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An alternate reality where one can travel the world in a few seconds, converse with your colleagues while floating around space, send out your AI counterpart to complete tedious tasks, and indulge in a universe with infinite possibilities- what seemed to be all the rage in popular 80s comics is, now, a possible reality.
The metaverse, NFTs, blockchain technology, and cryptocurrency may simply seem like buzzwords commonplace to the rapidly changing tech industry, perhaps, this begs to ask the question- what are they, and why are they taking the world by storm?
More importantly, how does this shift in the digital world translate to the life and grind of the present-day architect? What possibilities could unfold in the future and does this mean our Marvel-inspired childhood fantasies are finally materializing?
The Metaverse- What Is It?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, ‘metaverse’ refers to the concept of a highly immersive virtual world where people gather to socialize, play, and work. The word itself means ‘beyond the universe’, a term originally coined by Neal Stephenson in the 1992 novel Snow Crash.
In October 2021, Facebook- now Meta owner Mark Zuckerberg raved ambitiously about his latest initiative, “Facebook would strive to build a maximalist, interconnected set of experiences straight out of sci-fi — a world known as the metaverse.” Zuckerberg says, “The metaverse will bring enormous opportunity to individual creators and artists; to individuals who want to work and own homes far from today’s urban centers; and to people who live in places where opportunities are more limited. A realized metaverse could be the next best thing to a working teleportation device.”
Simply put, the metaverse is the next step in the evolution of the internet- the application of real-world features to a completely online environment. It is an immersive, 3D experience in which individuals communicate and connect with each other through their AI-designed replicas, or their ‘avatars’. Within the metaverse, users can freely network, look after virtual pets, invest in virtual real estate, attend events, enjoy concerts and completely revolutionize the workplace.
What Does the Future Look Like
The metaverse seemingly aims to bring a new dynamic in the way the world collaborates- it gives us global connection without the loss of individual isolation. It promises to be a new face to social connection, mobilization, and cooperation.
With the global pandemic as its cire reason, remote and hybrid workspaces have grown increasingly popular. Perhaps, the metaverse could be a solution to deal with social isolation and workplace connectedness by creating an authentic and interactive workspace.
The metaverse is the first step to a new digital world- AI enables colleagues and digital workspaces, acceleration of learning, and skills, and the rise of a modern economy, coupled with an increase in job roles and the evolution of existing ones.
The Metaverse- How Do I Get There
Though the basic ability to be able to engage in a virtual world has been around for a while via games like Roblox, Fortnite, and Second Life, the defining feature of the metaverse provides users with lifelike interactions.
The technology that enables the digital world to be applied to real-world characteristics to create an interactive virtual environment is, in its present stage, a hardware device designed such that its users can control virtually displayed content and interact with it in real-time.
Meta urges users to purchase the Oculus Quest 2 VR headsets, a self-contained hardware. Companies like HTC, Valve, and Sony are manufacturing VR headsets that connect to PCs. Other companies like Microsoft, Magic Leap, and Qualcomm are producing AR headsets and glasses. Existing Metavrses like Roblox, Minecraft, and Fortnite can be accessed through means of a PC or simply from your phone.
Though different technologies enable different levels of enjoyment, immersion, and entertainment, they will fail to be a replacement for our everyday life experiences.
New Roles in the Metaverse Economy
The onset of this new phenomenon brings the promise of new enterprises, jobs, and roles, just as the internet did back in the 90s.
The metaverse hints at a creativity-driven economy, with a user-centric and transparent business model. This digital economy is expected to unlock new opportunities for individuals across various communities and industries and revolutionize the way we define a traditional economic system.
Additionally, the metaverse has the power to transform the way we learn by making it more active and dynamic, no longer bound by geographic locations and time- especially beneficial to the study of architecture. Meta is investing in e a $150 million fund called Meta Immersive Learning.
The healthcare sector is another industry where the metaverse has the potential to completely transform the industry with its endless possibilities for training health care potentials.
NFTs- Where Do They Come Into Play
NFTs- Non-Fungible Tokens are a type of secure digital currency using the same blockchain technology as that of cryptocurrency. An NFT, in place of currency, can represent a song, digital content, a piece of art, or even virtual real estate which gives the owner proof of ownership that can be traded in the metaverse.
Like traditional real estate, virtual property owners can buy, sell and rent out their properties, enforced through means of a smart contract. To put into perspective the hype around NFTs at present, in 2021, one buyer spent US$450,000 on a piece of land in popular rapper Snoop Dogg’s virtual world.
The Role of Architects in the Metaverse
Design is generally regarded as a noble profession that has the power to feel and make feel, to build the future, and tell stories of the past. Architects are generally regarded as the pioneers of the future, building it one stroke at a time. As we adapt to the changing social and technical climate, the metaverse could prove to be a new playground for architects to completely relinquish in.
Rem Koolhaas once said, “Architecture stands with one leg in a world that’s 3,000 years old and another leg in the 21st century. This almost ballet-like stretch makes our profession surprisingly deep.”
I believe architects could prove to be the link between the physical world and the digital world. In a realm where architects are no longer bound by limits like gravity, climactic issues, structural stability, and other restrictions, the possibilities to indulge in a new phase of architecture are endless.
Meta-Architects: A Probabable Profession?
Owing to this shift in the future of architecture, there is a high probability we may begin to see variation between the title of a traditional architect and a meta-architect in the years to come. Though traditional architecture may be the peak of creativity and artistic style, it is still bound by the need to be practical and functional; whereas meta-architecture would purely focus on visuals, form, and aesthetic value.
Meta-architects could test drive unbuilt buildings and create real-world scenarios to augment the physical experience, as per the request of the client. Moreover, the metaverse may be the new frontier for architectural and heritage conservation. The metaverse could be the platform to digitally preserve structures and allow users to interact and immerse themselves within the environment.
Design Companies in the Virtual World
Zaha Hadid Architects
Zaha Hadid Architects led by Patrik Schumacher, Kenneth Landau, and Jaime Lopez are designing a virtual city in the metaverse, called Liberland. Liberland is a micronation entirely rendered in Zaha Hadid’s signature style, boasting impressive collaborative workspaces and a gallery that sells NFTs.
The firm also recently partnered with PUBG to create a virtual environment for an augmented experience accommodating about 100 players in an aesthetically and technically enriching battlefield.
Illusor is a design-oriented meta-architecture and technology company that aims to blend physical and virtual spaces and create all-inclusive workspaces to augment digital interactions and redefine virtual business by creating an enveloping metaverse experience.
Decentraland Architects is a blockchain virtual world established in March 2021 that provides 3D design and architecture services that customers can request to build and develop virtual real estate. These purchases of plots of land and parcels may be done using the cryptocurrency Mana.
Though the metaverse may be in its nascent stage, the hope and promise that this phenomenon brings are unmatched. As the world takes this giant shift into the next stage of evolution, the architects must pioneer the movement, as we have always done. A realm with no inhibitions; pure ambition and creativity is the world of our tomorrow; the world for our architects.
Until we figure out the minor technical details to perfect our dystopian alternate world, goodbye from my avatar to yours!