Student Kleo Guthrie from our Melbourne studio talks about how world-building can be used as a tool for architecture to experience and engage deeply with all aspects of a site.
World-building is the imaginative process of constructing the visual and atmospheric foundation of a virtual realm. When we think about world-building we might normally think of a book or a video game and the immersive environment it transports us to. But could world-building also be a tool for architecture?
Last semester I took a studio called ‘The Map and the Territory’ at the University of Melbourne with Ben Waters. The studio had a strong focus on the expanded notion of site and the tools we use to holistically understand and represent tangible and intangible qualities of an environment.
Melbourne’s Western Plains, the site selected for the studio, represents a hybridised territory, shaped by the intersection of civil engineering efforts, land management and pressures of urbanisation.
This complex and contested site warranted detailed interrogation for the purposes of creating a hyper real interpretation, a world that can be ‘experienced’.
A survey of the site, including investigations of cultural and historic context informed the construction of virtual worlds using an advanced game programming tool called Unreal Engine. These simulated landscapes became the setting for our projects, facilitating immersive, visually authentic representations of our design propositions.
There would be few who disagree that a robust site analysis process is the beginning of any good design. This is not groundbreaking. But building up a site as a world using Unreal Engine allows site conditions to manifest within the model space.
Beyond functioning as a tool for representation, the model has the ability to become an extension of site analysis where the physical and nonphysical aspects of site can be translated into a simulated world.
By allowing the existing conditions to take precedence within the virtual realm, the context becomes more than just a backdrop for a design project and instead a virtual environment which the “players” can occupy. The benefit of using a gaming engine in this way is that the model becomes something that is experienced rather than a mere representation.
It can be tempting, and in practice, often necessary to synthesise data and over simplify site in order to communicate an idea. But this reductive process is not true to the complexity of place.
World-building is a way to experience and engage deeply with all aspects of site and develop designs that are sensitive and responsive to place through space and time.