Art: Architecture : Metaverse : NFT

Anna Fischer

Executive Master in Art Market Studies, University of Zurich


Try to use ChatGPT putting the words in the title together: Art, Architecture, Metaverse, NFT. This is what I got:

As an AI language model, I can provide you with some general information on these topics:

Art: Art refers to the creative ability to produce visual, auditory, or performance pieces that convey an emotion or thought. It could be in the form of paintings, sculptures, music, films, literature, and other expressive mediums.

Architecture: Architecture involves designing and constructing buildings and structures that meet certain functional and aesthetic requirements. Architects are trained professionals who combine art and science to create practical, efficient, and visually appealing buildings.

Metaverse: The metaverse is a term that has emerged in recent years to describe a virtual space where users can interact with one another in an immersive 3D environment. It is a concept that has been popularized in science fiction, and it is now being developed by tech companies as a platform for social networking and entertainment.

NFT: NFT stands for non-fungible token, which is a type of cryptocurrency that represents a unique item or asset. It is typically used to represent digital art, collectibles, and other types of virtual assets. NFTs have been gaining popularity in recent years as a way for creators to monetize their digital work and as a new form of investment.

When combined, these concepts can potentially create new ways for artists and designers to showcase their work in immersive digital spaces,

monetize their creations through NFTs, and integrate technology with art and architecture to create exciting new experiences in the metaverse.

The last paragraph exactly describes the genuine interest in the combination of these fields, or as wisely formulated by AI: these concepts.

The presented thesis starts with the question of architecture being art. Definition of the idea of art and the possible congruence with architecture are researched to then blend into architecture as art that can be brought to the market in the vase of an NFT.

From there the architectural approach transfers into virtual reality and the question arises whether architecture is need in a metaverse surrounding or if game designers’ approach would be more than sufficient.

Creating the metaverse strongly relies on the use of NFTs, so in the last chapter of the thesis an overview on the legal perception of NFTs is given, considering one exemplary NFT with the aim to find the relevant questions more than possible answers.

The work concludes with some thoughts on the correlation of the title concepts but leaves out fact-based conclusions, as there are none, at least not at this stage of this fairly new enterprise of getting architecture as a form of art into metaverse, protected and piled up with NFTs. Only mandatory conclusion upfront: While your read, most of what you perceive is outdated already.

SESSION 06 – Krista Kim

Light is the new ink.

Krista Kim is a digital artist, entrepreneur and founder of Techism (2014), whose work explores the concept of digital consciousness. Her interest in digital technology and its revolutionary effects on human perception, media, social structures, and communication had led her to work in both digital and physical realms. Having developed her signature language of shifting gradients using digital software since 2012, her works on glass and plexi hypnotize its viewers into a trance of tranquility while her immersive video works  provide meditative experiences of color and light.

Listen to the audion interview below:

SESSION 05 – ZOOM Talk w. iheartblob

iheartblob is an award winning architectural design studio and research collective formed by Aleksandra Belitskaja, Ben James and Shaun McCallum, currently based in the UK.

The studio has a strong focus on the Architectural Object, yet, draws on core tenets from an array of philosophical and theoretical principles whilst exploring new models of architectural thinking and constructing. The work is meant to both enchant and reflect on the crisis of thought which runs through architecture today by investigating new and established ideas as though they were materials, engaging seriously with hard hitting agendas, whilst remaining at a distance from full immersion.

Watch the interview:

SESSION 04 – Interview Julia Koerner JK3D

Additive Manufacturing in the Field of Architecture

Q1: – fashion & architecture

You referred to in a previous interview to the notion, and we have been acquainted during our studies in Vienna often with the concept – that “Everything is Architecture” You understand and see a dress as a small architectural project which gives your design a unique approach. Where would you see three differences or similarities between a building in the conventional sense and a garment enclosing the body.

For me a garment is architecture in it’s smallest scale, the second skin around the body. In my design process I work with architectural design tools, both digital and physical processes. I construct a garment in 3D with computational design techniques and use digital fabrication to realize it, similar how I work during a building design process. I think about the structure and performance of material and functionality. This unique design process is influenced by my expertise in 3D design and spatial understanding. Aesthetics, color, rhythm and pattern and proportion are important in any design process of all scales. The differences are in the scale of course. 3D printing technologies have advanced over the past 15 years quite a bit, however the high resolution and fine details can yet only be realized on a small scale. For example I can see this in the Venus Dress and Setae Jacket. I find it enticing to test ideas on a small scale which I imagine will one day be possible to realize on a building scale. Designing a building you have to think about construction, structural performance and exposure to the environment these might appear as differences, but for me they are also topics to think about in fashion design, it is just a matter of scale.

Venus Dress 2016 Photo Tom Oldham
Setae Jacket for Chro-Morpho Collection by   Stratasys 2019Photo by Ger Ger

Q2: – 3D printed architecture

As an expert in the field, i am curious to hear your opinion on where you see a potential or maybe also a change of the profession of architects if 3D printed technology will enter an architectural scale and be used to produce spaces and not objects. We see this increasingly happening quite successfully within industrial and also academic research, quite recently a pedestrian bridge has been installed in Amsterdam – and also some results on a commercial level for domestic environments are happening. Is a 3D printed house an enlightenment or a hazard for the profession of architects? What will need to change in the way we work and design?

Personally I find it exciting to see the developments of 3D printing on a larger scale. I remember vividly around 2008 when I was working with Ross Lovegrove in London, we experienced to see for the first time large scale 3D printing with Enrico Dini’s cement structures. Seeing over the years the various architects exploring the technology on a larger scale was always exciting for me, though often I felt the designs were lacking the full potential of what the technology can offer. Often I see the building industry default into tectonic thinking of traditional construction methods, which is entirely different from how additive technology works, therefore I can understand that some people find it a hazard if not utilized in the right way. The potential I see for the implementation of this technology is when we start thinking about on-site construction and utilizing local materials. 3D printing with earth or plant-based materials and designing intelligent structures which are inspired by nature. Material efficiency – geometries and structures which do not need support material during printing process, therefore only using as much material needed for the construction. Reduce energy consumption and carbon footprint – the material can be processed on location and does not need to be shipped around the globe or even working with recycled materials. These are just some of the aspects which show the potential of this building technique.

Q3: – 3D printing and beyond

I would also be curious to know about the cutting edge of 3D printing technology and what is currently experimental and exciting for you?  Related to the first part of the question where do you think 3D printing will or could play an essential role in our daily habits and rituals in the near future? It s understandable that it will progress in industrial production or medical research for example as a supported essential necessity – but on a domestic, daily ritual scale, beyond fashion which is growing so fast – what would be your opinion on future availability and application of this technology for the general public?

The domestication of the technology is exciting, today desktop 3D printers are affordable and many households have them at home already. They are easy to handle and online you can download many 3D files to print. Certainly one does not need to be an expert any longer to utilize the technology at home. However when it comes to designing home décor objects, accessories, fashion items etc. people will always turn to their favorite designer and seek out to buy designs either in digital or physical format. What we do at JK3D we focus on designing objects for everyday use. Planter pots, vases, trays, coffee tables, pedestals, champagne coolers, handbags, etc. What is experimental and exciting about this is that we can produce all products in-house in our ateliers in Vienna and Los Angeles. We are independent from third party manufacturers. Therefore we can produce much faster and at low quantity, only by demand and by order. This local production enables us to continue and optimize the design process of each product and stay up to date with technologies, materials and trends. The Lamella Series, HY Clutch and Kelp Mini are just some of our products which are produced in this way. Very quickly we can adapt colors, personalize products and change material palette. This is new and there isn’t any other brand doing what we are doing at the moment across two continents.

LamellaSeries 2022©JK3D Photo JK3D
HY Mini Ice 2022 ©JK3D Photo Elena Kulicova 
Kelp Bag 2022 ©JK3D Photo JK3D

Q4: – methods and tools

Computational design has foregrounded the accessibility to technological innovation. We have learned a few tools in our education to design dinosaurs and buildings. I am curious how you observe and make use of the ever expanding digital toolsets available to design professions? Whats has changed in your own work as with the use of digital tools? Will the emergence of AI, and its derivates like Mid Journey, and coming new design tools which alter the role of the designer to some extent –  influence in your opinion your own engagement? Where does this journey go?

Personally I have developed a digital toolset over the years which mixes many different techniques. I work with photography and photogrammetry of natural artefacts, 3D scanning of bodies and spaces and various computational techniques. 3D modelling and generative design techniques are part of our everyday work. With my team at JK3D our tool palette has expanded over the years and everyone brings on new techniques. Emma Sanson, Oliver Hamedinger, Naomi Neururer and Mariana Tanova they all bring their own unique design processes with them and together we collaborate on pretty amazing projects. I am quite intrigued by Houdini and it’s capacity of generative algorithms and how quickly you can develop cutting-edge designs. Personally, I have tried working with AI such as Mid Journey but I though it was too much relying on internal databases and quickly everything looked the same so, what I added as a text prompt would look like other people’s designs and not contain my own personal digital aesthetics, which I think is quite unique. I think I would like to explore an AI which is based on my own design aesthetics, like a personal “JK AI”

Q5: – entrepreneurship

You have collaborated and worked with some of the most iconic and important designers and design houses – and recently have established your own design brand JK3D ( with a set of amazing products. I observe also within the generation of students today a desire to be entrepreneurial and commercially successful.  How important is the development of entrepreneurial skills and how does it alter the way you think and design? Whats your approach to customers and current trends?

Entrepreneurial design thinking is core of our JK3D DNA. I founded JK3D with my partner Kais Al-Rawi in 2020 to have a commercial brand within JK Design. Our cutting-edge designs are housed at permanent collections in museums across the world and at the same time one can purchase the pieces. This is rare that designs are as accessible that everyone can own a museum piece. Our goal is to make 3D printed luxury products more accessible and make it a trend to rethink urban manufacturing. The next generation certainly engages with this idea and especially because we foreground the development of a sustainable brand.

Q6: – research

You often say that nature is an inspiration for your designs and you study found patterns in sea creatures and plants. We also see an ethnical and cultural contextual approach within the crown for queen Ramoda you co designed with Ruth Carter found in Zulu culture. How important is research in your work versus intuition and ideas and a more top down approach, when you start a new design task or a project? How do you balance these forces?

I see the work I do a combination of both, quick designs based on inspirations from drawings and images as well as long term research into a specific subject matter. As part of of my professorship at UCLA I am engaging in architectural research. Here I researched various 3D printing techniques with porcelain and clay as well as robotic timber assembly and digital fabrication with composites. Furthermore I often engage in research with other brands with cutting edge technologies they are developing, for example I have been working with Swarovski over the past 5 years on experimenting with their new 3D printing technology with glass. Last September we showcased the Crystal Lamellas at the Italian Glass Weeks in Venice. Furthermore with Stratasys on their technology printing directly on fabrics in multicolor we realized the Spoorophyte Collection together in 2015 and later the Setae Jacket in 2019. Within these projects I often research natural systems, mathematical geometries, materials, structures and speculative concepts. Such as for example in the 9 months research project RE-Fream a horizon 2020 funded research project, in which we developed with various technology partners the Arid Dress. The projects I realized for Haute Couture and Hollywood, often fund my research but I do not necessarily have the time in these project to develop research, perhaps rather apply it and test it on a real case scenario.

Sporophyte Collection 2015Photo_Ger Ger for SCHÖN!
Setae Jacket for Chro-Morpho Collectionby Stratasys 2019 Photo by Ger Ger
ARID Collection Re-FREAM Project Digital Vogue 2020 Photography Ger Ger

Q7: – academia

How do you involve your professional work and research and the use of 3D printing into your academic work. I am particularly interested in this since within architectural education the 3D printer has become widely democratized and accessible, i see them sitting on most of the desktops. So how do you challenge additive manufacturing and the technology?

I make it an assignment in almost all of my classes, wether seminars or design studios. In the Architectural Mediation Course series (former introduction to computational design) seminar I teach the first year graduate students digital drawing, 3D modeling and 3D printing with FDM technique. In the building construction seminar, the students 3D print chunk models of construction models. In the yearlong research studio I am currently teaching we are researching the application of 3D printed sustainable façade systems. These façade systems are meant to perform as a jacket for a building. As temperatures are changing due to climate change some buildings have to adapt and different seasons might require different retro fits or clip on systems. We are inspired by Gottfried Semper’s Bekleidungsprinzipien in this studio and therefore made a study trip to Vienna in January. We visited all the Otto Wagner buildings and studied the nature inspired ornaments in facades and baroque churches.

Q8: – phygital worlds

We see a rapid development in the connection of developing digital worlds with our physical world. This has started out with communication and social media channels and finds its pinnacle today in the Metaverse and other digital worlds. In your work i assume there is a strong presence of translation from digital design to physical objects. What do you think about the notion of these boarders between physical and digital being blurred.

Although we design everything digitally, I am a very haptic person and making these digital projects tangible is important to my work. The tangibility makes the design accessible, touchable, understandable. The beauty of the work often is within the material transformation and the translation from physical to digital. Sometimes a loss of information occurs, which I find a fascinating effect. This is also what originally got me so interested in the technology in 2005, in my first year at the University of Applied Arts. Back then the university had their first 3D printer and I thought it was exciting to “just press print” however quickly figured out there is more to it then simply pressing a button and that pending on the different technologies different effects and aesthetics can be achieved. You can see this in the models I created for the diploma project Super Human Enticement.

Q9: – metaverse and fashion

It is also important to mention obviously that there is a whole economy operating successfully (brands) in these new worlds. How do you see these developments, especially in fashion –  and would you be interested in designing fashion for digital avatars?

Indeed, we have been working on such a project for the past two years almost with an international fashion brand, the project will be made public in the coming months. The topic is fascinating though I am disappointment about the technical limitations in the Metaverse. Many of the designs we create simply do not work at a low resolution environment, I am personally, therefore, more interested Metahumans and in CGI and what’s possible there.

Julia Koerner

Julia Koerner is an award-winning Austrian designer working at the convergence of architecture, product and fashion design, specialised in 3D-printing. She is the founder of JK Design GmbH and faculty member of UCLA. Her recent collaborations include 3D-printed Haute Couture and costumes for Marvel´s Hollywood blockbuster “Black Panther”. In 2021 she launched her brand JK3D together with her partner Kais Al-Rawi, which is focused on 3D printed fashion accessories, products and home décor.

SESSION 03 – Patrik Schumacher – Principal Zaha Hadid Architects, London

Architecture in the expanded field – The Metaverse and beyond

10 provocations

Q1: the architect

In our physical world the notion of the architect is still considered with some prestige, in some countries it’s a protected entity to call oneself an architect, yielding years of study and practice gathering quite an intrinsic field of knowledge ranging from design visions, political, cultural and social observation and understanding of the world to entrepreneurial skills.

In what ways is this traditional understanding of the profession relevant to working in virtual and digital domains as an architect and what new competencies should future generations embrace to become key players – if their ambitions is to cater to a hybridized world?


To be sure, architects competing for design commissions in the metaverse cannot rely on the government backed monopolistic privileges they enjoy with respect to the design of physical buildings. (As an aside, I would like to argue that these barriers to entry should be lifted everywhere, as a matter of principle, in the name of economic freedom and prosperity.) However, the architects’ skills and knowledge, as well as the architects’ prestige and experience gained in the world of urban development are very relevant competitive advantages with respect to metaverse design. I predict that architects will dominate the design of Web 3.0, at least that part of the metaverse market that aims to host connected virtual cultural, educational, commercial, and work environments, conceived in both competition and continuity with physical cities, constituting a connected communication process. This conception of the metaverse as part of a continuous social reality contrasts with the idea of the metaverse as paralell universe, fantasy world or other-worldly multi-player gaming platform. The latter will be dominated by game developers. Game developers are not part of the design disciplines. While this segment currently seems to be the larger part of the metaverse, in the long run it will be a relatively small market in comparison to what the real metaverse I mean will be. I also predict that the term ‘metaverse’, if it persists in denoting the part I am aiming to contribute to as architect, the gaming worlds will no longer be included in the concept, just as Disneyland is not really a part of the city, and the artistic creators of Disneyland are not recognized as architects/designers. This is not a matter of value or worth, but of distinct professional realms and incommensurable criteria of success.

The design of the metaverse I mean, the design of the metaverse I envision to become a part of the designed environment we communicate, learn, work and transact within, i.e. we live within, is, in my view fully and unambiguously located within the task domain of architecture, according to my understanding of architecture’s societal function. No doubt, the technical boundaries or constraints of metaverse architecture are very different from the technical constraints that bound physical architecture. The move from physical to virtual architecture implies the switching of the whole engineering stack. However, the social functionality criteria are very much the same: maximising communication and collaboration. All design is about framing social interactions. This includes virtual interactions. Any design project in this space involves the three parts of the architect’s project I have distinguished in my theory of architecture: the organisational project, the phenomenological project and the semiological project. The design challenges remain the same:  maintaining legibility in complex scenes, facilitating information-richness, navigation and the identification of social situations etc.  All organisations – firms, cultural institutions, charities, etc. – will host virtual spaces in the metaverse. Most of them will retain their urban premises too. It makes sense that both physical and virtual premises are congenial extensions of each other, and are designed together. I further predict that our physical urban and architectural environments will transform and become interfaces to these virtual spaces. This means users can enter the virtual worlds not only individually from their homes via headsets or laptops but together with others via large panoramic screens and other spatial interfaces. We’ll experience the metaverse from shared physical social spaces, from within our work spaces and public urban spaces. So I predict a mixed reality and a cyber-urban fusion. If this is true, it makes sense to design real and virtual spaces together, as a continuum. This, once more, implies that architects will take this work.

Q2: architecture in “the extended field”

Joseph Beuys coined the terminology “art in the extended field” conceptualizing on the broader understanding of the world trough works of art, but also on the  other hand expanding the understanding of authors of the work, democratizing this singular notion with the statement ”Everybody is an artist”, hence has the potential to work creatively.

Do you see a parallel movement with architecture today entering virtual domains, that are inhabitable, commercially feasible -promising new civic experiences ?


To be sure, the metaverse offers a huge chance to young architects. A long track record of delivering complex buildings, or planning permissions in difficult planning regimes etc. is not required to break into this new market. Market entry is in this sense “democratized”, although I would not use this term here without quotation marks. Similarly, user generated content, facilitated by in-world builders, represents a kind of “democratization” of (virtual) city building. However, while I think this is significant, it won’t seriously undermine the demand for professional design services, not least because the total demand for virtual metaverse venues will be so great in the coming period – an avalanche of work –  that there is more than enough work for everybody who choses to join this market.

Apropos democracy: the great advantage of the metaverse over cities is  – at least at this stage –  the absence of democratic political control. Here, in stark contrast to real estate development in the physical world, we find a realm for the unfettered exercise of entrepreneurial freedom and politically unencumbered design freedom. Here the market can still function as discovery procedure, to use an influential concept from F.A. Hayek.

There is another intriguing aspect that pertains to the coming metaverse as currently envisaged by most metaverse start-ups, an aspect that implies democratization in the sense of collective, quasi-political decision making, namely the project to organize metaverses not as corporations but as blockchain based Decentralized Automonous Organisations, short DAOs. While the self-promotional hype of metaverses claiming to institute “community ownership” is indeed just hype or hyperbole, and the difference to corporations is exaggerated, the opportunity for inventing and experimenting with governance systems is indeed a very interesting opportunity, compared with corporate structures regulated by governmental rules of incorporation and settled into standard forms. The new computationally supported governance technologies and a lively accompanying discourse about innovative forms of governance and their potential benefits or risks, are flourishing in the crypto ecosystem. I believe that metaverse projects can and should join this discourse and experimentation. This space of organizational freedom is a great advantage crypto-oriented metaverse start-ups have over huge but politically closely scrutinized and hemmed in competitors like Meta.

Q3: political boundaries and constraints

Architecture lives within a flux of deploying spatial potentials within an ecosystem defined by politics (among other domains) Some libertarian, others corrupt and some pretentious as pseudo democracies – but all to a certain extend striving for free capitalism. This defines as a result also architectural potentials based on that certain ecosystem. How is your understanding of the political ecosystem within the Metaverse and its other digital derivates and how does this understanding open up new potentials for designers and architects? Where should power structures for these currently non regulated, or decentralized territories develop to in terms of their structural capacities in your opinion?

P.S.: Unfortunately, architecture in the physical world is only insufficiently governed by free market capitalism. The urban development process is very much politically controlled, indeed often paralyzed, and hardly a market process at all. I am not hostile to all forms of collective decision making. Most corporations involve multiple owners and therefore collective decision making via voting, within the framework of designed constitutions, the corporation’s ‘articles of association’. The difference with physical nations and cities is that we are mostly born into one of them without any choice. The theory of the ‘social contract’ is just a theoretical fiction, not a real contract voluntarily entered. Metaverses can offer a true social contract, and there is sufficient competition and choice to make this concept a meaningful reality. Also, while in the regulated part of the economy the corporate constitution is legally pre-framed, in the as yet unregulated ream of DAOs, by contrast, the freedom to design constitutions and social contracts is wide open, only limited by the imagination of the metaverse founders. One thing is already clear: DAOs follow more the example of corporations than the example of national democracies. Universal suffrage, on the basis of one vote per participant, is never considered. Rather, the democracies of metaverses are democracies of the invested, where voting power is proportional to the token shareholding, although deviations from this are being discussed. In the metaverse land owners are playing an important political role, potentially distinct from token holders. This makes sense in particular with respect to urban planning/urban design policies. This implies democracy of the well-informed, specifically invested/interested parties, rather than the currently prevalent democracy of the  rationally ignorant, indiffeent and abstinent voter. Voter indifference, ignorance and abstinence is especially pronounced when it comes to local municipal elections where urban policy is supposed to be democratically controlled.  This has little to do with any genuine ideal or idea of democracy but systematically disenfranchises those who are the real stakeholders with relevant information and incentives to make decisions in the interest of the city’s end users. A landowners’ democracy, with votes weighted by the scale of the investment/land holding is the best way to structure collective decision-making processes for the benefit for all end users, both in the metaverse and in the physical city or city district. To grasp this one must understand that in a n open, competitive market producer and consumer interests align because producers only win by serving consumer (end user) interests better than their competitors. The inherent logic of this process also implies that innovation accelerates. What the overarching platform governance must secure is open market entry. Then landowners can be left to collectively self-regulate the management (internalization) of negative and positive externalities, shared investments/upgrades etc. without fear of anti-competitive cartelization/monopoly. The platform will also participate in land value increases (planning and agglomeration gains) via transaction fees or land taxes. I predict that this rationality of a framed landowner democracy will assert itself and will come through in the free and highly competitive metaverse market. This experience might then open the way to apply this practice also to physical municipal decision making with respect to all aspects of urban planning.

Q4: ZHA – Metaverse

Zaha Hadid architects have designed an entire city, a masterplan proposal, named “Liberland-Metaverse” with the city hall as an expression of political governing power at its core center. That is an interesting take on defining a center of an emerging urbanism. Should there not be a typological challenge, marking that center , getting away from conventional power structure such as a major or religious institutions. What do you think?


The city hall was an attempt to bring Liberland’s political governance, including Liberland Metaverse governance as a subsidiary aspect of Liberland, conspicuously into the metaverse itself. In principle I think the idea makes a lot of sense: to bring aspects of the metaverse governance process into the metaverse itself as immersive, interactive, real-time process, rather than using web 2.0 mechanisms like discord channels. Apropos governance in religious organizations: there is a whole spectrum, all the way from the highly centralized and hierarchical Catholic church to self-organizing protestant sects with lay preachers, or “cults” with charismatic leaders. A similar diversity might be expected in terms of metaverses and network societies.

Let me use this opportunity to update you and note that what has been up to now ‘Liberland Metaverse’ will now fork into two separate and independent ventures. The name Liberland Metaverse will stay with Vít Jedlička and his Liberland Ltd. On the side of ZHA and ArchAgenda the project will continue under the (provisional) name Cyberland. The concept on our side remains in essence the same, perhaps with a more explicit acknowledgement that now our metaverse (intended virtual creative industry cluster) aims to capture the design disciplines/professions, and related institutions rather than the crypto ecosystem (although the designers/firms/galleries we approach are web 3.0 pioneers in their field). This shift in orientation (target market) better reflects the reality of our professional and cultural networks, and indeed the character of the set of potential initial clients we are already communicating with.

Q5: new global context

Similar to the mentioned ecosystem shaping architectural language and expression, historically there is often a contextual relationship between architecture and some form of context. This relationships -down the line of architectural history has helped canonical project to emerge. In the most conventional sense this can be the built physical environment or  (contextual dentistry – as J. Kippnis used to call it) but also technological developments that help redefine the way architects work and the work itself.

How will this context be defined in virtual worlds, will it strive more towards a uniformity or on what levels can you imagine to have differentiation?


There will be many metaverses but the economic factors that promote big world cities will also drive concentration in large metaverse platforms, namely: agglomeration economies with service efficiencies (economies of scale) and the ability  to service long tails (economies of scope), as well as co-location synergies in terms of collaborative networks of production. The metaverse we are imagining, and building will be a virtual city with many districts and many buildings and urban spaces in each district. Therefore all structures and spaces will have immediate, as well as wider spatial and morphological contexts, not unlike buildings and spaces within the city. Further, there are many non-spatial networks into which the virtual venues and spaces might be plugged into. In the metaverse these network proximities are possibly navigated like hyperlinks, via teleporting portals.

Q6: architectural reading

One of the claims and benefits within the Metaverse and other digital worlds is its immediacy. Everything at your hands all at the same time. Similar and probably for the same reason the Metaverse is referred to as the spatialized new internet.  What will these mean in the coming future for “reading” and experiencing buildings designed for the Metaverse? How could designing be challenged if we take into consideration that the average time spent on a conventional website is 14 seconds? How do your think architecture could be more engaging in a virtual world?


While the metaverse might be described as the spatialized or immersive internet, it is not just substituting for websites  – this is only a part of it and 2D web pages will continue to exist alongside the respective organizations’ 3D metaverse sites. The metaverse is privileging and empowering real time interaction, collective events, and offers the possibility of crowd experiences. One key area of substitution is the whole realm of conferencing, including online video conferencing. A large part of the time we now spend on Zoom or Teams will be spent in the metaverse, for the same purpose, but with enhanced opportunities for informal side communications, break out meetings, after conference socializing etc. Btw. both Microsoft Teams and Zoom are actively working on metaverse-like enhancements of their products.

I also want to pick you up on your claim that the metaverse delivers immediacy in the sense that everything is at your fingertips all at the same time, just a click away. This claim trivializes the non-trivial difficulty of making a large manifold of offerings effectively accessible. This implies bringing many items into view, effectively, without overburdening perceptual tractability. This further implies an intuitive and navigable spatial ordering. I do indeed believe that a strategically designed spatialized, immersive internet  – scientifically informed by spatial cognition research, Gestalt psychology, semiology etc. – can much enhance the browsing navigation of the panoply of spatial displays and interaction offerings that we would like to have at our fingertips or discover through quick browsing excursions. This will be superior to the current web navigation that works via key word searches that presuppose a preconceived intention. After arriving at a website, navigation is facilitated by scroll down menus and links. The metaverse will function more akin to urban browsing, giving more chances to serendipitous discoveries and chance encounters that are, however, never wholly random but based on the self-organizing co-location synergy clusters that will spontaneously emerge via the market process operating within the metaverse.

Q7: design potentials

In my previous article on NFA Lab we distinguish between “digital twins” and “surreality”. The former being the digital replica of a building that relies on concepts and constraints experienced and deployed from our physical world, such as gravity and a door to enter a building for example. While “surreality” suggest a more experimental understanding and a questioning of reality and architecture embedded within from the ground up. Similar to the floating elements as suggested in “Liberland” or seen in Andreas Reisinger’s impossible virtual furniture. In this spectrum between “digital twins” and “surreality” where would you define a current sweet spot for architecture to be successful within the Metaverse. How would we differentiate here between formal sensibility, language and the experiential quality of the spaces itself?


The metaverse exploits the analogy of the city, utilizing our hard won, non-trivial ability of navigating urban and architectural spaces, as well as our ability to recognize places and social situations. This requires a high degree of realism in terms of plausible design and photo-realistic rendering because the semantic clues are attached to atmospheric values that might not survive abstraction. While therefore a close adherence to the analogy with urban architecture is important to begin with, we can expect a gradual emancipation and evolution of metaverse native forms of semiological articulation, navigation and interaction, exploiting the inherently different freedoms and constraints of the medium. However, cyberspace will fuse with urban space implying a radical transformation of built architecture and urban life. Urban and architectural spaces become interfaces and windows into the virtual world. Mixed reality  – mixing physical and virtual co-presence  – will become pervasive. Therefore, the expected cyber-urban fusion will always ensure, for many institutions, a certain tie back to the physically instantiated urban and architectural semiology.

Q8:  design profession

Not only established offices, but also emerging new design talents spot their potential for work within digital domains and virtual worlds such as the Metaverse. What competencies does a future generation of architects need to have in order to make an impact in this adventure? How shall academic concepts of teaching be expanded in order to sustain relevant in these emerging fields? Last but not least how do you envision the architect of the next century?


I am focusing my AADRL (Architectural Association Design Research Lab) studio on the huge opportunity that the metaverse and virtual spaces imply for architecture and architects. Last year I focused on the idea of what I call the cyber-urban incubator with the assumption that physical spaces become interfaces into related virtual spaces and thus ought to be designed together. This year I am exploring a fully virtual metaverse urbanism, including issues of governance, and including architectural design elaborations and implemented interaction scenarios. As I emphasized above, the design of virtual spaces, buildings and metaverse cities is instantly recognizable as fitting well with my definition of architecture’s societal function  – the spatio-morphological framing of social interaction processes –  and into architecture’s core set of relevant competencies. I am not the only architectural teacher who recognizes this. Metaverse design will become a standard design studio brief in all schools of architecture. The incorporation of metaverse design as an unquestioned part of the discipline’s task domain also clarifies and furthers the distillation of architecture’s specific competency in distinction to building engineering competency. Architectural design competency moves smoothly between the physical and virtual realms, addressing nearly identical social functionality concerns, while building engineering comes to a full stop as this boundary where a wholly different engineering stack takes over.

I welcome this distillation. More generally, I feel many discoveries  – and there will be plenty of discoveries given the unleashed dynamism of creativity in a context where innovations are genuinely permissionless –  will feed back into the architectural design of the physical built environment. I also know that this is the moment of parmetricism’s long overdue break through. As native digital style Parametricism is congenial with the ambitions of the metaverse and will become the preferred style here. This will feed back into architecture at large and accelerate the dissemination of parametricism. The advantages of a high density, complex, variegated, legible spatio-morphological order and the requirement for continuous adaptation to changing contexts and interaction scenarios, persist in the metaverse and can only be delivered by parametricism.

Dear Patrik! Many thanks!


SESSION 02 – Interview Matias Del Campo

AI & Architecture

Architectural Disruption and the Emergence of new Design Tools

8 provocations 


Thank you for your time Matias and for joining me on this little journey for the next 35 minutes or so. The questions I have prepared – mainly because I know that you are in the epi center of these investigations – are somewhat different from your recent publications and lectures. I formulated the questions as provocations to foster an engaged debate and discussion in regards to AI and its creative use in architecture, but also addressing the pink elephant in the room being prompt generated images, which currently oversaturates the internet. I am very happy that we can have this interview  in person here in Vienna. 

Q1: – the disruption

We often read, just like in your recent interview with archdaily that technology at large is “disrupting” the creative industries and architecture. You also say that neural Architecture is a true paradigm shift within the 21st century.  Do you think that recent phenomena and experimentation with these tools “disrupt”, meaning break with traditional notions of the architectural discipline or would you give here a different reading and reasoning?

MdC: Thanks a lot for having me and having an in-person interview. You of course also read my statement as a provocation to tease out the architectural community – in order to engage and debate. This is necessary and therefore I am happy about this interview. Let’s discuss first why I think that AI is the first true 21st century novel design method, from my perspective or from the perspective of computational design. If you think about it, the majority of the tools we have been applying in the last 15 years were already present in the late 90 ies. They have been upgraded, optimized, polished, became faster. What started with an experiment of a dozen of people become the standard in the industry and profession today. But the tools and methods are not new. Its different with AI assisted tools in architecture. They are different – for a very simple reason, which is the technology. The technology to do these investigations did not even exist 5 years ago. Obviously, there is some trajectory of historic development, but the ability to apply them as a design tool, also with a specific speed and not total frustration – that has changed. The other thing is also the introduction of specific algorithms that have not existed before. GAN came up only in about 2014 -2015. So these are rather novel tools and the question is, how do we as architects respond and engage with these tools? I immediately aggressively went into this direction, having had previous interest with AI in Vienna with the OFA institute as a student. The reason why I think architects need to engage with these tools is because if we don’t somebody else will do it for us or instead of us – and that will not be very pretty. I am thinking about investors, developers, technology companies displacing architects – if we do not respond accordingly and start using these tools on our own terms and values.

Q2: – the design Process

I d like to dive in straight into the ins and out of prompt generated images and ask you the simple question how you read the novelty and meaning of these tools relevant for the architectural design process itself. I agree with the often cited notion that the images are, aesthetically pleasing and inspiring, but i disagree that they conceive spatial concepts –  and I would also claim that inspiration and imagination – even trough images and projects as through texts – has played an important role for architects for a long time. So what changes with prompt generated images within the design process or where do you see its meaningful application?

MdC: This question also goes back to a part of the first question – the disruption of the discipline, which we forgot. In these image based models, these diffusion models certain things happen there which are very interesting to how architects work. I d like to mention two of them. 

One, is the aspect of variation. Its how we have been trained and how we work, doing hundreds of sketches, models to iteratively approach design or a detail or a plan. This is nothing new and has been ongoing forever. The method of creating variation’s is very engraved in architecture. Prompt generated images and diffusion models, amplify this method. I have made a little calculation recently for a lecture and figured out that from May to September this year I have created 75000 images, just in mid journey. I am not even a power user. So the tools explodes the idea of variation, almost a bit overwhelming. How do you select the right image? Our intuition as architects though is challenged in a positive way by this overstimulation. Our sensibilities are trained with this tool. 

The other observation is that it turns around, or on its head the architectural production chain. Originally you do a sketch, go on to a 3d model, detail that – and also create renderings with a lot of production time – in order to present your design. Now it the opposite, you start with the image and work your way back into the production line of architecture.

I agree its not doing architecture per se, its not doing always good projects, but it definitely has the ability to challenge and push projects as a start. Its more like a sketching tool than anything else.

A sketch is not perfect because it needs room for interpretation, and that interpretation is what I think is important in diffusion models. So what are doing right now is finding in the latent space of the datasets we are given for this production things that we as architects have not seen before. This does not mean they are new.

Q3: – intentionality and adaptation

In one of your recent lectures you mentioned intentionality and adaptation of a system as its key characteristics to be declared as intelligent. I am wondering how these terminologies would apply to prompt generated images and the system behind it which heavily relies on machine learning, image recognition and evaluation of big data. I would claim to say that a simple google image search translates a noun into an image of that noun is sourced out of a large database. A response to an input. Where and how do you see intentionality and adaptation in these processes or also beyond MidJourney?

MdC: Well these 3 categories is obviously also the best proof that AI is not intelligent. Kate Crawford, in the Atlas of AI said: “ AI is neither artificial or intelligent” To perform intentionality you have to be conscious and AI is not conscious, we are pretty sure about that. But AI can mimic certain neurological processes that we know about. But also that’s about it. A researcher recently claimed that the best AI is half as intelligent as a cat.

Q4 – beyond the image

I think its essential now to get away from the blockbuster and look at AI in more general terms. You have recently visited here in Vienna several research institutions; you are leading your own laboratory “aril” interrogating the relationship between architecture and AI so i would be curious to hear where on a scientific level in more general terms the journey with AI speculatively is heading towards to.

MdC: Great question, but also a hard one to answer as there are so many different things going on at them moment. First we need to understand this journey as an interdisciplinary project not an architectural one only. We have to work together with computer scientist and roboticist, data scientists, and neuro scientists, philosophers – how AI can change human culture in general. Architecture is one achievement of human culture. What I see currently is already a shift of human culture because of AI. The anthropocentric idea, that within creativity the human is on top of the hierarchical pyramid and nothing else, is starting to erode and become a plateau where we have suddenly different players. This is also what I mean by “post human” design. Processes that are after the dominance of humans over creative processes. I am really interested in this shift. Accepting this shift will also enable us to push forward our own cultural understanding.

Q5: – shared agency

We can agree and its common consensus that within every design process with have a handful of authors and we have emancipated so far that we give credit to all shared and individual responsibilities within a design process. Now we have come to the point that we start to share authorship with machines as co-creators. Why is this suddenly different and what are the intellectual contributions of a machine in your opinion as opposed to using a personal computer 10y ago with modelling software.

Where is the line between a facilitator or enabler to a co-author?

MdC: This is a larger block of an investigation and conversation, but I have an example to answer the questions. But first id like to say that me personally I am profoundly suspicious of authorship these days in general. Authorship is a concept that got invented in the 18th century, so its rather a new concept if you compare it in the lineage of human existence. It got also defined in a time where it was very clear what an author is. The guy who sits down and takes the ink and writes down something. He is the only one contributing, hence the author. This concept started to become vague with the rise of computers in general but much more now. 15 years ago if you were using word on your computer, every error that you make will be in that text. There was no auto-correct. We move now 15 year ahead and within the same software we have auto completion of sentences, alternatives of expression, auto correct in various languages, the mood of the text you are writing is recognized. This is the simplest tool we can imagine.

Now I have trained a neural network on all the texts I have written in my life in order to generate texts for me. So am I the author of these newly generated text. In a way I am because the network was trained on my own data, but still I have aid of a neural network. For me this is rather suspicious at the moment. We have seen this in the arts already, with the famous example of the portrait of Edmond Belamy sold at Christies. Who is the author here? The artist who came up with the idea to generate the image, or is it the programmer who wrote the algorithm, or is the author the artist in the dataset to generate the image? It’s a difficult question because the artwork is based on existing work but the result is something that did not exist before.

So maybe we have to get rid of the notion of authorship overall, because it does not work anymore.

Q6: – extended field of studies

How will architectural education need to change in the future after we have understood, interrogated and adapted these new tools into our design profession just like we have adapted digital tools and computational processes – and what are future competencies that an architect must have in order to stay relevant with these tools?

MdC: I see already changes happening in my own teaching in studio. I think the idea of a top down design studio doesn’t work so well anymore. One of the competencies that will need to be trained and mastered in my opinion is the ability to learn how to build a data set. It’s a simple rule of “garbage in – garbage out” as within any computational process. If your data set is not good you will not have good results. Architects will need how to do this – or let’s put this in another way – how to judge it. The other competency that will not only count for our profession but several ones is the ethical use of those toolsets. There are cultural, racial biases in the tools. How can you identify those and how do you work with them? There are also of course opportunities that are on the other hand fantastic. We were recently discussing int the lab, where we are building this large-scale plan data set – if the data set will be biased or culturally diverse as it is a participatory process of collecting. So the discussion is what are we achieving here? creating another international style, because we are using data from all over the world? Its like a plain level of architectural design. We figured that it is possible to do that, but also that this should not be the goal. The goals should be that because the data set is from all of the world and diverse it would be possible to respond to local contextual specificities in the design. It would have the ability to focus rather than generalize.

Q7: – datasets

Within the use of AI and prompt generated images the large amount of data set is set out as a positive criterion of the overall system. A necessity for the result. This makes sense again in a singular task with a given intention and goal, let’s say detect cancerogenic tissues within MRI images, but in design processes especially in the beginning often there is a multitude of directions and ambiguity. How does here the pooling from 5 billion images, or growing data sets in general – help in your opinion vs. the close study of 3 projects in detail. Would the use of AI within architecture not need to be isolated to singular entities, like f.ex structural optimization as practiced in some well-known engineering offices? 

MdC: The scale of the data set indeed is getting a lot of critique from the computer scientists’ community as they are aware that our own mind has the ability to do the same task with less data. They are trying to figure out why the brain still is better in let’s say object detection than machines? It should be the other way around. We still don’t know how this works. The other critique is the energy consumption to build and source from large data sets. Our brain comparatively uses a ridiculous amount of little energy to process enormous amount of data. I think we will see progress in how we build large datasets, and once we understand how the processes work we will also be able to reduce their quantity.

The other question on how to create a focused project with such large data in the beginning, is also interesting. I think it depends on the prompt in relation to what you want. So if you have  specific are you would like to investigate you can easily do that with diffusion models even with a large dataset. 

Everything is also of course dependent on the investigation or the question itself. Let s say you would like to research Adolf Looses “Loosbar” here in Vienna. Its probably better to go into the actual place, the library or read books because what can AI do here to help? Regenerate the “Loosbar” from datasets? Why would that be useful? It it a question of purpose often.

Q8: – multiple mediation

In my limited understanding of AI and its application i think that what AI is extremely good at is always a singular task. Recognize a human silhouette within an image. Quite useful for lets say self driving cars. Now within architecture i think that it is unavoidable to multitask and mediate several design intents and processes at the same time, not sequentially, not linear but literal as a field. I am thinking here about yes inspiration and intuition, organization, formal vocabulary, structures and materiality. To mediate and also understand how to adopt is a very human competency. How do neural networks mediate and adapt between tasks and goals?

MdC: You hit a very important point here, and I am going to tell you about an observation we made that tackles your question. Early on we were lucky to work with Justin Johnson who works with 3d models as datasets. It became during the research clear that these networks will be able to do either the interior or the exterior of a project but not both at the same time. So this is exactly the challenge your question is aiming at. We have not solved it yet, to be honest. We thought about possibilities to concatenate certain algorithms but then everything becomes so heavy computationally that it becomes frustrating to work with. Probably everybody is working on this pressing challenge that solves this dilemma on several levels. In cars they can do this already. We are lucky in Michigan to be close to these labs and be able to collaborate with Ford on concatenation of algorithms. One last things I would like to add here as to the aspect of intuition, creativity, organization – are very hard to capture and emulate with computational processes, let alone with AI simply because we don’t know how they inherently work. We don’t know what happens in the human mind when a creative thought is born. I put a lot of effort in researching if AI can be creative and I was convinced it is, but by now I know this is not the case. AI is not creative. The creative is the person reading the image and giving it meaning.

Dr. Matias del Campo is a registered architect, designer, and educator. He is an Associate Professor at Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Michigan, and director of the AR2IL – The Architecture and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at UoM. He conducts research on advanced design methods in architecture, primarily through the application of Artificial Intelligence; collaborating with Michigan Robotics and the Computer Science department. Matias del Campo is the co-founder of the architecture practice SPAN. The award-winning architectural designs are informed by advanced geometry, computational methodologies, and philosophical inquiry. SPAN gained wide recognition for the design of the Austrian Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, and more recently for the Robot Garden at the Ford Robotics Building. SPAN’s work was featured at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2012 and 2021; ArchiLab 2013, and the Architecture Biennale in Vienna and Buenos Aires in 2019. Solo shows include “Formations,” at the MAK in Vienna and the exhibition “Sublime Bodies” at the Fab Union Gallery in Shanghai, China. In 2013 the practice expanded its operations to Shanghai, China, where the practice is currently working on building projects of various scales. He earned his Master of Architecture from the University of Applied Arts Vienna and his Ph.D. from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.


NFT & ARCHITECTURE I Towards a Parallel Architecture

The Metaverse and its designed contents, especially architecture, often sold on NFT platforms – is considered today a new emerging reality blurring the boundaries between the tangible and intangible, the physical and the digital – soon to be meaningful for our everyday lives, workplaces, communication and consumption, as some of its creators claim.

First lets acknowledge the hype and meteoric rise of NFTs, before questioning and critically examining this recent phenomena and its relation and impact to architecture at large. A non – fungible token, short NFT – is the authentication of a digital asset. It certifies and gives credibility and originality to a digital artefact. These certified assets could be anything from a jpeg image, a video, a simple 3D model, fashion accessoires or furniture all the way to holistic architectural projects for virtual worlds. Even though a simple image or a piece of architecture could be easily copied and re-distributed, the authentication token renders it into singular work of art – ready for trade. Analogous to the Mona Lisa in the Louvre versus a million of printed copies of the same image.

Second, NFTs come in as a user friendly and intuitive accreditation method for designers and architects, to commercially make their creations available for a new digital market economy. So within an architectural practice one could consider NFTs as an agent connecting architects with markets and demand. This is a pivotal game changer to the established methods of working in an architectural practice, which relies on winning projects trough competitions or direct commissions.

Obviously this comes in quite handy as designers and architects for their majority today and with growing popularity use a myriad of digital tools to edit, market and also design their creations. Its a short and easy leap suddenly to commercialize the work as an NFT. In return NFTs also help giving credit both on the artistic level and also on the economic level to digital creators, who for a long time struggled with exposure and accreditation.

A cyber-capitalist approach enriching the consumption and trade of digital content suddenly on an exponential scale. People in hesitant disbelief or ambiguity following up on this simple in a nutshell explanation quickly get convinced by the legibility and economic force of the adventure when institutions, like the auction house Christies or the art trade show Art Basel incorporate works of NFTs within their portfolios. Simple pioneering NFT architectural projects such as the “Mars House” by Krista Kim were sold online for a net value that could justify a physical construction of a real project.

How can this be concluded and reasoned, and what values does the work, hence architecture for virtual spaces promote? What are emerging opportunities for creators and architects, are questions we shall shed light on.

It is an evident fact that in design as well as trade of “produce”, we are quickly moving from 2dimenisonal assets to 3d artefacts. Emerging worlds and spaces are in large demand for 3d content on a vast scale. So its quite natural that architecture and designers of objects and spaces will find immense opportunities in playing an important role in feeding and designing both the worlds themselves and the content contained in it.

The question arises how this new solely digital architectural and spatial designs relate to traditional values and architectural theories ? Will the phenomena create new ones beyond the commercial aspect. Are people still interested in design per se, concept, or to the meaning of the content? Can the Vitruvian paradigms of beauty – firmness and usefulness hold up and keep its relevance in virtual worlds? Do some of these paradigms need to be replaced by new ones? How can virtual architecture be concluded or rationalised within our world and economy?

If one looks closer to the quality of the actual content available today in the usual NFT marketplaces, it becomes evident that in this early times trade and investment is hyped by the expectation of quick value increase, return of investment or the pioneering participation in a new world order in first place, while the work and its values is rendered secondary.

This hierarchy will need to be reversed.

This dynamic obviously states quite a challenge for a profession like architecture as a discipline. The expectation to contribute positively to society and the environment, to participate and advance an intellectual discourse – to make lives more meaningful – on a civic level are not yet met within the virtual realm and need to find their counterparts in virtual worlds. The civic qualities for virtual worlds are still in development so architecture struggles to be a positive response or an agency to give definition. As spatial challenges will emerge in the broader spectrum of NFT architecture – it will be a crucial tipping point to conceptually be responsive and innovative and not only copy real world constrains to virtual ones. The demand for quality and the definition of these new qualities is something that still is waiting to be explored and also valued accordingly within NFT architecture.

In this sense one also needs to speculate what the alternative notions within these new spaces and architecture can be? What are added qualities and challenging experiences to be designed? If we will only continue the inherited architectural qualities and merits of the past, as duplicates in parallel within the digital realm – architecture will not sustain its relevance as a profession.

One of the major distinguishments architects will need to make in the future in virtual worlds conceptually is between “digital twins”, replicas of physical objects or buildings and “surreality” meaning objects and buildings that go beyond the actual known physical objects and its properties and exploit new ones that match and relate to virtual worlds. This is a huge opportunity for architects to expand their existing design investigations and gain relevance as creators in virtual worlds .

An interesting example in this sense can be witnessed by Andreas Reisinger with his collection “The Shipping Collection” which as a video sold on foundation, one of the main marketplaces for NFT items for nearly 450k $. Ironic in the sense that the project suddenly explores the notion of the impossible, the kinematic and less functional – as something that would only be possible within a virtual environment. These connections might not be yet meaningful, but start to tease a relation between projects and its context that can be discussed and valued as an architectural response.

So the question remains to be explored, what are those surreal qualities within architecture to be designed and conceptualized, similar to Reisinger’s approach in furniture design?

Looking at the first ever architectural NFT project by Chris Kim as an instance, one could argue that it has merely any relation to a trajectory of the architectural discourse and discussion. Is it architecture at all? What aspects of conventions does it ignore and which ones does it open up? It surely has spatiality and gradient surface texture as an expression, but is it in any sense innovative or intellectually provoking in relationship to virtual worlds ? The project as discourse and intellectual contribution of architecture and discipline in relation to virtual worlds is challenging, while its prominent feature of being the first in a series of spatial entities as an NFT stands out, and made history.

The new architectural business model is established on values of fast consumption and trade, instead on new concepts and opportunities, the notion of production and any type of Taylorism promoting quality. The new worlds do not set currently any intellectual or cultural constrains for designers – so anything goes. This in return allows for everybody to be a designer, a creator, an architect – something that is very well aligned with an egalitarian zeitgeist and ethos.

Todays digital endeavor with NFTs has its roots in cultural, technological and social phenomenas of the recent past. Re-establishment, decentralization, flat hierarchies, an increase in self engagement and control are just a few of the socio cultural phenomena’s that have yielded the way. The NFT market economy and hence opportunities in connection of designing and marketing architectural projects could be considered a natural evolution of difficult and infiltrated business models of the profession. If we will and all signs are pointing in the direction that this will be a real scenario – embrace digital worlds into our everyday lives, architecture and the work of architects will play an incredible important role in how we will shape and experience these new environments. A case scenario example would be virtual remote work places in the future, only existing as digital realms, accessed by innovative head mounted user devices. But the question remains, will these environments be still open plan offices, stacked on top of each other as iconic urban gestures, towers – expressing power of the institution they belong to? Or will there be new scenarios and spaces on how we spatially collaborate and communicate? This is merely a spatial and design question, once again pointing out the relevance of architectural designers for these emerging opportunities.

Historically challenges and a try and error mentality always yielded the field in the beginning and emergence of new trajectories. Be it the introduction of computational design, fabrication, social awareness, the sciences, new materials. There is a health struggle in the beginning with a lot of “failures” to learn from and to emancipate from. Its a question of time when architecture tailored for virtual worlds and the NFT economy will emancipate itself, establish a profound discourse and its own set of value criteria’s – and become relevant to the profession. Certainly there are architects who already work in this direction.

Architecture only slowly makes ties with this development, potentially being afraid of losing ground and discourse of the past – substituted by new paradigms. One can conclude from various medias that several key players within the profession are attempting to land projects trough NFTs for virtual worlds. The game changer to previous attempts of this kind is virtual space itself which is important to mention. A space where virtual artefacts and architecture becomes relevant and meaningful. These spaces have not existed with this level of accessibility, visual artistry and user friendliness before. Spaces or new worlds such as the Metaverse, Decentraland, Sandbox and a myriad of its derivatives. Without these new worlds that build on user participation and new experiences and also again business opportunities, socialising, consuming and communicating – digital artefacts and architecture would remain simply used up space on our hard drives. But suddenly there is a space to commercial deploy to, and the demand is staggering.

It is the combination of the new cryptocurrency economy, the accreditation of digital work as originals as NFTs and spaces of deployment where new experiences are promised – that makes NFT architecture – for the current so in demand.

Digital architecture exists profoundly since it inauguration to the profession with the rise of computers from the mid 70ies to the first paperless studios at Columbia University in the 80s. New spatial concepts influenced by mathematics and postmodern French philosophy changed the way we think and how we create. Early experimentation depicted wireframe graphics and surfaces and the application of animation as a method of designing. Something quite alien at that time to the profession. These developments in architecture continued with profound new assembly methods in the material world with new fabrication methods, being responsible for some of the canonical architectural project of the recent past.

In a way it is interesting to see that in the last 20 years architecture and the profession has thrived to rationalize and develop the early digital experimentations to the material word and to the built environment, and now with NFT architecture this development is reversed back to a purely digital domain, without the necessity to actually build something.

The difference that one will need to point out though is that within the development from the early digital experiments to physical built work, innovation was a key driver. Innovation within architecture itself, not the technology that is enabling it. This was an evolution of concepts, new architectural languages and expression, the engagement and enlightenment of its users and participants all the way to modes of construction as a natural response to the technological opportunities. This level of innovation is difficult to trace with NFT architecture at this early stage, and one could argue that it is unexplored territory. Today it is still rather the conventional projects that get implemented, rather than any direct response or spatial innovation within the opportunities in this new economy. Nobody rethinks architecture by its definition and elaborates on new potentials and spatial experiences in relation to let’s say: navigation, orientation, signage, narrative of spaces. These architectural domains will need to be rethought and partially re-invented for a specific digital context that is indifferent to our existing worlds. This again here sets out opportunities for canonical projects yet to be developed.

With some of these conclusions and observations one can clearly state that it is a steep beginning to make architecture relevant as a profession and valuable contribution and not only a business model in virtual worlds. If it wants to sustain relevance with its specific set of competencies it will on the one hand need to let go of some of its perspectives and values as a compromise – but will also need to establish new ones which make it a relevant contribution for its future users, or shall we say avatars.

As a more speculative outlook where this journey might go, we again need to acknowledge and closely observe the world around us and point out the phenomena of simulation and immersion. With the tools and assets available, ranging from AI to big data and machine learning, and exponentially increasing levels of representation – we seemingly thrive towards a parallel digital world. Maybe at a future scenario difficult to distinguish from the real world. The question is will this new world be something “new” or are we craving a healthy “replica” of our existing world without the current challenges of climate, social inequality, political unrests, starvation etc. Will it be a “brave new world”? Its undeniable that we already live in a semi digitalized environment, and daily rituals – if we pay attention – how we communicate, consume, date, navigate our cities – are all already part of a digital world. It is the responsibility of architects and future designers and profession to shape and give meaning in these emerging environments.

If speculatively all these currently somewhat disconnected streams of invention today would merge and be consolidated, and advanced by rapid technological developments – one could claim that in the far future there could be a world, holistic and purely digital that has relevance in its occupation next to our physical world. Maybe todays “Metaverses” are the first attempts as they try to not only embed entertainment but also social, cultural, commercial and political engagement – which all are in demand for architecture.

Joseph Beuys declared the “The expanded notion of the artwork” in the second half of the 20th century, which holds more than true to this canonical transition on all levels for art and architecture trough means of digitization. Challenges will need to be faced because of this extension of our world. Rather than closing in and reverting our views and concepts to old ones, one needs to embrace these new phenomena’s and capitalize on its pioneering moments, and failures and opportunities.

Architects will need to reinvent qualities that will state new competencies of the profession tailored to virtual worlds and the opportunities. What is key in this development is to stay relevant as architecture stands today as a key human endeavour to shape and advance our built environment.

Confidently we can look forward architecture doing so in parallel in new virtual worlds to come. 

NFT & ARCHITECTURE I Towards a New Architecture

Bence Pap gives you monthly insights on major questions regarding metaverse architecture in his column. Find essays, interviews and thoughts on the following questions:

A parallel universe?

Enter the void and read all about wild speculations and notions of recent and upcoming relevant thoughts on architectures new relationship to hybrid worlds.

Why the hype?

What are the opportunities for design professionals within these new worlds?

What are the challenges in these new mode of productions?

How does this influence the design process and spatiality on a conceptual level?

How do we understand the shifting role of authorship?

*Essay by Bence Pap

Metaverse architecture – a snapshot

Anna Fischer

Zurich 17-09-2022
Executive Master in Art Market Studies, University of Zurich

Table of content

1. Introduction

2. Actualstatus

2.1. Definition and understanding of metaverse

2.2. Architecture in metaverse, a snapshot

2.3. Applicability of architecture theory

3. CompetitionSalond’Art

3.1. The task, breaking boundaries

3.2. The outcome, three examples

4. Conclusion