Over Christmas, my son and I had the opportunity to play around with the HTC Vive. Straightforward to set up, you need at least 2 by 2 meters of free space to enjoy the full range of motion. Overall, that was a couple of weeks of awesomeness. Follows a few lines on the games and experiences we have tried out.
“The Lab”: After the tutorial, this is the first place from where you start and learn the trick of the trade of the Vive. The main thing is to get use to moving around by pointing, with one of the controller, a ray of light on a virtual grid on the floor. Then, pressing the trigger will teleport you to the pointed location. I am not totally convince by this method. It still gives me a kind of thickness and definitely reduce the feeling of presence.
“Rec Room” : my son’s favorite. He played in there for hours. The stranger thing in Rec Room is that you play with strangers; you talk to them like they are just in front of you in the room. Well in a way that’s where they are, virtually next to you. Then you make a team and go playing a exciting paintball or football game, even though they actually are in another country.
“Portal Stories: VR”: love it, my personal favorite game. Really good adaptation of an already so clever and fun game. A perfect match for the HTC vive. In one sentence, the game is about getting out of a room to the next. It is all about the room. Your living room suddenly develop an infinite potential.
“Irrational Exuberance: Prologue” : this introduction to a new kind of experience is really well design with subtlety. It starts from a very dark environment with just the title and some strange sphere of energy in your hands. They are encouraging you to use those to follow the sphere that goes along the title itself. Then you start to perceive some pieces of stone floating around. Instinctively, you want to push them away, then they break in smaller pieces. Doing the same movement a bit further, at some point you will hit something bigger which will break as well to bring you a glimpse of the outer space. This is the actual wall that surrounds you. By break the wall, you realise that you are standing inside a meteorite. The experience is very immersive, and taking you to a place you couldn’t have imagine. We want to see more of that!
“Google Earth VR” : bring you as a giant on earth. It is a fantastic feeling to be able to jump from one city to the next. I loved landing effortlessly at the top of the world on Mount Everest
“Engage” is a Educational Virtual Learning Platform. That is where I get very exited. That is the core of my research project: how can we use this amazing technology to enhance the learning experience, to change education for ever?
We tried a few other applications as well like this architectural walkthrough “Bund88” which was not easy to load up probably due to the very quality of the render. However, the experience was so realistic. This is definitely a game changer for the architecture and real estate industry. The Roller coaster just made me sick, no comment. No problem for my son though.
The HTC vive is just one more convincing step towards the development of a new medium with a huge potential not only for entertaining but more for learning and sharing new skills and knowledge between people all over the world.
I was in those virtual worlds more than two weeks ago and still, I can close my eyes and vividly remember the different environments and interactions I lived then as it was this morning. We learn through experience. That is what VR is all about. We are barely scratching the surface of this new tool that has the potential to positively impact the world.
What role Augmented Reality (AR) will be playing in the architecture practice and the design of our built environment? How will companies use this technology to attract more consumers? Lets look at those two very different ways to use the power of AR: as a design tool and as a consumerism device.
Looks like Microsoft is taking the first route with the Hololens. With a variety of polished video presentations, they are showing the Hololens as this amazing new tool to help design interiors, buildings or even a whole new world. It even let you communicate in real time with your teammates from another continent. As an architect, Greg Lynn seems enthusiastic after having use the HoloLens at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2016 (interview from Dezeen here). For interior designer lacking of vision, this video shows the potential. And to be be really blown away and transported in the future, check out this TED talk from the visionary Alex Kipman.
Of course, I can’t agree more with him on the fact that all those 2D interfaces, displays and screens that have invades our life are born obsolete. We are moving creatures always exploring around us, using our whole body with all our senses to interact with our environment. We are not supposed to be locked behind a screen all day. But, I am digressing onto my research topic here. Even though this is very exciting topic, we still don’t really know how we are actually interacting with those virtual objects embedded in our physical surroundings. I will look into VR and user experience in another post.
In the meantime, looking at the other side of the coin, the consumerism version of AR, perhaps Keiichi Matsuda vision with his “Hyper-Reality” production is closer to what will happen sooner than later.
Part of my research project is to investigate the way humans perceive and remember their surroundings, from an architectural point of view. Results from the first set of experiment using 3D Virtual Environment (3DVE), see ArchiMemory XP 2.3, brought me some insights on what architectural features are most efficient at enhancing participants memory.
This is typically a top-down approach: by placing architectural elements (doors, windows, arches …) at specific locations inside a 3DVE, we can use them as triggers or symbols to construct a meaningful journey for the participant. For example, a door is used as a transition from one type of information to another; a window is used as a digression device to give a hint on something else without taking you away from the main subject.
Lets look through that window, for a mo!
A few month ago, I had the opportunity to work on an important project about syrian’s prison with a special research group in Goldsmiths: Forensic Architecture (FA). I couldn’t say much until the official release of the website we worked on due to the secrecy of the mission. Now that Amnesty International has released the website, I am taking the opportunity to briefly explain the project in the light of my own research.
The purpose of this project is to make the public aware of the existence of torture prison in Syria where humans right are baffles everyday. No NGO or any journalist have ever been inside, we don’t have any document, picture or report on this prison. What we do have is a satellite view and a few ex-prisoners testimonies.
FA investigation started by doing long interviews of those witnesses. Based on their memories, an architect and a sound designer rebuild in real-time a 3D model of the prison. Because prisoners were blindfolded when arriving at the prison, most of their memories are based on sounds, movements and proprioception. Only after a few weeks, they got to their main cell, they were able to see the walls and the other people faces. Even though, sounds were a big part of their memories, my job was to focus on the visuals including 3D models, lights and textures. I will explain more about this in a separate post.
Back to the main room.
Working on this project gave me the opportunity to understand my research topic from a bottom-up approach. In this case, memories are already in participant’s minds. They are vivid and strongly attach to all sort of emotions and perceptions due to the high stress environment where they happend. In a opposite direction as my previous method, here the process was to extract and rebuild those spaces from memory.
Those interviews were a constant demonstration of how memory works. The further we got in the interviews, the more we realised that memory is triggered by details like objects, architectural elements or colors. Being in a cell with no window or arche, those triggers can take very different shapes. It can be a water pipe with his specific sound, re-purposed as a communication device or a hatch in the door through which the food was coming.
Before closing the door.
Even though those two methodologies are very different by essence, one being to enhance memory, the other being to retrieve information from existing memories, they have a lot of common ground. From a cognitive psychology point of view, the main factor activating those memories is “trigger”. Either we find them by telling the stories we remember and go in as much details as we can, or we place those triggers along a new journey to create that story.
To have a hint of those prisoners memory, visit the website and explore the 360 panoramas (more about this in next post) here: Saydnaya Project
Experiencing with space, placing the participant in an environment that will shift his perspective, is a powerful way to question who we are and how much we relate to our surroundings. AVPD, an artistic spatial laboratory from Copenhagen, is using architecture language to explore and “rethink the triangular constellation of the subject, the object and the context”. Their work evolves by hustling the space-body phenomenon. It makes you realised how much our perception of the world relates on our acquired experiences and emotions.
Once aware of this phenomenon, we can use it at our advantage by reconfiguring our spatial understanding of the world. What I am interested in is to extract from those experiments and art installations some data that could lead to quantify the usefulness of specific architectural features at helping someone to navigate the physical world as well as the virtual world.
The delightful read of “The Architectural Relevance of Gordon Pask” reviewed by Usman Haque, reminded me the excitement of some student project in architecture from the 90s.
I have to agree that Pask’s ideas are difficult to apply in the physical world for various reasons: materials limitations, physical constraints, social constraints (in case of different people in one space who’s most influence?), money… Now, lets take all this in the context of Mixed Reality (VR and AR) and even the sky is not a limit any more. This is the perfect medium to simulate a real-time interaction between the user and his surroundings.
That said, Usman Haque has a few interesting projects applying those cybernetic principles into today’s actual urban life. This 20 minutes video gives us a good teaser of just that.
IN PRAISE OF MESSY CITIES Tools for citizen empowerment – Usman Haque