WRIGHT ON VR

A Column Exploring New Concepts that Push the Virtual Reality Envelope

 

A glorious virtual city in cyberspace could be “built” from many professional Architects’ favorite unbuilt designs and architectural commissions — an idea elicited for me by a remark of noted American architect Richard Meier (designer of Los Angeles’s Getty Center, among others) in late 1996 on U.S. Public Broadcasting’s Charlie Rose Show concerning his own fond but unrealized designs.

A virtual cybertropolis of the most extraordinary and beautiful buildings designed by the world’s most creative architects — but not (yet) constructed — should be digitally constructed and made available to web travelers, urban design connoisseurs, and potential architecture buyers and clients on the World Wide Web: a constantly growing “Best Of The Unbuilt” cybercity of the world’s most excellent architecture.

I believe many professional architects, in every country, would pay to put their favorite unrealized and unbuilt designs and elevations into what undoubtedly would become an extraordinary (and probably well reported) digital Urb composed entirely of beautiful cutting-edge buildings and structures. This place on the Web would allow them to show their good work to a larger audience and thereby promote themselves and their companies, but most of all to sell these architectural designs and get them constructed in the “real” world of space and stuff.

Architectopolis would be created by digitally pasting architectural drawings — “elevations” — upon wire-frame skeletons of the buildings to be shown, in a manner similar to the way in which the Urban Simulation Team at the UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles) Graduate School of Architecture has created a VR called “Virtual Los Angeles” (about which we say more below).

“Zoning” would be an interesting aspect of Architectopolis. The shapes, colors, and styles of different structures would be grouped by the virtual city’s virtual planning department in ways harmonious and pleasing to the eyes and spirit. The ugly and disconcerting juxtaposition of radically different styles of architectural presence that exist in the world’s real cities would not have to be endured in this beautiful cybercity. No building (like “no man”) is an island, even though some architects and developers (especially of the most crass commercial structures, such as gas stations and fast-food outlets) seem to regard their creations as such.

Futuro-Gothic enclaves would unfold next to, and overlapping with, districts of New Biomorphic architecture, which would be continuous with areas of parks and gardens devoted to extravagant displays of flowering color and vibrant plants and trees. Industrial Architectonics would be found near Postmodern Geometric. Celebrations of Neo-Romantic style would not be blottoed by propinquity to structural expressions of late-20th-century Techno-Corporatism.

Architectopolis likely would be mounted with the same Silicon Graphics software which has been used by the UCLA Graduate School of Architecture’s online “Virtual Los Angeles.” Virtual Los Angeles, according to the Virtual L.A. site, “starts with very accurate engineering data from the city [to create] a global coordinate system; on top of that we lay in aerial photographs that give us the building footprints; we stretch the aerials down on top of a digital terrain model that we create from the city engineering data. The architecture students then go out, walk up and down the streets, photograph every facade of every building; do frame grabs into the computer and use those images to actually build the 3D geometry for each building, and then map the images onto that 3D geometry, making a three-dimensional collage. The software we developed allows us to then walk through this three-dimensional collage/model in real time, just using the mouse.”

Architectopolis, the digital City Beautiful, besides its presence as a unique manifestation of digital and architectural art, and its function as an online profit center for its proprietors, would be an inspiring and useful educational tool for architects, city planners, artists, futurists and visionaries.

Some Further Thoughts –

SKYSCRAPER SOLAR SPIRES
The art of urban design — and the use of solar energy — could be dramatically advanced by using an Architectopolis-like VR of our actual largest cities to depict “Skyscraper Solar Spires”! The basic idea is that high-rise buildings with flat roofs — which most present tall buildings have due to the decades-long popularity of the flat-topped International Style — could enjoy a large increase in roof space and decrease in energy consumption if retrofitted with light- to-medium-weight tall spires, ziggurats, pyramids, domes and other structures designed and constructed to support solar photovoltaic panels, solar-thermal collectors, and fiber-optic solar “daylighting” optics.

These Skyscraper Solar Spires, designed by creative architects, also would aesthetically enhance the appearance of these mid-20th-century “skyrubbers” too! Solar Spire gleaming in the sun of the (hopefully) cleaner skies of the Solar Century about to be born is a stirring vision.

I propose an architectural competition — to occur in the cyberspace of a Virtual Manhattan, Virtual Chicago, Virtual Houston, etc. — to solicit a range of alternative Skyscraper Solar Spires as retrofit design possibilities for most of the highest and largest structures in these cities, to be sponsored by the likes of the American Solar Energy Society [to which I’ve proposed this idea] and the American Institute of Architects, to move this vision toward 21st-century reality.

Construction of the Solar Spires in some cases could include the creation of new public viewing decks atop tall buildings — and even of a new type of rentable-by-night private “Aeries” complete with hot tubs for two and an awesome view for two of the local metropolitan nightscape!

ARCOLOGY
A similar site might be created on which interested architects could design potential portions and modules of visionary Arizona architect Paolo Soleri’s “Arcologies” — tremendous volumetric giant-bush-like supercities and biomorphic large-scale human habitations intended to reclaim major portions of the surface of our planet from techno-sprawl for living Nature. A prototype Arcology has been under construction in the high desert north of Phoenix, Arizona since the early ’70s.

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