by Zohra KhanAug 05, 2022
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 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.
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.
Further, they can navigate paths that lead to the various galleries in which architectural documentaries, large public conferences, and project exhibitions are hosted.
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 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.
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.
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.