An architectural conference in VR by Space Popular reflects virtual togetherness

The London-based studio has conceptualised galleries, a movie theatre, and an arena for live architecture talks in an immersive virtual format for Spanish festival, Arquia Proxima.

by Zohra Khan Published on : Nov 13, 2020

Multidisciplinary design studio Space Popular visualised a virtual city to host exhibitions, conferences, and talks for the 2020 edition of the Spanish architectural festival, Arquia Proxima.

In wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, architects Lara Lesmes and Fredrik Hellberg of the London-based studio were commissioned to create an inclusive virtual venue for the festival, which is hosted every year to organise discussions and to celebrate important works by emergent Portuguese and Spanish practices.

The virtual city by Space Popular is designed to host exhibitions, awards, and conferences for Spanish architecture festival Arquia Proxima  | Space Popular | Arquia Proxima | STIRworld
The virtual city by Space Popular is designed to host exhibitions, awards, and conferences for Spanish architecture festival Arquia Proxima Image: Courtesy of Space Popular

The idea was to develop a platform beyond the typical format of zoom conversations in which people can interact with one another and feel a sense of virtual togetherness.

Curated by Gonzalo Herrero Delicado, a London-based architect, curator and writer, the event was held on October 21-22 under the theme Punto de inflexion, which means 'Turning Point' in Spanish. These virtual spaces can still be experienced here.

Attendees to the festival can choose their look from a series of avatars | Space Popular | Arquia Proxima | STIRworld
Attendees to the festival can choose their look from a series of avatars Image: Courtesy of Space Popular

Space Popular conceptualised nine virtual rooms around a grid format, the architecture of which was inspired from the urbanscape of Ensanche, a district in Barcelona where the event was originally planned.

“Each room takes the shape of an urban block of the Ensanche at half of its original size, with the outside forming a street featuring abstracted versions of building typologies common in the area,” mentions Space Popular.

Upon arrival, visitors can choose from a series of avatars at the lobby area, which upon selection reveals a single plane emulating an abstract human form.

Visitors can explore a range of architectural projects by Spanish and Portuguese practices displayed in the galleries  | Space Popular | Arquia Proxima | STIRworld
Visitors can explore a range of architectural projects by Spanish and Portuguese practices displayed in the galleries Image: Courtesy of Space Popular

Further, they can navigate paths that lead to the various galleries in which architectural documentaries, large public conferences, and project exhibitions are hosted.

An aerial view of Galería Próxima | Space Popular | Arquia Proxima | STIRworld
An aerial view of Galería Próxima Image: Courtesy of Space Popular

Four rooms in the venue are dedicated to Galería Próxima, which displays two dimensional representations of nominated architectural projects. As per Space Popular, interaction in this room is like walking through the pages of a conventional two-dimensional website. “Between pages you may bump into a friend who is also visiting and take a few steps down to the side gardens for a chat," says the studio.

Galería Becas features a web of criss crossing stairs | Space Popular | Arquia Proxima | STIRworld
Galería Becas features a web of criss crossing stairs Image: Courtesy of Space Popular

Galería Becas features a web of crisscrossing stairs that guide visitors to view competition projects that are granted scholarships.

A steep theatre space is part of Galería Documental where a documentary by Javier Peña, commissioned by Fundacion Arquia, is shown. “From here one can take the side exits to the portrait gallery at the top of the octahedron,” adds the studio.

  • Galería Documental showcases documentaries for the audience | Space Popular | Arquia Proxima | STIRworld
    Galería Documental showcases documentaries for the audience Image: Courtesy of Space Popular
  • Side exits to the portrait gallery inside Galería Documental | Space Popular | Arquia Proxima | STIRworld
    Side exits to the portrait gallery inside Galería Documental Image: Courtesy of Space Popular

Elsewhere, for live events and large gatherings, the central Arena comes into function. Organised along a diagonal axis with a stepped stage fanning out from one of its corners, talks with Peter Cook, Carme Pinós, and Anupama Kundoo have been hosted here.

A conversation between architect Peter Cook and event curator Gonzalo Herrero Delicado held in the Arena | Space Popular | Arquia Proxima | STIRworld
A conversation between architect Peter Cook and event curator Gonzalo Herrero Delicado held in the Arena Image: Courtesy of Space Popular

Space popular created the virtual environment on Mozilla HUBS, an open source platform that allows anyone to create social virtual spaces, accessible via any device connected to the internet, be it smartphones or VR headsets.   

The design of the venue is optimised as much possible. “In the virtual realm bytes are the currency, and in that sense, all rooms designed for the festival are very cheap so that every device and connection can afford them. This applies also to the avatars that visitors can select from,” explains Space Popular.

"Our VR Coder, Roman Miletitch was absolutely instrumental in making the project possible. He coded the interface and made it possible for the space to be modified specifically to our design."

Previous projects by Space Popular that experimented with virtual reality include an exhibition that explored the evolution of architectural styles at London’s RIBA gallery, and a virtual gateway at the historic Deoksugung Palace in Seoul.

In a previous STIR-exclusive conversation with Takashi Kudo of Tokyo-based art collective teamLab, Lara Lesmes and Fredrik Hellberg have shared that an immersive spatial experience generated through constructed physical elements is no different from the one that is provided using digital tools such as screens and projections. And these blurred boundaries pave the path to explore new possibilities.

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