We live in a world where the experienced, remembered, and imagined, as well as different moments in space and time concerning the past, present, and future are inseparably blended. As of recent, we are being offered various mediums to gain access to other planes of existence, utilizing immersive technologies like virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR), creating a pathway to the metaverse in which we are transported to spaces that are capable of feeling more ‘real’ than anything we presently experience.
With the ever-growing potential of virtual futures amongst us; the creation of digital communities, wireless technologies, and an interconnected world is changing the environment we inhabit forever. The metaverse is constantly being developed as we know it, with the specific needs of architectural concepts in mind. Architectural design has long been a driving application for immersive virtual environments, but with the concept of space and reason not necessarily having to act as a factor in the development of the metaverse’s infrastructure, why is it that designers still aim to make these planes of reality look ‘real’ in these digital spaces?
Allow us to introduce you to the mere exposure effect, also known as the familiarity principle, a psychological phenomenon that describes our human tendency to develop preferences for things simply because we are familiar with them. Familiar things such as types of food, music, and activities make us feel comfortable. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that familiarity breeds liking, thus, leading to comfort. Generally speaking, something we are familiar with appears safer and is less likely to hurt us. We don’t want to risk the unfamiliar.
Something very similar happened with the first ever iPhone: it had a calculator app that looked like a real calculator and a notes app that resembled paper. This scheme of reason to try and make things look familiar and tangible was an important path for building the digital user interface of smartphones today. There was an understanding that it was necessary to make these new advancements in handheld technology familiar, as designers knew it would take years to bring the public through this revolution, and to even accept this new norm in the first place. Therefore, would we would also not seek this sense of familiarity when trying to adapt to new environments in a virtual and augmented capacity, its buildings, and surroundings?
The idea of the metaverse may seem daunting upon initial consideration, and many are not strangers to the mixed reactions and concerns it raises. However, once we recognize the truth about the link between familiarity and enjoyment, knowing that it takes several exposures to develop a liking for the unfamiliar, we can make it a deliberate strategy to overlook the initial negative reaction toward new stimuli.
Slowly, we are seeing architects engage in different virtual reality projects to introduce to us this new schema of the digital age. Zaha Hadid Architects has created a ‘cyber-urban’ city in the metaverse where individuals can buy plots of land with cryptocurrency and enter digital buildings as an avatar. Named Liberland, the 4.0 city is a nod to the Free Republic of Liberland. It includes a town hall, co-working spaces, and a crypto-art gallery displaying NFT works (non-fungible tokens).
The buildings in this city still resemble the likes of true, tangible buildings that we encounter and experience in our day-to-day lives, employing form and structure that still makes sense within reason of the real world's restrictions. Architects understand that it is paramount that people enter something that feels familiar. With the rise of the metaverse and the digitization of the built environment, some have even expressed concern for the role of traditional architects if we continue to progress down this route, however, who are the ones that can build and uproot structures that look familiar even in new, unprecedented platforms? Architects.
There is high value in exploring the reciprocal relationship of how the practice of architecture has informed these virtual worlds and vice versa, as well as importance in focusing on homing in on an individual’s personal experience with the emotions and feelings that arise when engaging with the visual and audible stimulus. This in turn translates into their real-world experiences, as everyday real space is already deeply embedded in these respective virtual environments.
Perhaps we ought to begin to view the metaverse and virtual and augmented realities in the manner of the content and spatial quality they possess. More and more, they are becoming three-dimensional immersive environments that people are beginning to inhabit spatially and emotionally, to which individuals may consider these digital environments as direct and continuous extensions of their offline lives: a virtual space that integrates well with human dreams, drives, and desires.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on September 06, 2022