. They study that and the human condition. So they can also give us interesting things to think about.
[00:03:57.690] Kent Bye: What are the types of things that either the psychologists or anthropologists are telling the architects in terms of how to embed these either, I'm presuming, cultural symbols or how to do this translation between how the space is impacting how people act collectively?
[00:04:14.898] Quiddale OSullivan: So there's been a huge millennia of architecture. We all know our environments really can have a positive or a detrimental effect on us. So the public spaces we give up and the psychologists go there's a reason why everyone needs a public space and what does that mean and what's that distance and relationship. So we start to have a dialogue about that and we start to then build infrastructure around these ideas. and then you go back to them and they're like, so there's a project in a hospital with Brian Eno where he talks about like a room with sound and light even though actually he's a sounds person but his installation is very architectural and that was his collaboration with psychologists so then you go how can sound or light affect your behavior and it's like toilets and eating areas and how does like If you don't have a great kitchen to communicate, what's that effect on a family's structure? And these are the sorts of dialogue and conversation we start to get into.
[00:05:07.777] Kent Bye: In terms of as you're sitting down as an architect, imagine you have a number of different constraints, whether it's size or budget, but there's different trade-offs that you're trying to make in terms of as you're creating a space. And so maybe you could walk me a little bit through that design process that you take of what types of decision points that you have to make where you're trading off either adding more or less of different things and what that looks like in terms of how that gets translated into these virtual augmented reality experiences.
[00:05:34.745] Quiddale OSullivan: Yeah, so at the scale when I was at Foster's, we were working on airports and other island installations, so there's the geometry trade-off in terms of the span and the mass. So then actually when you take that same quite rational, logical thing into the virtual, when you're having to optimize your GPU and CPU for all your geometry, it's not actually that different. So, super happy again to have another engineer. The engineer is just not a structural engineer, it's just a computer scientist talking to you. So then you're like, okay, so I can't have that, and I can have that, or how many avatars and interactions can I have? So you're already quite happy to deal and design with constraints constantly. But then you always have some story that you're trying to knit together, and then what things are you happy to drop off, and what things are really core? So then that's when you go back to the engineer and go, hey, I cannot have that drop, so can we write the code better, or can we rationalize the geometry better? And you're like, actually, I might be able to trade this off, I can texture it lower, and that actually won't affect the story. It's a bit of a dream, but not possible. and it's kind of this like odd dance where being trained as an architect you have a rigorous engineering program, you have a rigorous design program, so you're actually quite happy just to sit really in the middle and get up and write code and then like okay and then I'll model it and then I'll do a rough simulation but then the engineer might just go through my code and make sure it's logical and rational and see if there's any optimizations but in the prototyping sense it just means that I'm having a proper dialogue with them and I'm not Losing things I understand where they say we have to optimize and it's a much more Collaborative experience whereas if you couldn't I could never talk to an engineer about structure Then if I can't talk to the engineer about CPUs and things like that, then you're like Losing things that you're not in control anymore. You're not in longer the architect because someone else is leading you
[00:07:12.662] Kent Bye: That's really fascinating. I never made the connection between the geometry of the polygons in a virtual experience and the similar types of constraints of mass. I mean, in some ways, you don't have gravity that you have to deal with, but you still have constraints and limitations for how crazy you can get. I mean, it makes me think of when I was in Barcelona, I visited the Sagrada Familia, and I know that in designing that church, they hung it upside down to see what the geometry would be supporting and then they inverted it in order to build this more organic feeling of a shape of that church, but that it is very inspired by a lot of these natural environments and contexts where you have trees that may be very curved and when you go into VR you might have limitations of how crazy you can get with the natural flows of movement.
[00:08:00.658] Quiddale OSullivan: Yeah, so that's like, where as an architect, that would have been one of my studies of continuous materials. So all this relaxation, using fabrics or interesting formworks, and then you, continuity logic, and then you re-flip it, and then you start building up. And it's like, those sorts of spaces, Sagrada Familia is probably one of the greatest at it. And then the same with Sydney Opera House, about using complex mathematics to build environments. So actually, in the sense of that environment constraint, there's not that much difference in the mindset. The only thing you just don't worry about is it's not going to be built. And then it's also that Sagrada Familia, for me personally, has some of the greatest light. You go in and that feeling of what he's managed to create there, and that also can be translated into these new virtual environments. It's like, how do you build acoustics, for one, that people really love in spaces? And then what's the light going to be when we're in these virtual environments? And what do we want from that experience? It's because we know it so well. I think everyone is an architect. Everyone knows the spaces they love. Everyone can name it really clearly and everyone will have an opinion on it. So I think we have to be quite sympathetic to how we start to think about this new medium but not forget the old. And especially when I heard Oculus' keynotes about venues. And they were talking about a football stadium in the virtual environment. And then in the end they came to like 101 of football stadium design. We're like, oh, we have to just look at the real world. And I was like, oh, maybe you should have got an architect in, guys, because there's a reason why amphitheater is from the Roman and the Colosseum. It hasn't actually changed. Like, the Yankee Stadium isn't that much different. There's a reason why we innovate a little, but we don't reinvent the wheel. It's like, there's a reason. And they were engineers. It wasn't just like a doodle on a piece of paper.
[00:09:40.585] Kent Bye: Well, I imagine that something like a soccer stadium, though, like you have the nosebleed section in real world because you have actual constraints of physical space. But when you virtualize it, you can get the perfect seat right in the middle. But if you have group dynamics and the sound of that, I think that's the difference of trying to get this feel of actually being co-located in a space with other people. If everybody's in the perfect location, then how do you represent all the other people?
[00:10:05.975] Quiddale OSullivan: Yeah and that's the real bit and that's where it comes down to like you really have to consider sight lines and then what is the dynamic of people, how do we all sit? Do we sit in an arc or do we sit in a flat line? We know the flat line doesn't work. How do you do the staging of the voluntaries and then how do you actually give this feeling that we are actually there together collaborating and watching a shared experience and I think my dream in that sense would be like with a friend who lives in New Zealand watching a rugby match. He's there, and I'm located in London, but we're in this virtual environment watching this game together. And there'll be multiple other friends from around the world all Skyping in, and we're all there with our avatars, enjoying an experience that we fundamentally couldn't do, because we just probably won't get to the same location again. And that will be a fight, what the principles of sightlines and the vomitories and the traditional stadiums will become.
[00:10:52.461] Kent Bye: What are some of the principles of sightlines?
[00:10:55.022] Quiddale OSullivan: So your face is, it's like the retrieving mouse, it's a very complex piece of mathematics, it's just the way your face is designed and actually where the high ball is in the stadium to where the low ball is and then there's a percentile of what you can view between that. And it happens the same in theatres, so it's in all these entertainment spaces, there is principles of what you want to be able to see and then so you're having to calculate that. And then what is your rise and going of your stadium.
[00:11:18.904] Kent Bye: One of the things that I was talking to Michael Murdock who had created a VR chat experience where he was very inspired by theme parks and how when you are walking through a theme park, you can have something interesting to look at in a lot of different locations. And so as he was designing his VR space, he wanted to have that feeling of being struck by something or having some sort of intuitive reaction of something looking aesthetically pleasing. So what kind of insights can we get from either theme park design or I guess more basic architectural principles as we're designing a space? What would you recommend people doing in terms of a process of making sure that as they're locomoting through that space that there's plenty of interesting sight lines?
[00:11:58.910] Quiddale OSullivan: I think sightlines is one but there's also this thing that you dream would be if you're in a VR virtual environment that actually your hair stand up on the end because you're actually really that engaged. So at the moment we only have visual communication but then what happens if we can have some sound and then what happens like if with our controllers you actually get some resistance. So it's kind of like what do we feel from the real world that we can make us really excited and make us like hair stand on end and what can we start to do in the virtual world and actually it might be like absurd interactions like maybe an intuitive break would be sound and then breaking gravity because there's nowhere else in our lives where we really can with unless we're astronauts. Or maybe we play around with scale and we make impossible sight lines that you wouldn't get in the real world. So totally an inversion of scale and height and viewpoints. But we have to test it and see.
[00:12:53.312] Kent Bye: What are some of your favorite architectural locations that give you design inspiration?
[00:12:59.126] Quiddale OSullivan: There's a museum, Cortea in Medellin, which was the capital of Pablo. So I was there about three and a half years ago. I'd never heard a public space overwhelmingly dominated by children. So it's a public policy that there's a big swathe of favelas. So these people don't have enough garden space and public space of their own that they own. So then the mayor decided that actually I'm going to make, in the center of the city, the new museum a theme park. And in the end, in comparison to London with all our great water features, no children play in them. It's not accepted by us. But there it totally is. And I was going to see some high art, but I was just overwhelmed by the level of play and family interaction in the public environment. I think London does it quite beautifully with all its Victorian parks. It's an old legacy of why we have that. Sydney Opera House kind of did it for me with like lots of people misusing space not the way it is actually intended as being beautiful and refined but actually starting to like hang out with family and friends and have picnics outside this great theatre space and then go in to be listened to opera pieces so it's always just like You like architecture when it's misused, because when you design it, you design it like this perfect beast where nothing bad should happen. But then when you see the human condition just misusing it and doing something you could never imagine, then you're like, oh, maybe I did something right.
[00:14:16.969] Kent Bye: It's interesting, before we started recording you said that a lot of people have kind of a misperception of what architecture is and that you just think it's about aesthetics or building buildings. But what you're talking about in terms of some of your design inspiration is how this space was able to cultivate a certain amount of behaviors with the youth and how families are interacting. So what was it about this space that was really encouraging that?
[00:14:38.980] Quiddale OSullivan: So it's similar to Centre Pompidou Paris, where Richard Rogers puts his big plane outside the front, which is like a plane and a slope, and then you go into the museum. But then no one's really controlling it, there's not an overburning security thing, so then people are busking and they are putting up... art, chalk drawings all over. Everyone knows that actually you can play in the water, it's clean, we want you actually to do it. We've put small barbecues up so they kind of hint to misuse it. We don't actually know it's going to be misused, you're just there like as an architect hoping, you're like, please, like I've not done my job right. And then you hope that somehow that some cultural things will develop and then some art movements may become a mural out of nothing you did but it's there and someone misused it and that's what you're kind of hoping.
[00:15:26.258] Kent Bye: So you're hoping for people to abuse your architecture?
[00:15:28.759] Quiddale OSullivan: Pretty much, yeah. I think that's why everyone might. I think much more it's an engineering event because it has to stand up. But I guess I would also consider it an art because it's public. It's for everyone. Once that drawing has hit your piece of paper, then it starts going onto the site. It's nothing to do with you anymore. It's public in the sense of the huge team that has to do it. It's public in the sense of every stakeholder that's telling you you're a bad architect. And then after that, it's not even yours within the first year because humans just co-opting it and changing it and you're quite intrigued by what they do and go oh that actually did something let's try and see if we can learn from that and try to do it again somewhere.
[00:16:08.134] Kent Bye: So I guess in spaces there's a private context which is private property and then essentially whoever's the owner can do whatever they want but when designing public spaces You want to create something that is a bit of a start of something that then takes a life of its own and people start to take their own ownership and have different cultural practices and behaviors around that so that it is becoming more dynamic and interactive in terms of growing or evolving over time, it sounds like.
[00:16:33.863] Quiddale OSullivan: Yeah, so then in the back to the virtual or AR world, with that kind of design intuition, it'd be interesting to see how you can build things that are intuitive. Because at the moment when you design them, they're so constrained because of the nature of the medium. But then it'd be like, what could we build into it that does allow some wandering and misuse of things and interactions that you didn't think about? You will miss them. The human condition's so vast. So that might be something to consider when we really get into persistent wells and large-scale environments with lots and lots of users.
[00:17:09.775] Kent Bye: I was talking to one of the co-founders of realities.io, which does a lot of photogrammetry. And one of the things he said was that he wants to see a lot more punk rock or a lot more graffiti, a lot more like guerrilla subversive art. And that when you're in these spaces that feel so curated and controlled, there's no agency that you have to be able to take ownership of it. And that's what happens in cities when people put graffiti tags on places and that Most people would want to discourage that and try to erase it. But in some ways, what you're saying is kind of reflecting that, of allowing people to either subvert or take ownership or to do things that you didn't even expect, but that you're at least engaging them within that space.
[00:17:49.491] Quiddale OSullivan: Yeah. Like, who will be Basquiat of the virtual environment? Who will just be given the key? We don't know who he or she is, and they will misuse our environments and do things. They'll maybe put sculptures. They may paint on our walls. They may move my door. I don't know, or shred my painting like Basquiat did at the Sotheby's. But who and how do we build that key in that they can misuse our environments? They have some rules of not hurting someone, do no evil, but the only thing else is art. So hey, go, help us.
[00:18:22.968] Kent Bye: Well, one of the things that I noticed just visiting the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, the UBC Museum of Anthropology, and it's a lot of inspiration from indigenous buildings that had like two poles and then a horizontal cross, but it just had this big vast space with a lot of light coming in, had these totem poles, got this sense of awe and wonder of being in a space that was so vast and large, but having so much cultural heritage from the indigenous people of that land. But there was also so striking that so much light was coming in and how that light would change over the course of the day so you have the zeitgeber of the Sun moving but in virtual spaces, we don't have that equivalent of having photorealistic light that changes over the course of the day and I think that seems to be a big part of architectural space in the real world is paying attention to the light, how the light reflects or is reflected within the environment. But I'm just curious to hear from your perspective as you're starting to get into either AR or VR, the role of light and how you are able to either simulate that or maybe there's some deeper design considerations like what would it mean to put in a moving light into a space to show how it changes?
[00:19:35.230] Quiddale OSullivan: Yeah, so it's a typical architectural thing. In the real world we start to do simulations of it and that's how we start to utilize it. I think going forward it'll be interesting to, if I say I'm in LA, I'm in London, kind of bring some real world data in of the light conditions of these particular cities and then how What will that make me think about in the virtual environment? Or if I'm watching a game live and it's raining at halftime and then it's got that data feed from BBC News or NASA so the rain comes in live and then do we make the roof close like you would in the real world or would you just leave it open? But at least you've got that feeling of what's being influenced. I think someone has to do it, it's something we need to really consider. I think it will be misused for interesting storytelling and different interactions. We may change the surface, a bit more reflective, use the light to bounce her off or create beautiful shards like in Sagrada Familia. But I think the storytellers will probably do something much more interesting with those conditions and sets the Avatar's relationship to these weather conditions.
[00:20:36.630] Kent Bye: One of the things that I've found that makes a space really convincing is the sound and the sound reflection. And eventually I think we're going to have like a real-time engine to be able to do a lot more sophisticated things with sound. I think right now it's really de-prioritized over the visuals and that a lot of the processing power is going towards trying to put the visuals at the highest fidelity you can, but often the sound doesn't have a similar fidelity of sophistication, but sound is like are only like 360 degree sense of being able to really understand a space. But maybe you could talk a bit about where the state of the art is with sound and why, as an architect, we're so interested in what the sound reflections or what the sound engineers are doing within virtual spaces.
[00:21:18.841] Quiddale OSullivan: Yeah, so I guess it's probably a personal thing. I'm quite hypersensitive to sounds. Anything that's tinny or a pub with no sauce furnishings, I'm not going to go in. I'm going to try and co-opt my friends to go and have a beer somewhere else. I think it's my time of seeing some of Zaha's theatre spaces, obviously coming from London, so I've experienced most of the South Bank and some of the other smaller, more intimate spaces in London of local theatres. But I think it's really important in the sense like, even if it's visually you make it a concrete floor and then a wood wall, we kind of experience what that sound sounds like. It'd be really weird if it sounds like a car park. even though it's actually something totally different. So at the moment it seems there's some tools, Oculus is working on it, I know that Magic Leap here today are going to discuss some spatial audio, and there's a couple of professors at universities in London I'm doing some work with about acoustics and their impact. But at the moment no one seems to have really committed and gone, I'm going to be the master of virtual acoustics, like I'm the architect of the sound space, and to Really be critical. I think like there might be even an argument that we will have an avant-garde movement of Musicians that want to corrupt and perform in virtual environments Yeah, please find me if anyone wants to build a auditorium for their band in the virtual space We can only see you in there. That would be interesting
[00:22:37.203] Kent Bye: Well, when I was at Oculus Connect 2, I had an interview with John Brasho, who is an architect, and one of the things he told me, in terms of the ultimate potential of VR, is that maybe at some point, as an architect, he would just only have to build these spaces in a virtual space, and not even actually have to build it, but that you could mediate experiences just by creating the architecture of a space. And so that was, I think, really profound for me to think about how some of these people with an architecture background may be getting into the business of designing these purely virtual spaces that never actually get built.
[00:23:10.592] Quiddale OSullivan: Yeah, and I think that, especially from my time at the AA in London, this is becoming a conversation that we're becoming more and more interested in, actually, just not actually building physical spaces anymore. People think I'm blasphemous when I say that, but actually it seems to be, we're quite happy to totally only work in the virtual, and also get into other places of telling stories in other immersive mediums, but at the moment we seem to be focused on virtual environments and what type of stories we can tell there.
[00:23:36.536] Kent Bye: Well, I think for people who are building either environments in VRChat or other worlds, I'm sure you've had experiences where you go into a space and you just shrug and be like, wow, this is like architecture 101 to not do this. What are some of the things that you see happening over and over again within the virtual reality space that maybe they could take some insights or lessons from architecture?
[00:23:58.877] Quiddale OSullivan: Yeah there just seems to be some clear rule breaks of how conditions of materials hit or how to even organize just basic furniture like some of us don't pay attention how we organize our living rooms or our kitchens or how an airport is organized or tube stations so you just see these glaring things where I just have to get out of this environment because I'm like this isn't intuitive guys I'm really having to think way too hard and actually I don't ever ask you to think when you're in an airport too much or in some of the great train stations so you're just not considering you're expecting us to learn how you think when actually you should have designed it so well that we don't have to. Yeah, textures, materials, organizational space is something I see wrong quite often. Design-wise, as a palette, I think most environment design I see, they're beautiful. Visually, can never complain, but the organization, the way they think about them is sometimes a bit worrying.
[00:24:52.796] Kent Bye: What are some of your favorite architectural design books?
[00:24:56.682] Quiddale OSullivan: That's a tough one. I think I have people like Maya for their work, but they're all paper architects actually. So it'd be Leibius Woods or the Archigram Group in London, or Ant Farm who are like an LA group in the 70s, or Cedric Pleiser in London. And actually, There seems to be a long history of the architects I admire are all paper architects, so they never built. And even when they did build, they didn't really want to tell the world that they actually built this one building. So me becoming a virtual architect seems quite a natural step. What is a paper architect? I haven't heard of this. So Libius Woods was a professor out of Cooper Union, I guess in the architectural movement, or from my body of friends. We admire and love his stories. And it's influenced a whole generation, like without his influence on Zaha Hadid, Cooper Himmelblau, it's profound of other architects who have gone on to build, but he didn't build. and he didn't want to build, but he drew in a way and told stories of these environments that could be built. They were stories of different acts and how environments do influence humans. But he never wanted to build, so they were always just books, pamphlets. The Archie Grant Group In London they were said to have inspired a whole generation after them, but they never built and they were never interested in building. That was the last thing on their thoughts. They just had magazines, virtual environments that were at that time not modelled because they couldn't, but they were drawn. They were super impassioned about when the internet was coming, when that was arriving, and what this would mean. And they were a bit disappointed when it did arrive. And architects of my generation were still like, oh no, we're going to build buildings. We're not going to engage with the internet. And I think that's still a frustration for some of these more avant-garde groups of the 60s that they were talking about what Silicon Valley is. And then the architect just never engaged. They're like, no, we're just going to build objects still.
[00:26:43.058] Kent Bye: Well, it seems like kind of a movement where they're really thinking about what the potential is, like really pushing the cutting edge of architecture. So what do you see as the avant-garde or cutting edge? What are some of the characteristics of that movement that's really pushing the edge of what the future of architecture in these virtual spaces is going to look like?
[00:27:00.098] Quiddale OSullivan: So I think from an environment design position, I think we have to, after we start to build these environments, we really have to start to engage with the net. Like, what is Twitter, what is Instagram, what is that? Other than just a thing I put out on my phone, does it actually have a relationship to the environment? Or is it just something that floats around in the ether? Or do we start to have small robots or small interactions like Nest and things, but what do we start to do with those technological innovations that we can install in our environments? And how we engage them. At the moment, they're like an afterthought. Anything electronic in a building is, the architect never thinks about it. It's just something someone else comes and puts in. And I was like, haven't had the time to really sit down and think about it, but I want to find out if there's a better relationship that could be had. Like imagine me and you are in a virtual environment and we're both on Twitter together at a football match. What does that relationship look like? What do I want to interact with? What do we want to interact with? What is our relationship to the event? What is our relationship to the environment? What is our relationship to us? And if you start to think about that big network or web, how do we actually design them to work together instead of designing them all in isolation?
[00:28:09.468] Kent Bye: Well, one of the things I've been thinking a lot about is how to translate a website into a memory palace. So what is the geometry that you give to knowledge or information? And I think it's a little bit of what you're saying is like, what is the geometry that you would add to Twitter? Is there an architecture of that? And so as you're interfacing with these different spaces, they're able to perhaps draw out different symbolic meanings based upon how things are geometrically positioned next to each other. And I looked at a few fields for inspiration. One is the geometry of music. So being able to translate music into visualization because you have something that is inherently qualitative but you can give a space to that and then be able to draw some deeper insights into deeper design or pattern language for how to translate relationships in space into a qualitative feelings like things that are opposite each other versus things that are 90 degrees versus things that are 60 degrees. Is there any sort of established theory and architecture that sort of establishes those types of relationships where you're trying to draw different either symbolic meaning or emotions or feelings based upon how things are positioned to each other relative in space?
[00:29:14.404] Quiddale OSullivan: There definitely will be. Off the top of my head, I can't quite grasp it. But there will be, yes. And it seems like I have friends now who are quite spread across the spectrum actually drawing out their memory palaces. Because somehow, I don't know how I got into the conversation with them, but they all said they had one. And I was like, this is weird. I've known you all like 15 years, and none of you have told me that you've all been building memory palaces. So now I'm teasing them to actually draw them. And I think what you've just articulated, that is, yeah, there'll be a wider project there if someone wants to join us in that pursuit. It should be done, I think. If we want to take VR, And AR, seriously, it's definitely something that has to be investigated, and some studies have to be found, and maybe something totally new has to be invented.
[00:29:59.374] Kent Bye: Well, I've been looking to either Francis Yates and the Giordano Brutto did a lot of memory palaces, so looking at what people in the past have done to be able to do that, so I think Francis Yates' The Art of Memory is a book that I would recommend. And then there's also a book by Arthur Young called The Geometry of Meaning where he starts to look at some of these different spatial relationships and maybe draw the mathematical formalism behind that to say that maybe there's these different relationships in space. My challenge would be, like, I've got these 1,000 interviews that I've done. I've published over 700 of them for the Voices of VR. But is there a way to translate that in through AI, automatic transcriptions, breaking up into little sound bites? But those sound bites being tagged into a larger quilt of knowledge, like this fabric of knowledge that you could navigate through. And I think James George and what they did with the Clouds documentary, where they did that back in 2014, premiered at Sundance, where they actually create this system to be able to actually navigate knowledge in that way. But this concept or idea of the future of journalism, or the future of wanting to learn about an idea would be the equivalent of walking through like an interactive museum. like the Exploratorium in San Francisco is an example that comes to mind, where you're able to express your high agency to be able to learn about these concepts, but have that for all of knowledge. Whether it's, I'm covering VR and AR, but there could be that for learning about architecture. I think that's probably the most clear, like, here's a memory palace of architecture. But yeah, just there's different challenges for AI perspective of how do you represent knowledge and this concept of actually building out spaces to represent these concepts and ideas and also these qualitative aspects of that I think is a big open problem that I'm interested in potentially experimenting with. But yeah, I don't know if you have any other thoughts on that.
[00:31:45.896] Quiddale OSullivan: I think as you talk about your particular focus in that space, but then also that we get so much more complicated that actually our threads are linking to other people's memory palaces. And what is that line of thought to then you're like, actually, I need to reach out to another expert to actually help me in developing my project. Which at the moment, I don't know how other people have their own design processes. We spidered IAMs, memory palaces, or conversations that we record or I like to get big walls as big as what Basquiat was doing and everyone has to draw and paint and write what they think and then we start to go back to the more mundane code and computer models. But they might start as a simple memory palace but it's those threads that are very difficult and I think spatial environments would definitely help us.
[00:32:30.298] Kent Bye: I feel like that philosophy is like the base architecture of how things get put into a space, and that there's many different philosophies. And so it would almost be like, here's what the reductive materialistic memory palace, here's what Eastern philosophy memory palace, here's the Chinese philosophy, here's the hermetic philosophy, here's the philosophy of mathematics. I think what Gödel showed with his incompleteness theorems was that any mathematical system, you can either be complete or consistent. Meaning if you want to remain consistent, it's going to be incomplete. which means that there's going to be a plurality of different memory palaces that are going to be able to have some dimensions that they're going to be able to interface with each other. But I do agree with you that there's going to be a bit of this, like each individual is going to have their own memory palace based upon their own experiences and based upon their own philosophy. But the interesting question is, how do these memory palaces interact? Like, can I go into your memory palace and then remix it and then add it to mine, but in a different architectural wing?
[00:33:25.702] Quiddale OSullivan: Yeah, I think that will be... The inconsistency is good because I think we don't want it to become homogenous or all aid the same. Because I think knowledge will be lost. So I think we have to allow the human to reconfigure it the way they want to and how can you keep tweaking it to just... We can all get the same problem and we'll all do it differently. It's impossible that we'll ever really do it the same. It's only like school that teaches us to do something exactly the same because they needed some way of quantifying it. But once you get to a point of critical thought, you're all different. And I think that'll be something interesting to look at.
[00:33:58.541] Kent Bye: Yeah, and as I think about the workflow of what that would look like for my site, I would imagine that people would listen to a podcast, go into Tilt Brush, and then maybe start to make an object that then they would add to their memory palace, but maybe make it available for other people to add it, because It's not really feasible for me to think about, like, how do I translate over a thousand interviews and hundreds of hours that's way bigger of a project than I would possibly have the capacity to take on. And so how do I distribute this process of people translating knowledge into physical objects or spaces? And so this concept of remixable, flexible architecture of memory palaces, that your process of doing that would actually help you remember it. For you, now you've created a context. So there's this connection between space and context. There's different domains of human experience and how there's an encouragement of that context to emerge based upon how you design a space. So I don't know how you think about context from an architectural perspective.
[00:34:58.477] Quiddale OSullivan: sit down, start looking, thinking, asking questions, sometimes interviewing, sometimes spending time there. You always think when you're young you'll come up with some like amazing process that's very regimented and then in the end you realize it's just a lot about intuition. You don't want to ever say that to a client because it's the most scary word to tell them, but it is. And now like Haspo over at DeepMind and AlphaGo, they're actually saying it's okay to actually build an AI about intuition. So actually it is a valid form of intellectual pursuit. So it's a bit of a gut feeling, but then afterwards you do get systematic and you try to find out why. You go like a detective and you go on this search and what knowledge do you not quite have? What authors or writers or collaboration with friends and you talk about it and try to tease it out. as you're doing that you'll probably start designing all at the same time because you just don't want it to be a thing that gets bolted on at the end which is what you see a lot where the critical thought is so separate from the designed objects and then it's just a porcelain doll and you're like oh that's not what architecture is ever talking about but this is what architecture does talk about today.
[00:36:07.219] Kent Bye: Yeah, when I was talking to Robin Hunneke, I was asking her about game design and she has this design framework where she thinks about the mechanics and the dynamics and the aesthetics, but she starts with the emotion and trying to design everything else around that. And I'm like, well, how do you do that translation between these environments, these interactions and these behaviors into emotion? And she's like, well, I've been doing game design for 20 years. And I've just cultivated this intuition of knowing what it feels like for herself, but to know what other people are going to respond to. And it sounds very similar with architecture, which is that doesn't seem to be a master formula to be able to translate geometry of space into a feeling for somebody, but that you do it through intuition cultivated by your direct experience over many years of designing spaces and talking to a lot of people.
[00:36:52.387] Quiddale OSullivan: Yeah, and there are the architects that have their aesthetic philosophy, let's say, like from Norman to Zaha to Mies. So they all have their palettes, let's say, and why they think these environments are for humans. But I kind of reject modernism. Most of my architectural peers would probably shoot me for that statement. But yeah, it's definitely not for me, that type of pursuit.
[00:37:14.425] Kent Bye: How are you differentiating yourself from modern architecture, and why do you not agree with that?
[00:37:19.266] Quiddale OSullivan: I guess I reject modernism and I guess I've got a problem with what we call the stars. The Garys of the Zahars of the Fosters, like I just don't believe in this single genius that we put on the pedestal. So I think that's just became a problem of being a young architect when I first started that these offices are just run by one genius with this the Pablo Picasso of their medium that's only with their thought and it's nothing about the team. Like they win all these awards but they never put the whole team on stage. And I guess that's probably the interesting thing of the Archigram group in London where they're like a group of friends continuously collaborating and maybe having conversations and opening those conversations to the world. So that's probably the thing I wish became more mainstream than what actually did become more mainstream.
[00:38:02.850] Kent Bye: Well, for you, what are some of the either biggest open problems you're trying to solve or open questions that you're trying to answer?
[00:38:10.097] Quiddale OSullivan: As we're moving into this new medium, I'm just wondering what will be a really intimate social public environment and where will art be in this space, where it won't just be about monetisation and it won't just be Walmart, but actually we can add something to humanity. There are simple things for the disabled users that are paraplegics. We can already start thinking about the interactions and the environments for them to actually be able to communicate with friends across the world and build them to be sympathetic and interesting. But we also need to think what type of world and what this is going to add to our world that we currently have.
[00:38:46.829] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think is the ultimate potential of virtual reality, augmented reality, and what it might be able to enable?
[00:38:57.573] Quiddale OSullivan: That's a very good question. But fundamentally we all think, or at least from the architecture point, that our environments really influence us. So San Francisco and San Jose really struck me as how many homeless people are there for such a wealthy state. I was shocked, really. I guess that's something in England you're quite proud of, the social system. So then what do we do with that in VR when we start to monetize it? What do we want from this space other than just to make a virtual desktop? I don't know. No one really was talking about that because at the moment we're so early so it's much more about getting into the hands of the users and getting this ecosystem built and getting it financially viable that the masses can use it. But then what do we consider going forward that it will add to society? And I guess beyond just entertainment, even though I think entertainment is one of the key human conditions, like it's fundamental to all of us, but what does that look like in this new world?
[00:39:51.201] Kent Bye: Awesome. Great. Well, thank you so much for joining me today on the podcast. So thank you. Thank you. So that was Quidel O'Sullivan, and he's a architect who's working at SkyVR. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, well, this concept of a paper architect is something that I've never heard of. And it was just interesting to hear about some of these different paper architects who were not necessarily concerned about building anything, but they just wanted to explore what is possible in the imaginal space of design and architecture and how Maybe at some point in the future, these things might be built, but they were just really trying to push the limits of what's possible with the medium of architecture. And so have people like Lebbeus Woods, or the Archigram Group, or the Ant Farm Group, or Cedic Price, and a lot of that work had inspired other architects like Zaha Hadid and Koop Hemmblal. And so Q sees himself as one of these architects that's inspired by paper architects, and he's able to implement some of those ideas and philosophies within the design and building of virtual reality, which I think is super cool. The other thing is that I've been really kind of searching for, is there this magical equation or translation for how to translate shape and architecture and geometry and space and objects moving through space into some sort of human experience? One of the things I took away from this interview with Quidel is that there is really not a master equation to be able to do that, that the job of an architect is to start building these spaces, to see how those spaces feel in their body, to have other people experience those spaces that you've built, and then you do this iterative process where you start to do this world building and designing of these spaces, you get this sense of how it makes you feel. And if you have other people see it and they feel the same thing, then you get this design intuition that is a little inevitable and can't be actually written down into any explicit formula or algorithm. And I think that's the job of an architect. That's the job of a game designer. That's the job of a storyteller, an artist, a musician. There's so many fields where there's not like a master equation for how to do it. It's just a process of designing things over time, iterating, and then just putting that into your body and cultivating this deeper sense of a design intuition. So I think that's a really interesting concept and idea that once I had talked to Q about this, I recognized that this had come up in a number of other conversations with Robin Huntke and the process of game design. And that's the challenge of virtual reality is that it is this process of you going out and trying to build things. And I think that part of the work that I'm trying to do here at the Voices of VR is try to come up with that critical theory. And I think that's what Q was saying when he was talking to there are these different architects that have a very specific aesthetic philosophy whether it's Norman architecture or Zaha architecture or Nice architecture There's specific mathematical formalisms that have this balance between the theory and practice of architecture where you try to see what works but then you try to come up with the underlying patterns for why that worked at all and And that's, I think, this balance between the theory and the practice of the idealism of the ideal forms and this platonic idea. But then there's a pragmatism of actually building it and seeing what it feels like, what the experience is, but then this dialectic between the theory and the practice. The other thing that was really interesting and surprising in this conversation was how architects are trying to design spaces that would eventually be misused. And the fact that they're being misused, I guess, is just an inevitability with architecture. He said that basically once you launch a building, then within the first week or so, then people start to use it for their own context and their own meaning. And it's really impossible to control the cultural context and the meaning of a collective group of people. And the best you can do is just hope to be able to bring people together as they're interacting in these different spaces, and then you kind of see what happens from there. And I think that's what I found really interesting is that this concept of misusing the space is a metric of success. That just means that people are actually like doing things that you didn't even imagine. And I guess the worst case scenario is that people aren't using it at all. And so the fact that they are using it and misusing it is one of the things that he thinks about as a design goal. And then finally, Q is talking about these different concepts of like, where is the art going to be in these virtual environments? And how can you design a space where people actually feel like they're there together? And that rather than reinventing the wheel and trying to come up with completely new architectures, then why don't we look to what has already existed within the mainstream architecture with stadium design and these other processes by which you're able to create this sense of a collective group experience. But I think there are going to actually be some new things that are completely possible that could have never been possible within the constraints of physical reality. And so thinking about what happens when you remove gravity or what happens when you're able to give people the absolute best view, but then how do you then give them the sense that they're in a live experience with other people and that you have the audio design as well that actually sounds like they're in a space. And so he's been also looking into audio design and the sound reflections because I think that is something that our body is noticing when we're in a space that we're kind of at a subconscious level. We're taking in all the information and it's helping us give this extra dimension of presence. And that as an architect, he's really wanting to flesh out what that audio experience is, especially in these variety of different spaces that he's designing in order to give this sense of being really engaged and being really present within these different contexts in these spaces. 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 I want to just encourage you to join in and become a member of the Patreon. This is a listeners-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon your donations and your membership in order to continue to bring you this coverage. And so, you can become a member today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.