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Blur: Experiencing An Augmented Architecture

Part 2 Project 2001
David Cooke
The University of Adelaide Adelaide Australia
> blur | ETH_world

(blur: experiencing an augmented architecture | ETH world – virtual university campus)


In starting this project, I was initially confronted with two questions:

a) Is Cyber-architecture architecture?

b) Does the architect have a role within Cyberspace?

In this summary I will endeavor to provide answers in relationship to my particular design project.

Design Theory:

In considering the architecture of today we are confronted with two distinct realities, 'one being the physical space of building as we have always known it, predicated on and enclosures, and another spatially spawned across media-scapes such as the web and the television.' The path that these two distinct architectures will follow is one of convergence and blurring. (Hani Rashid of Asymptote Architects)

The architectures of reality provide a basis for cyberspace architectures. However, cyber - architectural environments represent reality.

A relationship is established between cyberspace and experience. Cyberspace is an environment that relays on a level of representation of 'human scale' reality experiences. In cyberspace as in reality, new experiences are provided by user actions. These new experiences converge with our prejudicial body of experiences. Reality now represents cyberspace. The result is a blurring of the two realities.

The Design Task:

Imagine a campus, a virtual one. Design this campus!

Design Proposal:

Cyberspace is an environment which relays on a level of representation of reality experiences; ‘cyberspace represents reality;’ but does ‘reality represent cyberspace?’

In designing a cyberspace environment such as the ETH World project, a user is asked to rely upon their body of prejudicial experiences in reality in order to navigate the cyber-spatial environment. A user cannot be positioned within a virtual environment without some points of reference. A balance needs to found between a literal reality interruption of a university and an abstract virtual representation.

The iconic nature of the ETH main building provides a reality basis for the ETH World. A user is able recognise the form instantly as the ETH. The ETH main building has been simplified and abstracted within the virtual realm via the use of colour and modeling techniques.

Design Features:

In this cyber-architectural environment, communication is one of the most important functions ETH World must facilitate. In design, all users are located within this one space / room. A user is able to constantly talk to others users, despite of her location within the world. The world directly responds to her actions, she only receives individual visual experiences, but a multi-user communication experience.

Scale is used within the world to provide the user with of accessing information within a visual / spatial environment and provide a greater level of excitement and interests within the environment. As a user moves towards a world, for example, Chemistry, the worlds portals become visible, i.e. staff, students, research, studies, gallery and home. By entering these secondary portals a user moves ‘deeper’ into the cyber-architectural environment. This experience echoes a reality based architectural experience in relation to space, time and body experience.


After experiencing this new architecture, can I answer my original question.

a) Is ‘Cyber – Architecture’ Architecture?

Architecture is about the design and construction of habitable spaces, where people can work, live, learn and receive an experience. By this definition, the cyber-architecture I have designed / proposed in this project is architecture.

b) Does the architect have a role in cyberspace?

Architects design structures to meet human needs. Structures can be assembled with sticks and stones or computer software and hardware, but the role of the architect remains the same. Architects, reality or cyber, spend a majority of their time up front: listening to clients, understanding the totality of their needs and resources, scrutinizing feasibility and organising the division of labor. The cyber-architect uses his skills in design and spatial problem solving within this context. From my experiences, the architect does have a role in cyberspace.

David Cooke

In his graduating project, David challenged himself to address very big and compelling questions of this moment in the history of our discipline. What is ‘architecture’ in the light of the digitally realised possibility of designing ‘virtually’ immersing artificial constructions, environments, and even entire ‘worlds’? And what then are the disciplinary boundaries within which the ‘architect’ of the future will define her or his craft. If real work is being produced in such digitally-mediated ‘cyberspaces’, entailing literally millions of person-hours of ‘real-time’ immersion, (not to mention the even greater numbers of real-time leisure hours that computer game-players and internet ‘surfers’ spend blissfully immersed in cyber-zones, webs and spaces), then is there not real work for design professionals—not least architects—to do there also?

The design of a cyber-university seemed a good place to start; a place of intellectual labour perhaps ideally suited to the liberating possibilities of digital detachment from the extraneous burdens of the embodied, physical world. ETH World was, moreover, a ‘real’ competition for real architects, which the architecture faculty of the real ETH had projected.

David’s response to this challenge could not be arrived at without a noble struggle, and the real risk that he might not have come up with an end result recognisable as a worthy graduating project for a professional degree course in architecture. There were many thresholds along the way where such doubts, or the too-easy readiness of cyber cliches, might have got the better of him. But he pushed forward and eventually broke through to a genuinely novel understanding of the fundamental differences of this ‘other’ space in which he was working from that to which he, at first, felt bound to refer. The final scheme begins to explore exciting new possibilities for the cyber-architectural ‘spatialization’ and ‘scaling’ of information, in both a semiotically and sensually (at least visually) sophisticated manner, that literally represents knowledge as an interactive, indeed ‘intelligent’ environment.

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