ARC Fellows: Challenging Mirrorworld

ARC Fellows: Challenging Mirrorworld

Submitted by our 2019 ARC Fellow Team:

Ronald Rael (Department of Architecture, in the College of Environmental Design, and the Department of Art Practice) & Ioanna Sotiriou (College of Environmental Design)

On the 12th of February, 2019, Kevin Kelly – the editor of WIRED Magazine – published an article called “Mirrorworld”. The piece, revolving around the future of the Augmented Reality technologies, describes a constructed reality of contextualized objects, images mediated by machines and pure information overload – where everything has its own virtual double and immersion is achieved through the merging of the physical with the digital. “The mirror world does not yet fully exist, but it is coming” he writes.

The anticipation of such a world is not a new phenomenon yet it seems there is always something strangely familiar in the way we anticipate it or even fantasize about it overall. In 2016, Kelly himself was writing about Magic Leap, a company founded by Rony Abovitz. The startup, famous for its head mounted virtual retinal display and prototype AR headset, is standing behind its own vision of a fully Augmented world – the Magicverse – which was first presented to the world in 2018. Described as “an Emergent System of Systems”, the Magicverse is imagined as a highly dynamic environment of data, overlaying and constantly informed by the physical environment it is attached to. The success of such a spatial computer model relies heavily on evoking a sense of place-ness as it is, in fact, an aggregation of place extensions itself. Designed to amplify and strengthen the digital, immaterial and invisible networks that have already manifested themselves as a total of events and connections in the urban fabric, at the end of the day the Magicverse should be visualized as a scale-less architectural condition.

Architects have long been imagining a spatial condition such as the Mirrorworld (or the Magicverse) and studying cases where the need behind the creation of such a model was employed as a design drive force; Coney Island, Walt Disney’s EPCOT and Archizoom’s “Instant City” are just few of those bright examples. However, even though speculative architectural projects are still enriching the depository of the field, in the dawn of Virtual and Augmented Reality technologies, architects seem to only be able to see in them merely as design tools and not a design  and spatial condition unfolding overall. Simply put, these emerging technologies have mostly been treated as a medium; whether as a narrative vehicle in artistic installations, a design tool in architectural design processes or as a technology to be further advanced and optimized by engineers.

Our extended research, presented to and supported by the ARC Fellowship Cohort, aims to challenge this position. More specifically, seeing the field of Architecture as the space where art and engineering converge as well as acknowledging the greater impact AR technologies will have on the way we will perceive the urban environment and understand place-ness tomorrow, our project develops on two levels: the first one, the theoretical research, builds on Magiverse’s own framework: Presence, persistence, scale, awareness, interactivity, respect and sentience are qualities that have traditionally been informing architectural design and now have come to also describe visions of an augmented tomorrow. Our text follows the same structure and wishes to see how theories of space, as they have been established so far, can and will potentially apply to an augmented space of tomorrow. The second one is an attempt to use Virtual Reality as a narrative device that holds the potentials to talk about its own nature and the extreme possibilities of space making; we are currently working on an animated, VR short film which narrates a space where humans and machines share a common vision, the nodes where these two gazes converge and the ways this new condition stretches the limits of space and space making as we have come to know it.

Bios: Professor Ronald Rael holds the Eva Li Memorial Chair in Architecture and a joint appointment in the Department of Architecture, in the College of Environmental Design, and the Department of Art Practice. He is both a Bakar and Hellman Fellow, Director the Masters of Architecture program, and founded the printFARM Laboratory (print Facility for Architecture, Research and Materials). His teaching spans the curriculum, from graduate design thesis, undergraduate courses on Design & Activism, and he has twice directed the one year post-professional Master of Architecture program, Studio One. He is an applied architectural researcher, design activist, author, and thought leader in the fields of additive manufacturing and earthen architecture. In 2014 his creative practice, Rael San Fratello (with architect Virginia San Fratello), was named an Emerging Voice by The Architectural League of New York—one of the most coveted awards in North American architecture. In 2016 Rael San Fratello was also awarded the Digital Practice Award of Excellence by the The Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA).

Ioanna Sotiriou

Ioanna Sotiriou is a graduate student of Studio One “Drawing Science – Drawing Fiction”, currently pursuing her Masters in Architecture from the College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley. Standing somewhere in between science fiction narratives and applied knowledge, the leading themes of her academic endeavors revolve around the politics of speculative architecture, emerging technologies and human dynamics. Her Master’s Thesis titled “Elsewhere or The Brief and Peculiar History of the Department of Error” explores the future of Augmented Reality environments, the cultural meaning and value of a glitch and the relationship between Virtuality and Architecture. Her Diploma Thesis titled “Cold Data” merges current death practices with the idea of personal data preservation post-mortem, the future of cemetery design and the evolution of the Architecture of Memory. In 2018, her project “Below 120”, a proposal for a soundless club, was awarded the First Prize and the Vitra Design Museum Award in the “Non Architecture: Dance” Competition.


Note: Over the course of the spring semester, each 2019 ARC Fellows team will submit a short blog post about their project and findings. We hope you will enjoy these short readings! The Fellows Program advances interdisciplinary research in the arts at UC Berkeley by supporting self-nominated pairs of graduate students and faculty members as they pursue semester-long collaborative projects of their own design. To learn more about the program, click here.