Exploring the virtual and uncharted: NFT spaces and metaverse architecture of 2022

Best of 2022: STIR presents a recap of the best virtual architecture in the metaverse and digital spaces as unique NFTs created this year, exploring mixed and virtual realities.

by Jincy IypePublished on : Dec 22, 2022

The virtual architectural and spatial environment, mostly untapped and fertile with promise, needs to be intentionally imagined, designed, and built. 2022 has been uber experimental and explosive in terms of spaces and architecture blooming within the intangible digital space, with innovative, madcap, and original designs carving uncharted routes to the future, where the boundaries between the physical and virtual worlds are blurring and shifting constantly. In specific, spatial typologies and objects designed for the Metaverse and architecture as unique NFTs were created to attract new and diverse audiences, where virtual workplaces morph into playgrounds, distilleries double up as amusement parks, and values placed in virtual estates. This three-dimensional digital space of mixed and alternate realities where you and I can virtually interact through our digital avatars spells innovation, experimentation, and evolution.

The Row, a members-only metaverse community with digital architecture designed by artists and designers Video: Courtesy of The Row, Everyrealm and The Alexander Team

The metaverse as a term and concept itself is not new. It can be traced back to sci-fi author Neal Stephenson, who predicted cryptocurrencies and virtual worlds, and even coined the term ‘metaverse’ in his 1992 novel Snow Crash. Most open-world, massive multiplayer gaming universes like the Sims, World of Warcraft, or Lost Ark, also employ virtual interaction and explicit world-building. The hype and focus on the metaverse as a tangible investment and the next natural phase of the internet growing roots happened with the rebranding of Facebook as “Meta”. What this virtual reality does, is define (or try to overcome) abstraction and intangibility, by becoming an unexplored, expansive platform and opportunity for designers and architects to build sans limits, to shape and test the very definition of space as a social reality, encompassing everything from retail, art, estates, education, trading, alternate living, and more—all that we consume and are in the real world could potentially be augmented with interactions in the metaverse.

Here is a throwback to the best and most unconventional virtual architecture, spatial universes and digital scenographies created in 2022, specifically for the metaverse and as independent, valuable, non-fungible tokens that dabble unabashed with creativity and innovation.

1. Discovering 'The Row', virtual architecture designed by global artists in the metaverse

(L-R) The Pearl by Hard; Make Room For Us by Six N. Five; Virtual architecture by Andrés Reisinger | Best of 2022: Metaverse architecture and NFT spaces | STIRworld
(L-R) The Pearl by Hard; Make Room For Us by Six N. Five; Virtual architecture by Andrés Reisinger Image: Courtesy of The Row, Everyrealm and The Alexander Team

Metaverse real estate development firms Everyrealm and The Alexander Team segued into a vastly real exercise in building the intangible and pushing the limits of creativity in the metaverse with The Row, a private, “members-only” metaverse real estate community. It will be a limited-edition series of 30 3D architectural landmarks, each sold as a 1-of-1 non-fungible token (NFT) designed by globally acclaimed artists including Daniel Arsham (who also serves as Everyrealm’s Creative Ambassador), Misha Kahn, Andrés Reisinger, Alexis Christodoulou, Six N. Five, and Hard.

"The metaverse has no physics, no weather, and no limitations other than human ingenuity. The Row brings together visionary artists best known for their architectural landscapes and collectors seeking a unique, limited-edition residence that they can deploy across many different metaverses over time,” explains Janine Yorio, CEO of Everyrealm, a metaverse real estate investment and development firm backed by Andreessen Horowitz, Coinbase, Dapper Labs, The Weeknd, Marc Anthony and Paris Hilton, among others. The featuring artists will develop and build each of 'The Row's' headline-grabbing, digital architectural landmarks with the ability to be deployed across an array of metaverse platforms within The Row district.

2. Rojkind Arquitectos makes its Metaverse debut with the José Cuervo Metadistillery

  • A mini tour of the Metadistillery José Cuervo, Rojkind Arquitectos’s debut in the Metaverse Video: Courtesy of Rojkind Arquitectos
  • The Metadistillery José Cuervo conceived by Rojkind Arquitectos is inspired by the roots of an agave plant | Best of 2022: Metaverse architecture and NFT spaces | STIRworld
    The Metadistillery José Cuervo conceived by Rojkind Arquitectos is inspired by the roots of an agave plant Image: Courtesy of Rojkind Arquitectos

The entire peg of digital architecture anchors upon its enormous, exciting potential being 'omnipresent', accessible to nearly everyone, through electronic devices with internet connectivity. Mexico-based Rojkind Arquitectos made their thriving debut into the Metaverse real estate realm, with the zany and unique Metadistillery for José Cuervo Tequila, replete with an acid blue pool, and a circle of fire surrounded by bottles of tequila greeting visitors.

Inspired by the shallow yet extensive roots of the agave plant, the Metadistillery does not shy away from being wacky, explorative, unapologetic, creative and (perhaps), ever so bewildering – the latter in a general sense of perception, of how brands like José Cuervo can interact effectively with their customers, within a digital world. "Self-criticism enables us to recognise our blindness to the possibility afforded by programs to construct metaverse ecosystems. This blindness, together with our traditional approach to design in physical space, is our starting point for expanding the disciplinary boundaries of design to digital spaces, in order to create new experiences and make sense of architecture in a virtual setting,” elaborates Michel Rojkind, Founding Partner of Rojkind Arquitectos.

3. iheartblob on locating the architectural object in a mixed, extended reality

  • '_Spaces' by iheartblob explores and speculates on the future of architecture Video: Courtesy of iheartblob
  • UK-based architectural and design studio iheartblob’s abstract work seeks an intersection of the digital and physical | Best of 2022: Metaverse architecture and NFT spaces | STIRworld
    UK-based architectural and design studio iheartblob’s abstract work seeks an intersection of the digital and physical Image: Courtesy of iheartblob

iheartblob, an architectural design studio and research collective formed by Aleksandra Belitskaja, Ben James, and Shaun McCallum reveal expansive, explorative work in the realm of digital architecture within their oeuvre. While both the digital and the hybrid mediums have lent themselves effortlessly to the fields of art and more recently design, its adaptation to the architectural realm still remains rather nascent, mostly limited to the larger discipline of visualisation.

'Imagined' architecture though, and the sheer possibilities it holds, as showcased by iheartblob’s work, freed from the constraints of material, conventional purpose and utility, and even habitability and bylaws, seems to be having far reaching implications and learnings, much beyond a piece of digital architecture to own for one’s avatar to reside in the metaverse. Its tendency to engage in a continual dialogue with 'built' architecture, exploring possibilities, and even virtually overcoming its exposited challenges and limitations is what establishes this digital counterpart as an important proponent in the equation, and a bonafide discipline warranting academic enquiry.

4. Design Open Spaces conceives new phygital district, ID-exe, for Milan Design Week

  • ID-exe by D.O.S. merges digital and physical design at the Milan Design Week 2022 Video: Courtesy of D.O.S. Design Open Spaces
  • One of the sites to be virtually transformed using ID-exe’s interventional digital tools | Best of 2022: Metaverse architecture and NFT spaces | STIRworld
    One of the sites to be virtually transformed using ID-exe’s interventional digital tools Image: Courtesy of D.O.S. Design Open Spaces

While the phenomenon of digital art fuelled by NFTs continues to rage, the realm of digital design, set apart by and proposing rather solid points of differentiation by virtue of the utility associated with product design in general, doesn’t seem to be far behind. As the design world continues to explore new ways of seeing, interacting with, and experiencing these objects of design, so does the need to experiment with new forms of media that lead to these displays materialising. The work of Milan-based digital design studio D.O.S, an acronym for Design Open Spaces but itinerantly picking up from its usual expansion, disk operating system, dwells on that paradigm, and proposes new ways of exhibiting design that attempts to overcome the boundaries of space and time, in line with Fuorisalone’s theme in 2022.

ID-exe, D.O.S' "phygital" display, materialised this year at the Milan Design Week as a distinct design district in itself, with dozens of touchpoints spread across the city of Milan for people to engage with, juxtaposing digital design displays with real world settings. Working on the theme of "REdesigning the RElationship", ID-exe, with its tagline 'All the Design Identities', looked at reimagining the kind of relationship people have with their cities and urban edifices, proposing a literal new lens to peek into the city you would have known for years through technological intervention. "This means using technology to create new ways to design and use urban spaces, including the social dimension, without losing touch with reality," sums up the Milanese design studio in an official statement. What’s more is that digital content generated by engaging with ID-exe and using means devised by the D.O.S. team to experience Milan in its digital glory will be usable from anywhere and anytime, even after Design Week culminated, speaking to the longevity of the digital medium.

5. Space Popular’s film ‘The Global Home’ merges homes with immersive internet

  • With The Global Home, Space popular presents a sensorial documentation on the future of virtual togetherness within the bounds of our homes Video: Courtesy of Space Popular
  • A scene from the immersive film, The Global Home, by Space Popular | Best of 2022: Metaverse architecture and NFT spaces | STIRworld
    A scene from the immersive film, The Global Home, by Space Popular Image: Courtesy of Space Popular

As part of Tomorrow Living —a larger research project by Huawei Milan Aesthetic Research Center that questions the ways of living inside homes of the future and the role of digital technology in conceiving these spaces in this somewhat digital age —multidisciplinary studio Space Popular responds to this inquiry through an immersive film that explores the future of virtual togetherness in the home. Titled The Global Home, the film was presented at the Carlo Ratti-designed MEET Digital Culture Centre, adding to the cohort of events at the now concluded Salone del Mobile.Milano 2022. Resulting from a community of people who regularly gather remotely via immersive media, the film showcases different scenarios of living in a mixed reality future. From the interpretation of a co-sleeping room where avatars fall asleep and wake up together, to co-workers seeking privacy in the back alleys of the 3D software in which they are working, the scenes depict our everyday routines merging within a strange, virtual landscape.  

"Immersive media offers the possibility to visually and acoustically inhabit virtual space and come together with others in a fully embodied way. In doing so, it also poses a challenge to our everyday environments, as the virtual space we come into might have very little in common with our living-rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms, or kitchens. The home will be to the experience of virtual space what the body is to the physical experience of architecture. Our bodies dictate which doors we can pass through, what size our beds –and therefore our bedrooms– need to be, or how high a tread can get. In the same way, the size and layout of our homes dictate where we can stand, sit, walk, or reach in a virtual world (without teleportation or other means of virtual transportation). Therefore, as long as you choose to access virtual worlds from within the safety of your privately owned property, your physical home will inevitably become the skeleton upon which they function. As you bring your domestic blueprint into the virtual environments that you share with others, hybrids are formed, overlapping formal and functional categories in unprecedented ways and thus challenging our social codes and rituals. In doing so you expose patterns of movement that, if accumulated over time, will reveal your physical home and habits. Inevitably, the way you choose to hide or reveal them will say as much about you as your clothes do today. Collectively with others you will create shared environments where you hang out, play, and watch movies. You will co-decorate these environments and make them meaningful with colours, objects, and patterns that may be just built for the occasion or highly valued and kept over time. And as you build your virtual home that is at once a part of many others’ forming Venn Rooms*, you contribute to the forming of the placeless?, lawless?, unowned? Global Home”, share Lara Lesmes and Fredrik Hellberg of Space Popular. (Venn Room* was a term coined by Space Popular in 2019 to describe virtually overlapped domestic environments).

From collectible NFTs to otherworldly blockchain-funded crypto creations, STIR brings you the best of fungible-non fungible inspiration from the global realms of art, design, and architecture. Read more here.

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