architect the next generation of the virtual domain
No longer science fiction or a sketchy concept envisioned, the Metaverse is here and under construction as we speak. Dubbed the next generation of the web, this immersive extension of our physical reality has already begun to transform the human experience. Today, digital experiences have evolved significantly with advances in advanced technologies such as blockchain, 3D modeling, artificial intelligence, AR and VR. Together they have revolutionized the way we design, work, learn, play and interact. In particular, the merging of the physical and virtual worlds has opened up limitless opportunities for the architects and designers who shape the metaverse.
While this alternate reality has already firmly established itself in the digital world, uncertainty surrounding its nuances still pervades development. In an iterative process, its parameters are still being defined, its limits being resolved and its future being innovated. As media partners of Dubai MetaWeek Summit Held in September 2022, designboom attended the two-day conference to learn about the future of the enigmatic digital realm from some of the world’s most prominent experts and industry pioneers at the forefront of Metaverse development.
On this occasion, we sitting with Pico Velasquez — keynote speaker at the conference, prolific architect, computer designer, and founder of Metaverse startup VIIRA — for more in-depth insight. We discussed the role that architects and designers could play in shaping it, integrating human-centered design into building the virtual world, its limitations, underlying technologies, and more. Read our conversation in full below.
all images © Pico Velasquez, unless otherwise noted
interview with metaverse visionary pico velasquez
designboom (DB): to start, cCan you explain to us what the metaverse really is?
Pico Velázquez (PV): The Metaverse can be defined as an extension of the Internet with an infinite amount of interconnected spaces that are interoperable, decentralized, governed, operated and owned by the community. Visually and creatively speaking, the Metaverse is a set of 3D virtual environments close to what we see in multiplayer video games, social media and augmented reality combined. This will be all data, visualized or not, via 2D, 3D, XD, XR, website platforms, or even pure code. And users will be able to access it through multiple hardware such as computers, smartphones, VR and AR.
From an architectural perspective, the Metaverse sits at the intersection of technology and design for physical and virtual environments. It will include world-building, urban planning, architectural structures, immersive experiences, gamification, marketplaces and NFTs – where digital identities will interact in real time.
in conversation with Metaverse visionary Pico Velasquez at MetaWeek Dubai
DB: The Metaverse is still an enigmatic and exciting concept that is being built as we speak. What role will architects and designers play in shaping it? What new opportunities for creative expression has this already brought?
PV: The Metaverse is an exciting new opportunity for architects and designers as it will transform all industries including art, culture, education, entertainment and all other aspects of our economy and daily life. It is imperative to understand that the Metaverse has an incredibly complex set of layers; it’s designing an entire parallel universe that connects seamlessly with our existing one. From cities and buildings to avatars and identities, in addition to “spaces”, we will have to design how people and AI will communicate, exchange and interact.
Designing a metaverse is also about creating a story. Deep down, we know that people inherently want to connect globally. So, as architects of Metaverse, we aim to design new, innovative ways to unite people in engaging, human-centered experiences that go beyond just looking at a building or space, that can provide a real purpose and value. In addition to the nearly limitless creative possibilities in building immersive virtual worlds, the design of virtual spaces and interactions will define new aspects of social behaviors that could even lead to mass action and global impact. In this case, creativity and responsibility go hand in hand.
2D DALL·E outputs transformed into 3D virtual architecture
DB: As you mentioned in your MetaWeek keynote, you have now moved into the virtual world after practicing as a traditional architect and designer for many years. Can you tell us a bit about your latest venture — your Metaverse startup, VIIRA?
PV: With VIIRA, we strive to play a pivotal role in shaping the future by providing platforms and tools to build the metaverse of tomorrow. Our initial approach is art and culture driven, working with traditional and digital native individuals and institutions to grow their web3 presence integrated with blockchain, NFTs and DeFi.
We are building the first 3D-NFT marketplace focused on interactive, co-created art and design. We believe the Metaverse, through its design and technology, will provide a new approach for artists and brands to express their work and connect with their fans and customers. Therefore, it is essential to provide a place that can build, present and exchange these new forms of expression, including animations, interactive and generative art.
We work with new and upcoming artists as well as leading museums, Grammy-winning artists and luxury brands. And as part of educating a larger ecosystem, we serve as advisors to several Fortune 500 companies and startups on their Metaverse vision and strategy centered on innovation, community, and global impact.
Sensory experience portals
comics: What factors and parameters differentiate the way we build physical spaces versus virtual spaces?
PV: The determining factors for physical spaces are the availability of land and building materials and environmental requirements. In virtual realms, by contrast, our parameters are determined by desired user experience, engagements, and application of use cases. While buildings provide the most basic human needs like housing and security, architecture impacts the emotional state of anyone who interacts with it.
Architecture in the metaverse is more than static building. Rather, it is about developing “live architecture” – combining spatial design, cinematography, animated digital content, storytelling and guided experiences with gamification and interactivity. Here, for the architects of the Metaverse, the simplest thing is to design virtual buildings and cities by mimicking what we know. Think of digital doubles or game worlds, where spaces follow our own rules and physics.
Ombiia: an immersive theatrical experience in the Metaverse
But imagine then, what aspects of our virtual spaces and buildings do not need to follow these pre-established rules? For example, in a virtual setting, we can instantly teleport between spaces, and real-time virtual renderings of our designed environment will adapt. Therefore, without real-life rules or restrictions such as gravity, structural stability, climatic issues, or physical laws – unless programmed – architects have the freedom to overcome existing conditions and create exceptional ever-changing environments and authentic experiences as art.
For example, imagine a gallery exhibition in a Metaverse space. Rather than replicating what exists in a physical version, it can be an immersive 360 degree exhibition where the user not only sees or observes the artworks, but also interacts and experience the entire exhibition. Multiple works of art can exist in a single space, which can be programmed to be unique for each individual and their user behavior in the space.