The evolution of architecture and design has always been marked by the spirit of the times. Whether it’s modernism, globalization, or tech corporate culture, design has responded to reflect and sometimes define societal influences. Today, in part due to a mass exodus from the traditional workplace, we once again have the opportunity to reimagine the nature of space and place in design.
A global pandemic in conjunction with web-based meeting technology has fueled a transformation in how and where we work. The desire to have more freedom in our mix of work and life has a significant impact on workplace design. Combine that with the much-cited “Zoom Burnout” and massive interest in Extended Reality (XR) – a combination of Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality tools (fig. 1 – we can see that working and collaborating in the metaverse By applying and adapting our skills to the new parameters inherent in virtualized experiences, where the normal limits of physical space (gravity, for example) do not exist, we can take our place in this new paradigm and build truly engaging spaces at a time when our industry could benefit from a shake-up.
Through our work with clients, we have seen direct evidence of virtual interaction creating an engaging and potentially more meaningful human connection by focusing on the concept of “co-presence”, for example, where people perceive that they are found when engaged in real time. , face-to-face interaction. This in turn creates opportunities to reimagine “real-world” spaces, such as meeting rooms that support XR interfaces.
Good design matters, whether in real or virtual worlds. A fundamental transformation in the possibilities of design has occurred: We are now designers and constructors of virtual spaces and the interfaces inherent in how we engage them. To best design metaverses, designers should be the lead, or at least a key collaborator, in building them. Understanding how to choose XR platform tools, interactions, and limitations to better align with project goals is as critical as lighting and materiality decisions.
We can unpack this more deliberately by exploring several current use cases.
XR Design is the use of XR technologies to aid in the design and construction of the built environment. Most effectively, this is used in conjunction with Building Information Modeling software, such as Revit, to enable rapid ideation and fidelity to the design model. While Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) for design have been around for many years, ease of access and convenience with newer tool sets available now place this workflow firmly within reach. many project teams, allowing us to fully inhabit the spaces we create long before occupation. XR Design has the potential to connect creators and customers in a much more meaningful way than the current documentation and visualization palette. A recent example is the construction of virtual spaces that clone existing structures but offer new possibilities for interiors, allowing building owners to further engage with their potential tenants by customizing options (fig. 2).
Custom XR environments
Here we create bespoke environments, often informed by real existing spaces, their branding and materiality, which allow freedom of siting, elevation and scale. We’ve found that customers who initially commit to “twin-up” an existing space unanimously choose to customize and extend the design with XR tools once they’ve experienced the possibilities. Higher ceilings, top-floor views, outdoor spaces with “live” biophilia moving in the virtual breeze – anything is possible with XR, but prohibitively expensive in real life. These spaces can be programmed to emphasize openness and fluidity with a minimum of enclosed meeting rooms, accommodating multi-use models, from structured huddle spaces to walk-in social spaces, all in the same environment, if desired. These possibilities represent what people are really looking for in spaces, but often cannot have given the constraints of the real world. Our AI Atlanta XR project was our breakthrough point in understanding the human side of XR. By moving the virtual location from central Atlanta to the South African coast, shifting the focus from workstations and meeting rooms to open social and collaboration spaces, and adding elemental interactions with biophilia , we found that people experienced significantly higher levels of engagement and comfort than they did. with web calls, which simply don’t offer this level of immersive experience (fig. 3).
Once customers experience these personalized XR worlds, they tend to want to use them for purposes other than internal meetings and hangouts. These new uses include employee onboarding and customer experience.
The new requirement for remote hiring practices and its limitations have led to the reassessment of the onboarding process and its inadequacy. We populate our customers’ custom XR environments with interrelated, experiential design-driven content such as videos, signage, games, and interactions that help tell the company’s story and better connect new hires to the company’s culture, history and values in an immersive environment. and an engaging place they can access from anywhere. We are currently working with a client who is investing in the development of a virtual environment; they send VR headsets to new hires so they can engage in a self-guided experience and then reunite with other new staff members in freshly created social spaces. Feedback from the client’s team and new staff was unanimous in favor of XR experiences over the old process of watching videos and filling out forms.
Customer engagement in the age of dispersed locations and the desire to reduce carbon footprint pose challenges. By creating environments expressly to interact, educate, and listen to customers, our customers are successfully communicating information previously considered deliverable only in person. For example, we took a successful physical workplace design for a client and revamped it into a virtual, interactive space for their client-facing use. The original built space was on the third floor; we moved its virtual counterpart to the 61st floor of the tower and created the “views” with high resolution images. The general layout of the physical workplace has been recreated to follow a visitor route, from the entrance to the conference space, through large social areas, then into the main presentation room, and ending in the ” selfie room” to give all participants a virtual souvenir photo of their group with the “views” created in the background. The client received a warm welcome from its customers, who were invited to put on a VR headset, learn how to use it and attend sessions with agendas adapted for them. They found the engagement and feedback quite positive and continue to use the virtual space consistently (fig. 4).
Architects and designers have a role to play in metaverses, if they choose to believe that design can be part of creating virtual spaces that matter. Basically, designing with 3D tools for real projects on 2D screens no longer makes sense. User experience in technology interfaces is important, but our reality shows us that design gives these new worlds utility and longevity. XR, metaverses, virtual worlds, etc. are here to stay, and we can prove that our place in creating them is as important as the technology that powers them.
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