Will the Metaverse change what it means to be an architect?

27/12/2022 by Ali Sajwani

Those of you who follow my blog already know my deep level of interest in all things Metaverse. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the actual virtual space that it will occupy and how new roles could be created within this computer-generated sphere. But on the opposite end of this lies another question: how many of our existing roles can be adapted to work in the Metaverse?

One interesting example of this is the field of architecture. In some ways, architects already possess the perfect skill set to work in a virtual space based on their ability to utilise 2D and 3D modelling tools in their everyday work. But will the virtual world change its role?

Virtual real estate

Recent trends and advances in the Metaverse have seen virtual real estate spaces not only come into existence but rise in popularity, with forecasts predicting a compound annual growth rate of more than 31% in the sector between 2022 and 2028. ‘Landscapes’ such as Decentraland or The Sandbox offer users the opportunity to buy virtual plots upon which they can develop their properties. Such spaces have already witnessed many high-profile celebrities and businesses snapping up their share as early pioneers of the trend and establishing their presence within this emerging sphere.

If virtual plots continue to sell, then surely architects will be needed to develop desirable and successful buildings to populate this new environment. What’s more, just like in the real-world property market, the most innovative and aesthetically pleasing designs will maximise financial returns for investors looking to sell further down the line. Time to call in an architect?

The potential

If I were an architect, I think the prospect of creating a whole new world – albeit virtual – would be immensely exciting. Yes, some members of the Metaverse community want to replicate real-world structures on another plane, but there are exciting opportunities that can arise from this too.

Digital twins of real-world structures can be used to exponentially increase the capacity of their counterpart stores, concert halls, or stadia, allowing greater access for shoppers, ‘culture vultures,’ and sports fans to experience an event first-hand without leaving their homes. Moreover, an architect’s client can take a tour of a proposed building before it is even constructed.

On the other hand, the physical constraints of the real world do not exist within the Metaverse, and, for me, this leads to the most tantalising element of VR property design: limitless possibility. In the virtual world, architecture will likely become more akin to digital artistry. We will see an incredible new era in the design of communities where the normal rules that govern the way that buildings and spaces operate needn’t and won’t apply. This newfound freedom will allow architects to use their imagination to think creatively to generate new concepts and structures that function entirely differently from traditional spaces and could even contain fantastical elements.

Of course, new ways of working will require a shift in mindset, and architects who adapt to this new way of thinking are sure to thrive rather than merely survive amidst the market changes that are undoubtedly coming their way.

Back to reality (for now, at least)

Those of us who live in Dubai are blessed to live in a city where architecture comes to the forefront – I’m thinking of the Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab, and the Museum of the Future, to name a few. Our unique and futuristic skyline is a prime example of what creative and skilled architects can achieve, even in the face of real-world constraints. The seemingly impossible feat of constructing the world’s tallest building in the middle of the desert was something we realised more than 12 years ago; just imagine what we could create in a world where the normal rules of space, perspective and gravity do not apply.

I think the challenge – and the opportunity – here is that the very openness of the Metaverse means that any of us can be an architect, designing our buildings and creating worlds within worlds, perhaps pushing the boundaries of imagination. As such, it would be good to see professional architects bring some order to the potential chaos.

To shore up its future, architecture as a profession must now move quickly to ensure that skills are transferable to the digital realm and expertise is valued in the ‘anything-goes’ landscape of the Metaverse. Architectural training should incorporate elements of Metaverse design, and those already qualified should look to upskill through tech-focused courses and qualifications.

In this new era, we are all architects. Whether this heralds exciting new ideas or design chaos remains to be seen.

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