Why the Metaverse Looks So Ordinary, UCL Researchers Ask | News

Last week, our editorial team had some fun with the metaverse. Although lighthearted in nature, our April Fool’s Day post was nonetheless inspired by the serious interest shown by our community, the architecture world, and society at large in the metaverse and how architecture and design intersect with virtual space.

Now a new paper by UCL researchers Luke Pearson and Sandra Youkhana advances the thesis that the metaverse does not appear as disruptive or radical as the underlying technologies it is often associated with, whether it is be it blockchains, cryptocurrencies or NFTs.

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Instead, the team argues that the architecture and urbanism of the Metaverse appear to follow real-world design and construction principles, despite the freedom given by virtual space to transcend those principles.

“People have always imagined cyberspace to be like some version of real urban space,” Pearson and Youkhana say. They cite the original metaverse design created by science fiction author Neal Stevenson in 1992, where a “wide boulevard wrapped around the globe, but was nonetheless presented as a typical urban thoroughfare, lined with buildings and electrical panels.”

Thirty years later, the same adherence can be seen in Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for the Metaverse, where promotional ads show users “walking through food halls or sitting in train dining cars, all designed to look like their real-world counterparts, but simplistically rendered. graphic styling, like a kids’ TV show,” complemented by “practical but unnecessary design elements, including floor lamps, power outlets, and window frames.”

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To explain this phenomenon of “banality” in the metaverse, the team argues that familiar architectural elements are placed in virtual worlds in order to establish familiarity with the user, despite virtual reality’s potential to defy laws that underlie physical architecture, from gravity to building codes.

According to the team, this attempt to improve the familiar is not limited to virtual reality, but has also manifested itself in the design of physical environments. They cite Disneyland and Las Vegas as two examples where surreal, thought-provoking yet familiar “comfort architecture” was created in these environments to create a landscape “both new and comfortably familiar” despite its excesses and extravagance.

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While transferring this familiarity to the metaverse can create feedback loops between physical and virtual words, exposing how designers and citizens understand and interact with their environment, the team also underscores the need for the metaverse to go deeper. far.

“Virtual spaces should be convenient to access and appealing enough for them to come back to,” they conclude. “They also need to leverage and expand what differentiates them from physical spaces. Simply transplanting the real-world logics of real estate development and commerce into the metaverse could recreate the social and economic stratification we find in real-world cities, undermining the emancipatory potential of the metaverse.

The full article can be read here.

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