“All the physical spaces that we (architects) design – buildings, interiors and cities are born as metaspaces, and we call them 3D models”. With this statement Brian Jencek, director of planning at San Francisco-based architecture firm HOK, narrows the boundaries between the current way of designing and the future of architecture in the metaverse. According to him, we are not that far from this technology, since we already use the same tools that visual designers use to create realistic environments, such as Unity, Twin motion and Blender.
However, despite these commonalities, building in the metaverse will require new skills and, most importantly, a shift in perspective. In addition to 3D modeling, it will be necessary to include other functions such as content, character and game design. With this, the world of architecture will open up to different professionals, resulting in an even more multidisciplinary team, focused on the design process of the new era.
The relationship with the world of virtual games can already be seen in unprecedented collaborations between major architectural firms and the entertainment industry, such as Zaha Hadid Architects, who recently worked together with the gaming company PUBG Mobile to create an environment where players experience an aesthetically beautiful and technically rich battlefield.
Overcoming the limits of the so-called traditional architecture, designing in the metaverse means, therefore, exploring a still unknown field that ranges from dialogue with other disciplines to the mastery of new software. With that in mind, this article seeks to present some important considerations for architects who intend to venture into the world of the metaverse.
Choosing a Metaverse Platform
Within the metaverse there are two branches of products to be created: wearables and scenes. The first, as its name implies, wearable devices are related to digitized goods such as clothing, design objects and other products that do not fall into the architectural domain. In the case of architecture, creation in the metaverse is related to scenes, considered architectural structures or landscapes.
To build a scene you first need access to a metaverse platform. Nowadays the most popular ones are Sandbox, Cryptovoxels and Decentraland. The first is a more user-friendly and intuitive gaming platform, which allows users to create, use and sell their works using the platform's own marketplace. For creation in the Sandbox, a simple editor called VoxEdit is used. Cryptovoxels, in turn, is a virtual world inspired by the famous Minecraft game, where you can buy virtual land, build stores on that land, create avatars and fill your own art galleries with NFTs. While the best option to build within this platform is to own your own land, Cryptovoxels also offers the option of Free Space for those who don't own land but want to test their skills. In this case, the architecture is not built exactly in the Cryptovoxels metaverse, but in a kind of limited copy of it.
Currently, Decentraland is perhaps the best-known platform of the three mentioned above. In general terms, it can be defined as a 3D universe governed by a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO), and much of its popularity is due to the opening of a JP Morgan’s unit within the game itself. In addition, it was also on the agenda when one of its virtual lands was sold for $2.4 million (618,000 MANA units – her native currency) in November 2021.
In practice, to take advantage of Decentraland's full architectural meta potential, it is necessary to have a digital wallet of cryptocurrencies known as Metamask and start by investing in a land - which nowadays has become one of the biggest barriers to construction in the metaverse. In addition to the exorbitant exceptions, such as the one mentioned above, their land costs an average of US$ 15,000, very different from the price at the beginning of the platform, when it was possible to purchase a lot for US$ 500. However, as with Cryptovoxels, with Decentraland it is also possible to create parallel structures just for fun, without having to invest money, and if you wish, you can still register your scene to be deployed on land that belongs to someone else.
Unlike architecture in the physical world, designing in the metaverse requires more specific approaches in order to deliver an immersive experience. In this sense, many architects have appropriated tools from the film industry such as storyboarding to bring their creations to life. With it, it is possible to organize the scenes that will be shown in sequence, almost like a 21st century promenade architecturale. In this way, the immersive and interactive experience in the metaverse is enhanced with good storytelling.
Patrik Schumacher himself, project director at Zaha Hadid Architects, stated in an interview with ArchDaily his belief that it will be in the metaverse where much of the architectural action and innovation will take place in the next era, and leaving it in the hands of the entertainment industry is a mistake of purpose and criteria. Weronika Marciniak, from the metaverse-focused architecture firm Future is Meta, also says that at the moment, the digital space is being dominated by game developers or people interested in 3D design – but not necessarily architects and, according to her, the result. Furthermore, they are spaces that are difficult to navigate or not necessarily conceived from the user's perspective.
These statements highlight the importance of architects in creating this new technological era because, as in real life, it is not enough to design aesthetically pleasing structures, it is necessary to be aware of the subjectivities that compose them, whether in the physical or digital world. To do so, we need to be prepared and aligned with new software and technologies so that our profession is reinvented, but without losing its “human” essence.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on September 23, 2022