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"Is it real even if I can't kick it?" The virtual and the real in Architecture

Part 1 Dissertation 2006
Xenia Adjoubei
London Metropolitan University | UK
“Is it real even if I can’t kick it?”
The Virtual and the Real in Architecture

Recently we have become very certain of what the word “virtual” means. In a giddy tumble, intertwined with technology, has architecture fallen out of love with the tangible and explicable, in favour of an ever dissolving virtual world?

A combination of ephemeral materials and regulatory computer technologies, built into the skin of real buildings, can help to form an experiential view of virtuality, making information visible, tangible, dizzying. The combination of physical space and an extended virtual realm is attractive to a society which feeds on information. The extensive use of mobile technologies can free our minds and release programmed space from some of its social and physical constraints. Hackers and the homeless are finding new ways of imagining and taming the city.

But Computer generated imagery, as we know it, is spotlessly clean and can be destructive when confused with reality. What contemporary society understands as ‘Virtual Reality’ cannot but fail to incorporate details and elements which make spatial experiences seem real. Most focussed attempts at creating a truly spatial and usable virtuality have resulted in vulgar imagery, clumsy collections of technologies connected to a body, or a programmable, but far too inflexible, architecture. A more social interjection of the virtual into space can lead to a further layering of cultural instances, the enriching of a city’s atmospheres in a new dimension.

Immaterials for buildings, or advanced computer technologies, may create a sense that we might be somewhere else, but a truly spatial virtuality exists only as an instinctive knowledge in the urban unconscious. Virtuality is something perhaps yet unattained: after all, how can that “which in effect, though not in fact; not such in fact but capable of being considered as such for some purposes” ever be recognised?

Xenia Adjoubei

Xenia’s essay is very remarkable for its mental energy. Even in the last revision important new ideas sprang up. It is extremely well orchestrated, and out of every one of her far-out cases she extracts something of value. I particularly like the sceptical moments, like (near the end) her astute commentary on the two versions of Zaha’s BMW plant, but it is also effective in trying (more than once) to suggest something over the boundary of current possibility. Even footnotes are well and amusingly used here. A bracing and energetic piece that combines zaniness and good sense most appealingly.

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