beyond virtualization

virtual reality, collective intelligence and post-capitalism

Master's Thesis
Supervisors : Christian Girard, Mario Carpo

Beyond Virtualization aims to consider the social and political impacts of the democratization of virtual and augmented reality technologies, as well as their repercussion on architecture and the design process. A particular importance is given to the transformation of social and cognitive modes of organization.

New technologies are often presented as salutary and emancipatory, before being progressively absorbed by governments or corporations as tools of control, exploitation or value creation. However, the development of Internet in the 1990s stimulated the emergence of new distributed organization models, the democratization of production and distribution tools, as well as the exchange of knowledge and information. In order to assimilate, reinterpret or orient these technologies towards a collective vision, it is crucial to understand their functioning, their implications and their limits. Virtual immersion, praised and forgotten in the 1990s, recently witnessed a renewed optimism following the public launch of Head-Mounted Displays (HMD) in 2016. Following a brief presentation of virtual reality technologies and their relevance in architecture, the paper then considers their capacity to transform human intellect and environmental perception. In the second part, it focuses on the implications of virtual reality regarding architectural practice and radical politics, and questions the possibility to orient its use to facilitate the development of alternative models founded in collaboration and collective intelligence.

Virtual reality, as a representational tool and communication technology, is nothing more than an additional interface allowing us to explore the virtual at large - a concept predating any digital technology. Of particular interest to architecture is the ability to experiment with the notion of space : its perception, its design, its representation, its discontinuity, its temporality or the way it relates to the body. The involvement of the body makes virtual reality a multi-sensory interface, offering new ways to apprehend information and immaterial entities, temporarily distancing itself from reality to better understand it. However, the manipulation and reinterpretation of the psychological, cognitive, identitary, social and bodily notions which make its strength raise some serious ethical considerations, and foresee the possibility of a complete alienation to virtual delights.

Inspecting its use in arts inform us on its ability to foster collaboration - a crucial component of architectural design, as well as on the stirring complexity resulting from an interconnection between physical and virtual spaces. By offering the ability to navigate across different layers of reality, virtual reality technologies radically change how we relate to the built environment - and thus the role of the architect. While the consideration of Internet evolved from a technical tool to the constitutive technology of a new socio-political context, it would seem incomplete to consider virtual reality for what it is without considering the way it relates to society and the changes brought by its widespread adoption. The social, economical and political context in which it evolves is altered by virtual reality, as much as it influences its development. This research paper aims to consider how virtual reality can promote the elaboration and implementation of alternative models to an entrenched system, founded on collective organization, resource sharing, interdependence and collaboration by its potential to augment our intellectual abilities and deepen our understanding of complex systems. Ultimately, it considers virtual reality as a tool for experimentation, questioning the values we stand for and the very notions of mankind and identity. It attempts to draw development strategies for a responsible and aware use of virtual reality, in order to make the most out of it while limiting its use to ends of control and value creation.

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Publications :

︎︎︎Virtual Dream Center, edited by Jean-Baptiste Lenglet and Jessica Boubetra. Web, March 2018.

Credits : 

Cover background by Luka Lavrenci