Will the metaverse go mainstream for construction and elsewhere? – Anthony Brown

12th April 2022

There’s currently much discourse around the metaverse, defined as a virtual-reality space where users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users. We’ve already become accustomed to spending vast amounts of time online, from working to shopping to gaming, with possibilities to how we construct buildings.

According to Wunderman Thompson’s Data’s trend report, 93% of global consumers said that technology is our future, with three-quarters of people agreeing that their everyday lives and activities depend on technology. The metaverse takes that idea to a whole new level, creating an entirely digital world where avatars can replicate actions from driving cars to conducting relationships and constructing virtual homes and malls without the practicalities of planning, zoning or considering how utilities will service these buildings. Other real-life restrictions such as gravity and structural stability don’t apply in the metaverse either, which could give architects the freedom to create some exceptional environments.

Virtual platform creator The Wild talks of the implications for architecture, engineering and construction, stating, “It’s a new HQ that gives every employee ‘superpowers’: instant 3D massing, manipulating assets, or even interacting with building layers and BIM data on a virtual clipboard, accessed from anywhere in the world.” In a recent interview with Frame magazine, Bryant Lu, chairman of Ronald Lu and Partners, reflects on what we can do in a virtual architectural office that we can’t do in the physical world, “It could move us to more towards scenario-based planning,” he says, “If we can analyse data more quickly, and in an immersive way, that could lead us to make better decisions.” Could the move to the metaverse mean that the market can finally bring blockchain to the mainstream built environment?

Lu adds that the move to an online work environment means that physical workplaces could provide more spaces such as club spaces, press conference rooms and media production rooms where the metaverse magic can happen. There is potential in offices and in the education, entertainment, and fitness sectors to experiment with virtual experiences. Advertising giant WPP is already talking about “blurred reality activations in retail spaces, brand hubs and business centres and digital-twin stores and augmented shopping experiences.” In addition to social media and web presence, could companies of all kinds use the metaverse to build their brands to attract and retain top talent too? People’s travelling habits were severely curtailed during the pandemic, increasing the use of virtual meetings. Given that this is a means of communication set to stay, could the metaverse enhance the meeting experience, fulfilling a broader role in business travel?

But who is going to be creating these virtual worlds? Will we see a distinction between architects and meta architects? After all, the metaverse requires 3D modelling plus professional knowledge in multiple fields, including user interface, content design, character design and even game design. Will game designers and programmers become architectural design teams, or will architects step up to the plate to design in virtual worlds, or will there be a convergence of skills and disciplines?

Will the metaverse go mainstream for construction and elsewhere? Summing up the possibilities of the metaverse, Liam Young, speculative architect and co-founder of futures think tank Tomorrow’s Thoughts Today, told Dezeen it’s not all going to be a “late capitalist Zuckerbergain fever dream. Neither is it going to be an escapist utopian fantasy or a flat world without the systemic horrors of the real.” Instead, he argues, “No technology has ever really been a solution to anything – it just exaggerates the conditions that exist. The metaverse will be equal parts fear and wonder.”