A studio I taught at the Melbourne School of Design
In the present era of energy, carbon and water constraints, building rapidly becomes environmentally and ethically questionable. New digital design methods try to challenge this conventional role of architecture by focusing on processes and ecologies, staging dynamic performances rather than procuring static objects. Yet algorithmic tools have their own agendas: limiting participation to those who have the required technical expertise.
The result is a paradox: the complexity of architectural and urban issues mean they cannot be solved by designers operating alone, yet contemporary tools that tackle such systems can only be used by a narrow audience of technical specialists.
This studio will use architecture’s powerful capabilities for imagining future worlds as a tool for collectively investigating complex environments. We will build interactive speculative worlds – games – that escape our computer screens and, through our smartphones, become urban in scope.
We will move beyond objects to investigate a ‘third space’ between virtual and real, hybrid landscapes experienced on site through phones, low cost sensors, GPS, etc.
The studio investigates the hypothesis that play can be used as a productive design tool. By producing experimental digital and physical games and game-like experiences, the studio will demonstrate how the outcomes of architectural design can be usefully understood as dynamic and responsive performances rather than static and passive objects.
Games are digital performances. Via the phones all of us carry, mobile games like Pokemon Go escape the boundaries of computer screens and tabletops and become urban in scale, creating new virtual spaces that challenge traditional conceptions of architecture. Approaches that appear under the names air-tagging, spatial computing, mixed reality and situated simulation enable productive design engagements that can be staged on demand, at arbitrary locations. These experiences – overlaid onto the environments of everyday habitation – can reach large numbers of people in most places and situations.
Through such digital performances, architects can stage interventions and activate spaces without needing to build.
Via GPS, we can use our player’s own bodies to simultaneously inhabit physical and virtual space. We design and deploy geolocated digital experiences that disrupt conventional movement, making room for novel performances and virtual-real enactments to emerge. We aim for projects that provoke a collective imagining in our players, incubating alternative viewpoints of an everyday space.
Complex, analogue relationships will be digitised through two advanced tools: Grasshopper, a parametric modelling software package, and Unity, an interactive 3D gaming environment.
Through this digitisation process, we aim to create a dynamic simulation of urban spaces. Yet deployed on site in the hands of users, this simulation becomes situated and humanised, integrating both computational algorithms describing the ecology of the area and human responses.
Via games, we can describe, exaggerate, highlight, simply and provoke. Through such effects, we can create powerful experiences bringing groups of people together. In doing so, the studio aims to produce a tool that can motivate site users to see this space collectively through a new lens.
Augmented with our informed, engaging simulation, our players will be encouraged to explore, generating valuable information highlighting moments of intensity and differentiation in the landscape. Our studio will use this real-time data back as an input for design: showcasing invisible and hidden systems unseen by both designers and users.