Is it time for architects to take virtual spaces seriously?
Pandemics. Quarantines. Lockdowns. There has been no better time throughout modern history in which one could reimagine the meaning of architecture and what it may represent. With people confined in small spaces, the world has collectively innovated new ways to make those spaces bigger, as the confinement within strict architectural boundaries is no longer sufficient to contain our lives’ entire activities. With exteriors off limits, and interiors insufficient to satisfy our different needs, what becomes of the fate of social gatherings?
As we have seen, humanity has not given up on its desire to host these social gatherings, instead turning towards cyberspaces in order to collectively meet. From an exponential surge in using video calling services, to a rise in collaborative livestreams and online workout activities, the COVID-19 pandemic has proven that very small, confined spaces are enough to host an entire world of experiences.
Yet perhaps no example could better highlight the role of the architect (or designer) than Travis Scott’s Fortnite Astronomical Event – an online concert with thousands of attendees hosted within one of the world’s most popular video games, all while pushing architectural and spatial boundaries. While the idea is not the first of its kind, this particular event has pushed the limits one could reach in integrating spatial design to create an authentic, virtual, and immersive social experience.
What this experience offers is an evolving virtual space which transforms over the span of 10 minutes to virtually engage users with their spatial surroundings, playing on the notions of human scale, volumes, colours, and velocity, all while the concert’s music plays out. Just as is the case with using social media from the comfort of your home’s couch, it is extremely easy to feel immersed into these virtual landscapes and completely forget your peripheral vision. The possibilities are countless.
As we approach an age of mass urbanism and increasingly confined apartments within our cities, architects continue to innovate methods in order to increase the perceivable space of an otherwise small area – resorting to methods such as optical illusions or colour combinations which promote wellness. Yet with the great surge seen recently in virtual social gatherings, it’s about time architects take this medium seriously. As we have seen, it offers a surprisingly great escape for people confined in their tiny rooms.