#801: Dynamic Architecture & Digital Campfires for Social VR Gatherings

Yasmin Yesilipek is an architecture student at the Architectural Association who has been primarily focusing on virtual reality. She’s been creating spaces for online gatherings, and trying to recreate a campfire digitally through experimenting with different dynamic architectural objects. She’s iterating on different spaces and rooms and seeing where people within these social VR spaces congregate in order to get insights into what type of dynamic architectural objects are able to successfully mimic the energy of the live fire. I had a chance to catch up with her after her presentation at the Architectural Association Symposium on the Architecture for the Immersive Internet that was organized by Space Popular.


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Symposium on the Architecture for the Immersive Internet that was organized by Space Popular.


[=”” audio]<=”” p=””>Here’s Yasmin’s talk at the Architecture for the Immersive Internet

Symposium on the Architecture for the Immersive Internet that was organized by Space Popular.


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Symposium on the Architecture for the Immersive Internet that was organized by Space Popular.


[=”” audio]<=”” p=””>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. So, continuing on in my series of the immersive architecture of the internet, I talked to Yasmin Yasilbek. She's a student at the Architectural Association in London, and she's mainly focusing on virtual reality. She's trying to create these gatherings within virtual spaces and so she created these different dynamic architectural objects of fire trying to create these centerpieces that people could gather around and trying to create the elements of essentially a campfire of gatherings and trying to find the different elements of architectural elements that are helping facilitate these different gatherings into these virtual spaces. She's doing a lot of different experiments and she presented there in the morning at this Immersive Architecture of the Internet Symposium at the Architectural Association and then after presentation during the break I had a chance to catch up with her and talk a little bit about her process and what she's thinking about and where she sees this is going not only for architects but also for larger society. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Yasmin happened on Friday, March 1st, 2019 at the Architectural Association in London, England. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:01:28.922] Yasemin Yesilipek: So my name is Yasmin. I am studying at Architectural Association, second year, and our focus is mainly on VR. My project is about... I'm dealing with the problem of separation within the society because of new technologies that are coming in our daily lives. And looking from Instagram to all the social media platforms, there's a clear polarization effect which is caused by certain algorithms. And it is actually stated by Gerald Lanier, as I mentioned before, it's called the echo chamber effect. And in order to solve this sort of issue, I am going back to history and trying to understand what was the successful qualities of a gathering and trying to understand how can I bring back those qualities in the digital platform or the next level would be the immersive internet, where the VR, the body and mind is literally inside this digital world that we're creating. So the successful gathering that I started to look at was the campfire, the qualities. Considering that as the first house of the gathering that we produced, the first conversations at the end of the day, the protective bubble within the wild was an actual successful example that we can start thinking of why we failed to bring that to the digital gathering that we're producing in social media or in any platform on internet if you think about it. So I started taking more physical qualities, like the fire as a visual gathering animation on the VR platform that I'm producing, or, for example, the wood pieces that people used to collect in order to create that actual gathering environment. Those sort of very basic but clear qualities was actually the key point of why that campfire actually successful and helped us develop into this day. So this is the actual focus of the project. So at the end, I am planning to create a platform in which there is a network in between gatherings because the scale is so much bigger now. In the beginning, there was only one fire. Now there are so many and it's actually overlapped into each other. When you're on dinner table, you're actually in connection with other people, which is considered as another gathering element, if you think about it. So I am trying to be aware of all the situations, all the small examples or alternatives of how people could gather at this point because there's a passive, I could call it a passive gathering if you think about it. You're in the conversation but you're actually thinking about something else which produces another Instagram page that you start following or commenting or liking emojis. And if we visualize these parameters through the animations or the VR platform that I'm producing, it will become much more clear the point where it started breaking.

[00:04:23.642] Kent Bye: Yeah, and as right now, you're an architectural student. And for me, my perspective, I see VR and I see it's very much a spatial medium. Well, architects are spatial designers where they're designing these spatial spaces. So I'm curious if you could talk a little bit about how you see as an architect, like what either design frameworks or how you conceptualize a VR and how you design for it.

[00:04:47.750] Yasemin Yesilipek: It's actually quite a challenge considering I am a student and I actually entered in architecture through VR if you think about it. I'm only on my second year and I'm trying to understand architecture through this digital platform that is barely experienced with the professional architects of today. I think it's actually I see it as an opportunity because this is the time where we start actually defining which is why we're actually going to be signing a treaty at the end of the day in order to understand what are the points of architecture to consider because like I've been to VR platforms in order to understand what is happening there and most of the people are actually seeking architects in order to see because we are actually the ones that are trained to design the space, deal with the space, we understand how the space affects different parameters, social, psychological, like so many things. And it is such a sad thing that we should have been integrated with this technology before because right now it's mostly the programmers or the people who are interested in creating these mesh or this like visual programming qualities that are actually totally investing time in this VR platforms. But once we start getting inside there, there will be more clear communication in between today's citizen and those programmers who are creating those beautiful structures and things like that. I think we are going to be like the postman or like the one in between those two. in order to create a clear pathway for the next level of the virtual reality that is going to be produced. And it's going to be much more immersed to our daily lifestyles, as I've mentioned.

[00:06:33.121] Kent Bye: Well, one of the things that I see is a big difference between physical architecture and virtual architecture is that the design process for actual physical architecture is, it follows a waterfall approach of you design it, you build it, and you're kind of done. There's not a lot of going back and changing much stuff once it's actually built. In physical architecture, now in virtual architecture, it seems like that it's much more iterative where you're putting stuff out there and you may have users experiencing your architecture within weeks of you coming up with the idea and actually building it and launching it. And it's pretty fast in terms of that iteration cycle, where you're able to learn a lot quicker how people are actually using the space versus if you were to design physical spaces. So I'm curious if you could talk a bit about what you've been learning from a little bit more of a faster iteration of designing and building and getting people actually using the spaces that you're designing.

[00:07:24.397] Yasemin Yesilipek: So I've been to physical projects. I've been to internships where I was a part of the relationship in between the client and the architect. And now I am actually experiencing the client's experience at the same time when I'm on VR. Because in order for me to understand what I'm designing, I need to be constantly coming in and back, sometimes deleting, sometimes adding something. So the editing process never ends. It's like a building that never ends, just like the Sagrada Familia, if you think about it. But, I mean, we need to adapt to the situation. Maybe the technology will allow for the physical world to have this fast relationship in between the process or the new change of the design and the outcome as fast as it on the digital platform that we're having. But right now it's only possible through the virtual platform that I'm having. I'm constantly thinking about the comments of the Rhino that would help me lead into the outcome that I have in my mind. And it doesn't allow me to do that all the time. It's much more... easier in the physical world to reach the outcome for an architect at this point, because the program or the software itself is the second hidden architect that decides on how to create this language or outcome that I have in my mind. Otherwise, in real world, it was only me. So the process of design is totally changing. Like, for example, I know I've seen other architects, they always think very socially or very clearly, but because they're used to drawing or those basic methods of representing their own ideas. When it comes to us, we have so much opportunities to create complex stuff through other platforms like Grasshopper or Cinema 4D, like those softwares that we're using, which actually sort of complicates what we're thinking or how we're thinking. But I am not the one, for example, who is going to see the outcome of the project in the first place. I am planning the mapping of that process in order to let the software visualize what is going to be at the end. So, I mean, I am making the decisions for the software to create that outcome, but it's much more hard to imagine how it is going to end when I start from the beginning. I mean, it's a very ups and downs, going back and forth. Once I'm not satisfied with the decisions or the outcome that the software produces for me, I go back to the start and think about it in another different algorithmic or like this logical way. the path that would create another scenario. And it's much faster, which is why it's like the architecture became the runway or you run from one way to another and now you have to go back there because it's gonna change again and so on, yeah.

[00:10:10.074] Kent Bye: Yeah, you were talking a little bit about fire and what fire means in terms of people circling around the fire to tell stories and to have that as a centerpiece. So how do you translate fire into a virtual architecture?

[00:10:25.010] Yasemin Yesilipek: It was actually a bit difficult in the beginning to explain how the fire would be perceived as an architectural element in my project. In the beginning, I saw as a very logical geometrical phase where I am actually in control of how the end outcome would be. For example, I was totally in control of the amount of rotation or the transformation I'm making in between those gathering elements, one being much more rectangular and the other being much more circular, the amount of edges. But after some point, I realized that that shouldn't be the parameters I should be in control of in terms of architecture, because that's a very geometrical, straightforward perspective to look at. But since I'm dealing with a more psychological effect of this fire phenomenon, At the end I decided to focus more on the experimental pathway, where I design it very instinct-wise, and then at the end I would expect the visitors or the other people to give comments in order for me to understand the quality or the level of success of that specific gathering. In my experiment, there were like six, seven gathering elements, and the level of attractiveness would be the difference in between them. And that was defined by the visitors, by the people who, the avatars who were visiting, and their presence created the parameter for my project. not me deciding like this should be more rectangular and it's going to be nicer because it's such a subjective perspective if I just make the decisions of which one's nicer than the other one. But since I'm dealing with gathering, it has to be a social project in which other people get to make decisions for my project at the same time.

[00:12:13.020] Kent Bye: Yeah, when I think of fire, I think of it being erratic or unpredictable or a bit hypnotic and trance inducing to be able to watch the fire in the sense that it's a process that it's taking the sun that's captured by wood and you're seeing the flame of the sun but at the same time the wood is burning away so then there's somebody who has to tend the fire and add more but that there is this unfolding unpredictability to fire that it captivates the imagination, the attention as you watch it. And what was really striking to see how you were trying to translate that into a virtual architecture is that you had a similar kind of object that was floating and transforming but very dynamic and changing all the time. So you're trying to take those fundamental qualities of fire and translate that into a physical object with the hopes that people could gather around it and that could inspire that same type of, I guess, curiosity or that awe or wonder or trance state to be able to pay attention to but at the same time allow yourself to share stories around that.

[00:13:10.145] Yasemin Yesilipek: Exactly, yes. But the question would start when, if, for example, you're in the wild, in the physical world, and you have three different campfires, what would make you choose one from the other one? And what would constitute the hierarchy in between one campfire to another one? Is the point where I start understanding the dynamics of a society and bringing the network of the connections that we have through these social media platforms or anything that we have done, into the visualization through the master planning network that I am creating. So, I mean, it's always going to be a debate. I think there is no answer. But the process of questioning will lead us to another level in which we start, actually, in my project, defining what today's society has become from yesterday, the campfire, and what is architecture basically going to be I feel like it is going to become much more with the support of the technology and the immersive internet, it is going to be much more people concerned instead of, from my perspective, instead of being like more structure focused, like less technical but more like psychological and social aspects, because after some point, like I was reading some books, it is going to be the robots or the technological world that's dealing with the logistics of what's to constitute, but the creativity still is going to be inside the human, inside the architect for a longer period than the technical aspect of our capabilities. So once that robotics phase is done, once I don't have to think about what command I'm using, or once the robot is, fully capable of realizing what I have in my mind, I could force my creativity in order to force the robotics to produce the outcome that I'm not even expecting. But I believe that it will always be the architect, the person who is imagining, who is coming up with that network of ideas that will constitute the architecture.

[00:15:15.429] Kent Bye: So for you, what are some of the either biggest open questions you're trying to answer or open problems you're trying to solve?

[00:15:23.599] Yasemin Yesilipek: First of all, as I was mentioning, the question of to what extent am I supposed to be in control in the environment that I'm creating, since the nature aspect of having a campfire is that the campfire is actually created by the people surrounded by it. They decide to create that. And even though they are not capable of understanding how the flames, I mean, it is a much more like academic thing to understand what flames work. engagement and ritual is going to be the key point of my problems that I'm going to be having. Also the storage, like the storage of information, the monument that is produced after that campfire because what campfire provided was a space in which you could exchange information and let that information stay in that space through this carvings or like writing different pictures which let that conversation go into the next step in our primitive terms. storage of information and exchange of information is crucial in order for me to provide the best space for gathering because I was thinking these gathering elements that I'm producing am I going to decide for example one of them is for dogs like they have to talk about dogs around that campfire and for the other one that you just talk about drawings no I'm not going to decide that they have to create that knowledge in that conversation and In order for them to go into the next step, I need to provide them the ultimate space in which, even though they are creating, at the same time they get to store and go into the next step with the other people that are joining in the conversation. Also, the scale has to be changeable as well. Sometimes one conversation starts with two people and ends up with 100 people. So that scaling would affect the other gatherings. And that sort of dynamic in between, like the clashing of gatherings in between or like the coming together unity like it's such a like exciting aspect of my project that I'm thinking about I think yeah.

[00:17:26.033] Kent Bye: Great and and finally what do you think the ultimate potential of VR is and what it might be able to enable?

[00:17:34.920] Yasemin Yesilipek: I'm actually in the positive side of what is going to be providing us in the future. It makes more sense that augmented reality will be much more effective in our daily lives in the beginning, because after you wear those goggles, you need to have your five senses fully immersed to that virtual space. So in order to have that, you need to add a bit of physicality. For example, once you're passing through a corridor in virtual reality, you should be actually walking that amount of steps in order to have that fully real virtuality. So I think either it's going to be total virtual reality platform in which everything is actually made into physical world in very basic terms, like a black platform where you have these corridors and rooms in which once you wear the glasses, you see everything as normal, or everything's going to be like in between. where I'm just seeing a commercial when I'm looking at a window, but it's not there, and so on. But what this has to offer is, I think, I mean, every time technology was introduced to the society, everybody was like, negative, this is going to be like the next, I don't know, we're gonna become the slaves of technology, or things like that. But it did happen, and we found a way to adapt into that situation, and now we're not actually feeling those effects anymore. phones, for example. We don't feel that. Newspapers, before that everybody was reading those instead of having a conversation in between. I just read the article about that. But it's going to happen, so there's no point of being against, but I think it's going to offer, like, you're going to be able to produce the boundary of your imagination. Like, you don't have to have a boundary anymore. You can just think and just do it like that if you have that virtual reality opportunities. So I think it's going to be amazing.

[00:19:28.978] Kent Bye: Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the immersive community?

[00:19:35.047] Yasemin Yesilipek: I mean, I'm very new in this platform, but I'm super excited because I see a full potential that the next step is going to be this. Even though people don't have access yet or are not aware as much, it did actually start to become much more important with these treaties or like architecture getting into this or these mental applications that are dealing, trying to solve real life situations through VR platforms. And I mean, I would be happy if anybody wants to, you know, help me with my project, because I know that I'm going to always need another perspective in order to make my project more objective and much more accepted by the society. So, yeah. Thank you.

[00:20:25.714] Kent Bye: Great. Awesome. Well, thank you so much.

[00:20:27.655] Yasemin Yesilipek: Thank you for this.

[00:20:30.552] Kent Bye: So that was Yasmin Yesilopek. She's studying at the Architectural Association, mainly focusing on virtual reality. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, well, the actual objects of these fire objects are super cool. The things that she was creating, it's almost like this dynamic architecture, something that is very dynamic and fluid and trying to have something that is interesting enough to look at that you want to sort of see how it changes and evolves and grows over time. And so. There seemed to be this very interesting process where, you know, who's in control within the design process. And there's a certain amount of having to surrender different aspects of the authorial control within these different experiences, because as Yasmin said, she's creating these different objects and she's kind of watching to see what people are drawn to. And so from there, then she starts to try to extract the different elements of what is it about these specific objects that she designed that people tend to be drawn to, and then iterate within her own design process to kind of expand out. And also trying to scale out from these small scales into larger and larger scales. And so there's essentially like this process of creating these social VR experiences, these social gatherings, trying to create this context for people to gather. And then as she has been doing that, trying to then expand different elements that she sees working. And it's almost like this world building of these different varieties of social dynamics and to continue out to kind of scale it out into small villages and to larger and larger like cities. So it's just interesting to see her process as she's starting from a very simple thing of trying to create just a campfire gathering and then from there watch the behavior and then start to scale it out from this design practice. So to me, it's interesting to see that she's really on this cutting edge of learning what it means to be an architectural student, but then, you know, exploring this new medium, which nobody else is really doing a lot of architectural experimentation in. And so she's having to pull from the broader virtual reality community, listening to what's happening in the community, but also just doing her own experimentation and, you know, taking the lessons she's hearing from the architectural training and then. taking a very specific approach for how she's designing these individual campfires and then scaling it out into larger and larger scales. And that it is like changing this design process away from something where you know you just kind of design it you put it out there and it's done and it's like more of this unending design of these different physical objects and it's much more iterative and That was a point that I had brought up during my presentation is that I just expected to see that there's going to be this shift of allowing this interaction and collaboration from the actual community in different ways to see how it's not just going to be the architects that are designing, but it's going to be more of a subtle guiding and shaping from that world builder perspective to try to have different insights for what these deeper principles might be, and then to try something and see how it works and then adapt and change. And so it's much quicker to go through that process from what traditional building of physical architecture would be. So to me, that's fascinating because I feel like there's going to be these faster feedback loop cycles, and it's going to have a bit of an explosion of these different notions and different elements of immersive architecture. And one of the things that Yasmin said is that it's very difficult for her to imagine at the beginning where it's going to end up in the end because it's just like this iterative process where it's just like this feedback loop and then you start on a thread and it continues to evolve. And so I think it's a lot different type of design process than what maybe some of her counterparts within the architectural school have been used to in the past. And that also as she's making these different judgments, then it's these very qualitative subjective elements of what people are thinking about what they're saying. And that she says, you know, it's kind of mysterious as to what it is about these different elements. There's not a clear answer. Perhaps in the future, once we have EEGs and looking at our neuroscience of our brain to be able to actually. take our perceptual input and maybe correlate that maybe we'll have a lot more fidelity to be able to see like what is it about these different elements that are drawing people to it even if it's at this kind of sub symbolic level of like your unconscious processing of what is drawing you to different things combining that with eye tracking and to see what you're actually looking at and your EEG there's going to be a lot more data that's available in the future and from my perspective there's going to be a lot of ethics around How do you make sure that that information that could be very useful within these different types of design prototyping environments, but at the same time, there'd be all sorts of different privacy implications about that data, where it ends up and how it's used potentially against people. But to me, there's like all these fascinating opportunities for the design process to start to be able to correlate and add all this stuff together, because, you know, As Yasmin said, it's a bit of this mysterious process. She can sort of see what the group dynamics and behavior are, but there's still elements of it that is just completely like a black box. It's opaque to her as to what it is exactly about these different objects that are more attractive to people than some of the other ones that she's creating. But it seems like it's like just this evolutionary process where you create these different objects, you see what happens, and you try to extract the different elements of that and continue into this process of creating different mutations and combinations down the road. And that eventually she hopes that being in these virtual spaces that we'll have these opportunities to essentially lower the boundaries of our imagination to be able to take what we're imagining and then putting out into the world. And a lot of these different elements of fire that she's creating, there's a lot of really interesting dynamic algorithmic aspects to it. So again, there's different aspects of these mathematical algorithms to be able to put into these virtual objects. And so, you know, the cultivation of those different types of ways to create these dynamic motion and movement and processes over time, I think is going to continue to be fused into these architectural practices within these immersive 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 please do spread the word, tell your friends and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a list of supported podcasts. And so I do rely upon your donations in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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