Virtual architecture and urbanism with Andreea Ion Cojocaru

Season 1 / Episode 5

Welcome to the LikeXR podcast season one about the extended reality market from people who really understand the industry. This week we are joined by the Andreea Ion Cojocaru. Andreea is a licensed architect, software developer, CEO & co-founder of NUMENA – an award-winning company. Andreea was formally trained as an architect at MIT and Yale where she was awarded the AIA Gold Medal for the best graduating master student by the American Institute of Architects. Prior to NUMENA, she gained design and project management experience in architecture practices such as Kohn Pederson Fox and Robert A.M. Stern in New York. She is the recipient of numerous fellowships and a frequent guest speaker at international events in the XR space.

Andreea Ion Cojocaru
CEO & co-founder of NUMENA
The first really quick question… Tell us a story of how did you love XR. How & why?
Several years ago I was working on my traditional business in a brick-and-art architecture company and my friend got an invitation to go visit an XR studio. He was interested and passed on to me: ‘Andreea this sounds like something up your alley. I said: ‘Yeah! This sounds cool!’. I went and the second I put on the headset, think it was a DK1, I was so blown away. Three weeks later I put my job and started to figure out what do I need to know to become an XR developer.
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What was the most impressive feeling? Why do you decide to quit that job and dedicate your attention to the new dimension and this industry?
— Two things. The first one is that I saw the extraordinary things that I was in space. As an architect that’s pretty mind-blowing because you work with 3D software as an architect and make these buildings in space but always outside of it. You have no body & emotions related to that thing behind the screen and I’ve just never seen immersive space before. From an architect's perspective the first thing that went into my head was OMG it’s going to change everything. We’ve never had this in the history of architecture. We’re able to make up buildings and walk through them. Maybe at some point, they’re just will be no need to build them anymore. For me, VR was something that was going to fundamentally change my profession and things couldn’t go on as they did. This thing… A VR in my life & architecture is the world so it was a matter of urgency for me to immediately start figuring out what the heck is this thing and how do I do it.
I think that many of us who work in the XR industry have the same stories. First trying Oculus DK1 and then we leave our work, making a new life with XR. You are a NUMENA company founder, so tell us what you are working on there?
— Yes. After quitting my job I needed some time off to figure out the good stuff like Unity, gaming engines. And then I said: ‘Alright! So, what I should do now?’. I can produce a good-quality VR experience but what’s next? I really wanted to continue planning this new thing that I learned with architecture. Some companies were using VR to visualize their buildings so they are working with architecture studios and some engines to look at buildings but for me, that failed and it is not that interesting. It was mind-blowing in itself – working in the building before it gets built. But it really felt that VR can do so much more and I’ve just learned how to quote so it didn’t feel satisfying enough for I also wanted to be able to do something in VR and then make something to copy the behavior and make people undergo experiences that I wanted just looking at things & changing colors on the wall. Then I asked myself what did it mean for architecture? Because coding behavior & producing things like a game is not what architects do. That’s what I wanted to do. I couldn’t find a studio that I could feed in, relieve grace & explore these ideas. So I just started one. We were extremely lucky that found some great lines at the beginning, that had someone in to spare to their marketing departments and they heard about this crazy new thing and they said: ‘Hey, Andreea! Let’s give it a shot!’. I said: ‘Sure!’. That’s how it started. Now everything we do is at the intersection of coding behaviors & making a big deal about the special experience itself and designing what we call a virtual architecture around that experience.
What is the biggest challenge in your world?
— It’s still to get the architecture community to understand that VR is not just a visualization tool, not just a rendering because they still think that way and use it aptly. They take VR and put it in the existing workflow rather than rendering a view of engines for building. Now you can go to VR, look at it and walk through it. We believe that VR can be way more than that. We believe that it should fit nicely in the existing workflow. It should completely turn the existing workflow upside down. We are experimenting with ways to do that both with our own architecture clients & a piece of software we’re working on.
It’s a really great goal! I hope that we’ll see some real cases that will enrage your technologies. I think architecture is transforming very slowly. Modern software and all these developments could step in the gas of it in this direction. I think you met a lot of cases. Can you tell us about most remarkable cases you met? I think it should be a lot.
— The most amazing stuff for me in VR tends to be not so common stuff for the public yet. There is a research lab at Stanford that’s doing a lot of experimental stuff. It actually put down some stuff on Steam a few weeks ago – snippets of their experiments. It was in 2015-2016. They put down a paper that has that tidal homuncular flexibility. That is how they were able to do experiments that they took players and they had them control non-human bodies in VR. They’re researching input/output of the brain and what you do as an output – get to a situation where you can get control on octopus but not on people’s limbs. I’m doing kind of similar experiments for myself, and we never them disclosed to the public before. But I do have my own private lab with some projects where I experiment with putting myself in certain situations in which traditional concepts of time, body, arms, limbs, being human or not being human start to blur. I find it to be hugely inspirational.
Great. As we started to speak about working on projects can you tell us what tools do you use in your work?
— We combine architectural software and we still use the things architectures use to design buildings. We make a 3D model program for that right now. We still use things like REVIT or AUTOCAD. All of these are produced like factor-based files because in the world of architecture the things that you design are supposed to be fabricated in real life so their output effective format adapted goes to C&C machine for whatever it is you want to build. Then we transform them into mesh rendering to Unity.
How do you work with .CAD files? Do you have your own system to convert from .CAD to .OBJ or another file format?
— Yes. We produce things in this format and then simply export them to OBJ. It’s not that terribly efficient workflow because we have to take that to Blender or Maya – software that is better dealing with meshes for architecture software you don’t have to worry about that because you don’t have to UV map something that is going to become a real material. So a shape has to become a piece of wood that is natural with texture. This software just typically doesn’t have a UV mapping button. We tend to take it to Blender to optimize it and do stuff like UV mapping that goes to Unity.
We mentioned virtual architecture many times. What is the difference between virtual & physical architecture?
— That’s a big question. We’re still trying to figure that one out aside from obvious facts. Virtual architecture doesn’t have gravity and it has no materiality in the traditional sense. It still has a material-based source of support and it transits in the piece of hardware. There’s not one mapping between a shape that you see and the fact that it itself has materiality like you can touch it and have feedback from it directly. But exactly what does that mean at a more philosophical level is still to be determined, right? Because this is the first time in the history of humanity when we are able to dig couples’ spatial experience from materiality. We’ve always experienced space, room, buildings in some kind of material form. They are made out of stuff. And all of a sudden we can experience space & architecture, feelings and walk through these spaces. We doubt this material behind it. It’s quite interesting. I think that slowly it’s going to become a psychological game. Traditional architects play a game of understanding physics, structures, and how gravity forces have to care you down to the ground from the top levels of the building. Where virtual architects will play more psychological games like how can you manipulate space to make a person feel in a certain way?
Does physical architecture have smaller limits?
— Yes, it does. Although you’d be surprised at how many limits virtual architecture has also. It’s just a very different set of limits. When I first started to design things and put these virtual spaces in Unity and watched them in VR I thought that I will deal with total liberation from any kind of constraints. I started to make that curvy stuff. But of course, you have limits of how you can see it and you can knock yourself to make a hole to see all of that curved surfaces. And if you adapt inheritance meshes you adapt too many vertices and just crash the headset this thing is running on. That was an interesting moment for me where I felt that all of the reality sucked all limits to it. What can I do here even as an architect? Because If you put a person in space that is too abstract, If you go have like an abstraction expressionism a huge cube 2 km away and then nothing that could be too much to give a person a sense of anything. You can't push the expression. People still need some surfaces they can interact with, traces of some kind of objects, and what we’re seeing right now in what’s out there in VR is a very high realism, you have virtual conference rooms with chairs that you know how to sit in, strange kind of tables and most of these rooms have windows with glass panes and a cold to get in. I’m hoping to see a departure from that skew morphism to more abstraction and psychological sophistication in the way designers design the spaces. But they all running to limits, they still running to that space so what are those limits and strategies to get interesting new spaces without running into the limits?
That’s interesting. What are main skills required in virtual architecture?
— I want to say that you should be an architect but I will control myself… You don’t need to be an architect. My hope is that a completely new field of the profession will emerge. Initially, I was very interested in convincing an architecture community to jump upon VR, claim the space for virtual architecture for the traditional profession. I’m slowly changing my mind and thinking: ‘Well, fuck the traditional architecture’. This is such a new thing that requires new kinds of thinking. Maybe it’s just a new profession. So what would you need for it? You somehow need to get an understanding of the psychology of space. You need to be able to answer the question: What kind of space makes a person feel joyful and constricted? These are not easy questions to answer, right? The person that wants to get into virtual architecture should be ready to embark on a journey that takes him closer to these answers.
If we’re talking about the potential, future opportunities where virtual reality can exist what it is about? It’s not about architecture & spaces only. I do believe that there are so many cases that this potential of the future profession could be applied. What do you think? Cities, other ones, something completely new because we’re unaware comparing to which direction it could be and could go.
— There are so many things about traditional architecture & space that we haven’t focused on enough with architects because of important things like gravity and making sure that building will not fall down all this entire time. If we free spatial designers from those constraints and have them focus on psychological aspects of space we might end up taking this new profession in new interesting directions and then we might be in positions where it starts to play a different role than natural architecture is. I think that’s what you’re hinting at. And that is super interesting even if discussing what role actual architecture plays in our lives aside from making sure that you don’t get the brain on. But even that is not explored properly. And now you have that other thing that purely has an effect on people on a psychological level. I can see different fields where that can become a very big deal.
Can you tell us about that?
— Yes. For example, we know that the environment has a huge influence on people’s moods and even their thoughts. If I’ll keep you for two hours on the bottom of the well I guarantee that you’ll not be going just start to feel some very new things but your brain will start making very different associations. If someone will ask you to brainstorm on something re-creative or to solve some abstract mathematical problem sitting in your living room or suppose in the well for two hours you will produce very different results. This cognitive mechanism that allows people sterilely think out-of-the-box and literally places their brain in a new state is extremely interesting for many different fields. I can achieve that brain state without feeding you psychedelics or making you any extraordinary just putting you in the right virtual environment for a while.
It’s really cool. It’s like putting a human into another completely different world that somehow predictably or not predictably affects the human and has a huge potential. We had a conversation with professor at Stanford who revealed some secrets on how XR transforms and resumed fantastic cases that could be applied right now by a lot of people and disrupt some industries and change an understanding of how new technologies can immediately affect and kill some feeds of people in pain. It’s really interesting to do.
— All that I want to say is that architecture and spatial design are so far away from what traditional architecture is doing. I mean how many times did you choose a certain architect, go to a certain room, or spent time in a certain building because it makes you think differently? Some people do it and have special places but they rarely design for that purpose. And most people don’t have access to them, they don’t even associate spaces and architecture with that kind of mechanism having that kind of power. All of a sudden architects become an interesting group of people with interesting powers that they don’t have traditionally.
How the design industry changed with an advent of XR technologies?
— Not so much so far. That’s part of the work that I see ahead of me. Getting down seeing the potential of change in this technology, not just the potential to whatever you’ve been doing all along just to live it better.
— One part we were talking about is virtual urbanism. As I noted in Wikipedia urbanism is the study of the habitat of such urban areas as towns, cities and about the interaction with the building environment. So how has this concept change with the advent of virtual reality and virtual urbanism?
— This is a super-hot topic right now since a few years ago Facebook announced that they’re becoming a Metaverse company whatever that is supposed to mean. I think that starts. I’d like to think how even what we’re doing right now has a spatial component. It feels like there is a space between us. I don’t know if it is between my head and the screen or between Germany and Russia. But there is some spatial component we’re communicating across. Our everyday activities continue to have a spatial component and we continue to communicate through it but can’t read our minds yet. For me, this is a part of what urbanism is. It is a space and a part about how we traverse the space to still get my ideas in your mind and your ideas in my mind. It’s happening on a very large scale through a social media platform where people have their countries. If we count all Facebook’s users it will become one of the biggest countries in the world if not the biggest one. They have relationships with each other across time and space. If you take that once above then what we’re trying to do now with Facebook horizons is to take that country that communicates right now over an Internet platform and to spatialize it. Then you have to see kinds of people, friends, interactions, but there is that strange thing – a virtual space. And how do you traverse that? I don’t know. You’re flying, teleport but then on another level, there’s still your physical bodies are. All of a sudden urbanism gets a lot more complicated. There is a physical layer of it where actual bodies are, buildings, cities that make sure you don’t get drained on. Then there is this virtual lair that also has people, virtual bodies, rooms, and places to go overlapping the physical lair. That’s what I call urbanism. We’ve just started to realize this thing and think about what it means to enter this complexity all of a sudden.
Can you remember your thoughts when you shared about Facebook’s conception of Metaverse.
— I felt fear. They also announced that they’re going to be more than ten thousand XR engineers in Europe. I also experienced fear when reading that. I guess that these are good things but they’re too good to be true and are always cut both ways. I’m excited that a company as big as Facebook finds a power that they have is about getting into the space. They are able to push into the consumer market and sell headsets quite cheaply and so on. Another side of it is maybe they are too big, too powerful, too greedy. There are lots of concerns about that. Their practices are not friendly towards any kind of competition. We know that they are selling their headsets a little fast right now to squash competition. What is that going to mean about our future lives and the fact that one entity can mind-control the meta-urbanism… We’ll just start to wrap our heads around that.
How can it be regulated? Because we discussed this with Ted Shilowitz from Paramount who said that Facebook has been a Metaverse for years and that conception they announced means that they have so much data and can take a snapshot of your profile and impersonate you in their own Metaverse. You can’t do anything with that. When such giants like Facebook, Google have a tremendous bunch of data that can combine then each data should be regulated somehow because it definitely a future course. How and who should regulate that - countries, companies, independent communities? Do you have any thoughts about that?
— I felt fear. They also announced that they’re going to be more than ten thousand XR engineers in Europe. I also experienced fear when reading that. I guess that these are good things but they’re too good to be true and are always cut both ways. I’m excited that a company as big as Facebook finds a power that they have is about getting into the space. They are able to push into the consumer market and sell headsets quite cheaply and so on. Another side of it is maybe they are too big, too powerful, too greedy. There are lots of concerns about that. Their practices are not friendly towards any kind of competition. We know that they are selling their headsets a little fast right now to squash competition. What is that going to mean about our future lives and the fact that one entity can mind-control the meta-urbanism… We’ll just start to wrap our heads around that.
Many people with whom I have spoken about Metaverse imagined footage from Ready Player One movie so what can we expect from Facebook’s Metaverse in your opinion?
— Hard question. First I want to say I’m surprised so many people not you but a lot of the markets are hyping on the Metaverse and prison to Ready Player One which is something to look up to. I’m a bit baffled by that because I’m asking myself have we not read this book or seen a movie? And that’s a utopian kind of thing. And yet the news and social media platforms are full of this parallel. So are they thinking seriously, sarcastic in this Facebook’s Ready Player One parallel? Sometimes I just don’t know what’s going on. It’s hard to tell. I think it’s very hard to judge their response to the controversy around privacy with their internet platforms. It looks like they care about doing something, some improvements but it’s hard to say: ‘OK! They fixed the privacy issues that they are having!’. Because the core of it is this business they are having which is built upon getting data and doing things with that data. So how does that translate into the Metaverse and to this spatial dimension of what they are doing? I don’t know. You should actually read Oculus terms & conditions. It’s quite scary some of that stuff in there. That will actually give you a hint of what it is that they are doing. I tend to believe that they are going to change all that. That they are going to make an announcement tomorrow saying that we’re going to implement all the necessary precautions, rules, regulations to make sure everyone is comfortable with the way we’re using the data and I’m going to believe they will do it in future but no!
If we mention that nowadays we have a full-fledged Metaverse from Facebook then how do you think – how much time will it take to create the final version of Metaverse?

— WOW! The final version of it?!? The first reason I’m struggling to answer right now is that I personally believe that the Metaverse should be a system that is interconnected right. It should be something like an Internet that is not owned by a certain person. It should be an element in which there will be a protocol in which different worlds are connected to each other and play nice to each other. But the whole thing is about to be decentralized. Different people and entities can own different parts of it. And Metaverse seems to be built by now just by Facebook in this context. I haven’t seen any clarity from them in terms of how are they going to love interconnectivity where there are other people building their own virtual worlds. But there are other many people and companies building platforms that are immersive. That’s a crucial thing for me because the whole concept of the Metaverse is just one – thousands that really come to. That’s an area of confusion for me. How long will it take them to build their own enclosed Metaverse? I think they have a version of that already. If they are not planning to play ball with other Metaverses and will just have their own thing then it will probably last not much longer.
let's talk about another theme. On your Twitter, there is a saying that VR will never be the same as physical reality and we will soon stop trying. How did you come to such a conclusion and why do you think so?

— I’m going to scare everyone. Every time I write a lot of stuff on Twitter and don’t know which one to pick. I believe that we will not just be going to deal with a decentralized Metaverse where you can go from one world to the other. I actually believe there going to be a wealth of realities. The Metaverse the way it’s talked about now implies that it’s a virtual reality that connects all the worlds but they are the same. There are conference rooms, meetings, playing games but this entirety works on the same principles. There are a lot of companies that are working on avatars and you can take your avatar from one half of the world to another. What I meant on Tweet is that these worlds are so fundamentally different from each other that they will count as different types of realities. There might be one in which you are an octopus and you spend the entire Monday and Wednesday controlling limbs doing whatever. There is going to be another world that is going to have a very interesting implementation of what I call metaphysics. Things will not be a simulation of how objects fall in reality. There is going to be something completely different. You will be able to easily go from one to another because your brain will rewire input and output to each one unless you are a very strong individual you probably will need some adjustment time and a bit of a break to go from one to the other. I’d like to speak of living life across these multiple realities. It’s not just about playing this game in VR chat and then playing this other game in a rec room. It’s a much deeper transformation when you go from one world to another and that transforms you into something else that could be non-humanoid that changes how you feel and think. You basically will become something else.
One of the things I’m really curious about and afraid of it… Do you think that this well-designed, well-developed new Metaverse or the virtual world can be a threat to society? For it’s like a TV – a zombie-boxes that take your attention and you can build any reality in the virtual world but you live & exist in the real world and can forget about that and be in your virtual dreams or in a real one like we saw in a Ready Player One when everything is good, you’re a Superman in the virtual world but in the real one you homeless. Do you believe that such a fantastic new theme could be a threat to society, existence, for this well-balanced life or it’s just another piece of attention like it was with radio, TV or whatever?

— I definitely think it can be a real threat. I also think that there can be something fundamentally different in this media than in other media like the video but I don’t think there is anything that is intrinsically good or bad. There is nothing inside VR or this immersive technology that guarantees this dystopian scenario describes what will happen. I don’t like when people describe VR as an empathy machine. There is nothing intrinsically good or bad in any kind of media. You could have made the same argument about the video film, right? You could have said: ‘Look! A film is an empathy machine because I can film something that happens and then go and show it to someone in another location and they will become more empathic because they really understand & see what just happened over there. It’s exactly the same argument. The film is not good or bad. We are and always been since the beginning using film and cinema for good & horrible things. Good actors, as well as dictatorships, have equally been making use of the media. It’s not the fact that these media exist that will guarantee we are going in that direction. The discussion is more about what is the mechanism that should be in place to prevent this media from taking us in that direction.
One of the things I’m really curious about and afraid of it… Do you think that this well-designed, well-developed new Metaverse or the virtual world can be a threat to society? For it’s like a TV – a zombie-boxes that take your attention and you can build any reality in the virtual world but you live & exist in the real world and can forget about that and be in your virtual dreams or in a real one like we saw in a Ready Player One when everything is good, you’re a Superman in the virtual world but in the real one you homeless. Do you believe that such a fantastic new theme could be a threat to society, existence, for this well-balanced life or it’s just another piece of attention like it was with radio, TV or whatever?

— Yes, absolutely. There is this thing like a transfer phenomenon that people started to identify playing video games for a very long time. There is some kind of behavior when you’re doing a video game and then your brain just forgets for a second that it is a video game and then you go by your business in actual life trying to do that and you catch yourself after a second. These kinds of things people started to experience and I mean VR as well because of what you’re saying they are deeper. So are we going to spend five hours a day in Facebook’s Metaverse and then learn a behavior there and then go back to a physical reality trying to do that behavior. I think that will completely going to happen. You might not even be able to catch yourself after a second because of the kind of things you do in a computer game controlling your character with a mouse & keyboard and then you try to replicate it in real life it does not work. And you are like – What am I doing? Sometimes I do something and my fingers are trying to draw Z with my left hand and I’m thinking – wait a sec for I have no keyboard and there is no Z button. But then that barrier that helps you catch yourself after a second won’t exist between the virtual and the real world. You might go ahead and no doubt be aware to integrate the behavior you’ve learned in a virtual environment, in your physical life. What worries me is the one who has control over the kind of behaviors you’ve been taught that you do in VR. What kind of systems can help people become aware of this transfer of behavior? And I think that when it comes to this we are completely fucked. Because people learned things even in 2D platforms that they sell on certain ideas and they are even unaware of it. There are studies that show that if you see and act on a certain topic you won’t have to open the article that says it’s enough if you see a headline 5 or 6 times for your brain to start incorporating some of that even if it is something you fundamentally agree with. We are not even able to increase these psychological things happening with the media that already happened to the media. We have no shot of implementing this with the 3-dimensional game transfer phenomenon.
— It’s a very interesting comparison. It’s very booming and popular such as interactive theater. It’s not like a classical theater where there is a scene, chairs and you just watch what is happening. It’s the whole thing. When visitors come their lights are off and something starts happening. There are no actors and no one knows who are actors and visitors are. It is about interactive actions and then the lights are on and then there is a task to do something and you do something and then the lights are off. It’s not only creators or actors who know the scenario and what should happen. And we as visitors know absolutely nothing. We are coming there for new emotions and feelings. I think that the same is with the Metaverse. You do not control actions but you are a participant. So someone is the Master of Puppets as Metallica played. It’s this scary.

— I loved this example. I think that is the perfect example to understand the mechanism and this blurriness between real worlds, fiction, virtual reality in many ways in which something could be real. There is an expansion of ontology. There are many ways in which something can be real. I say a lot that in VR experience is always real. Maybe the thing itself is virtual but your experience is something that can never be real like you’re experiencing that. This is what is making us so excited about this technology and what’s opening up. A cognitive mechanism that can help you do amazing stuff like what you mentioned earlier – applications that can produce pain. But this stuff can also be extremely dangerous. What I worry about sometimes are children. Things are moving so fast just as governments have hard times catching up with regulations and what’s going on. The education system has a hard time catching up with what’s going on. There is a whole generation of children that should be taught how to navigate these many complicated levels of reality. Because we’ve already seen an art generation and how fake news can swing election results. So these young people that quite getting not the right kind of education and they are growing up in this beautiful mess we are helping create by our work in VR.
Going back to XR, what is the biggest obstacle you see that does not allow XR to grow in the design & architecture industry in particular and in general?

— I think that a lot of things are being addressed and fit surprisingly fast so there was a slump in the industry around 2017-2018 and lots of people jumped in, there were a lot of investments in 2016. A lot of things didn’t work out because every area we talked was mystic but now we’re seeing a bit of uptick and this time I think this is for real. This time we can really deliver hype to marketing it never reached before. We started to have a lot of university programs producing XR engineers. We started to see almost all traditional design schools having XR departments. Things are getting better in terms of finding the right people. We’re seeing a lot of announcements of headsets coming up and that’s kind of interesting. I would say that my biggest issue is marketing. For me, that was an issue several years ago and it still is. People are still trying to sell things in a way that is not very realistic. I’ll give you a quick example of VR training. It’s one of the main things in enterprises and one of few ways in which XR studios can still make money right now. The number of problems & issues & work involved in producing applications are actually efficient and are going to be studied to improve their efficiency so it’s not just like grab this and put it here just like in many demos. You know I can take a demo where I have to grab something and put it in a place. I will put it for clearance - addressing together with your client all the negative transformations that come up. I think that people also can do wrong ways they’ve learned something how to do in VR for many reasons that just do not apply in real life and can even create a problem. Being mindful about those situations and there are really many but marketing never talks about them saying that it’s just like a real-life and it’s just a great idea. That still puts a lot of companies in situations where they bite to the hype; invest a lot of money into the training program and because of this kind of reason and many others they are not seeing the return they initially going to see. They are still struggling a little bit with that.
Going back to XR, what is the biggest obstacle you see that does not allow XR to grow in the design & architecture industry in particular and in general?

— Yes. I want to tell you a little bit of this application now we’ve been working on. What we’ve been doing is trying to develop an application where we can design architecture together with clients. This for us has been extraordinary because traditionally you hire your architect and he produces some drawings which are really hard to read for some people. If you have a lot of money to pay he will produce some renderings, some specific corners of your house or building. But you have no way of imagining what everything else is going to look like and how those spaces will really going to feel.
If you’re happy with the window position in your kitchen or in your bathroom because we never produce renderings of that. An idea has always been that your architect knows best. So you should just trust an architect to deliver this beautiful house to you. I’m very attracted to the idea of designing something together with the client. Because in VR things can be fairly intrusive and can be easy to learn like the wall for sometimes you can just go to the wall and move it or go to the window, grab it in a trigger and then just move it.
We’re discovering that people that are not traditionally trained architects are actually well enough to make decisions about where should be the window. So they see the light coming in this immersive environment and they can decide by themselves if they want three windows or four or if they want it up or down or if they want to do it this big or that big. There is a whole set of decisions that have always been in the hands of an architect that now we’re trying to put in the hands of the client. There are still elements of building that a person who is not trained as an architect cannot solve right or figure out – structural walls, columns that you shouldn’t move for the building will collapse. In VR we fix those so those are not something you can drag around. But with everything else you could re-configure without needing an architect. It’s been an extraordinary journey for us.
The range of issues goes from things like moving windows and then making a decision on the light but you can go all the way to things like how to place your bedroom, your kitchen. You don’t have to follow those rules I’ve learned in an architecture school about the proper relationship of bedroom & kitchen. It’s your house. You will live in it so you should optimize all of that according to how you live your daily life. It’s not some standard of optimal arrangements.
And I find that this also offers a certain degree of liberty in our daily life because we plan, for example, apartments in the same way. We force people to go about their daily business in an apartment in the same way. You enter a hallway and there is usually a kitchen on the right, you keep going and then there are two bedrooms. Maybe that shouldn’t be the case just we don’t force people anymore to wear the same clothes, same kind of shoes. We should also liberate our everyday life functions in terms of space. It’s been wonderful. People just love it, they go in and feel like architects who designed the house.
They feel like they are able to make a decision about something that at the end of the day will have such a major impact on their lives that they never dreamed of and couldn’t make that decision in the past that they could do some strange things. They say: ‘I want the window in my bedroom to be in that corner. We’re like are you sure? Yeah. I just love that! And then they play with the lights and get some kind of an interesting shadow or direct light hitting a certain corner of the bed. And they yell that love this and want to place the bed in this location. That’s fantastic. That never in a million years occurred to me. That’s a big nutshell, a kind of stuff they are playing with.
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