virtual architecture

  marcos novak
transarchitectures and the transmodern

One: After a century of surprises, architecture faces the greatest surprise of all: the development of an unprecedented form of urban and architectural digital space, a global, non-physical public space, place after territory. Even though the infrastructure for this non-local public domain is already well under construction, it has yet to receive the attention of an informed and critical architectural discourse. Still, even without architects, numerous multi-user virtual environments already exist, with populations in the thousands. The population of Alphaworld alone is already over 200,000. Where are the architects?

Two: Digital virtuality is not limited to cyberspace, however. Enabled by the ubiquity of computation, implemented as an electronic vernacular of cell phones, fiberoptics and satellites, and empowered by production techniques and processes that allow unprecedented invention of form and matter, virtuality forms a new zeitgeist that has manifestations in every aspect of our existence. Not only have we created a new virtual public space for architecture, we have also altered the ways in which we inhabit actual space: the spatial and temporal terms by which we work, play, learn, and live are all increasingly intelligent, non-contiguous and non-retinal, and existing in electronically mediated non-Euclidean multidimensional curved spacetimes that overlap our familiar Euclidean reality.

Three: Concurrently, the ways in which we conceive, preview, model, and fabricate actual buildings have also mutated. The plan is dead. Representation has been temporalized and operationalized as interface for dynamic simulations. The computer model has become both description and instruction for rapid prototyping and robotic construction of complex form.

These three aspects, new virtual space, radically altered intelligent physical spacetime, and new ways of conceiving and manufacturing built form must be conjoined into a single, expanded notion of architecture. At the threshold to a new millennium, as informational and material, virtual and actual, possible and real become increasingly intertwined, we need to take pause and articulate new projects for new architectures: transarchitectures.

Materially, an architecture of our times is one that is conceived algorithmically, prototyped rapidly, fabricated robotically; it is an architecture that is inherently intelligent and interactive, where space is attentive and time is smart; it is an architecture that is open to global telepresence, achieving closure only by extensions to remote sites.

Informationally, an architecture of our times is likewise conceived algorithmically, executed computationally, and inhabited interactively; it is likewise an architecture of watchful virtual space and astute sampled time. More than this, virtual space is characterized by three intrinsic features: inherent non-locality and multiplicity, a fundamental shift from an Albertian fixed viewpoint to a condition of interactive presence, and a radical variability of elective or fictional physics.

The fundamental discipline of computational virtuality involves the replacement of all constants with variables. Topology, defined as the study of those relationships that are invariant under transformations and deformations, is challenged by computation. The encounter of computation and topology produces a new conceptual entity: the notion of 'variable topology'. This apparent self-contradiction, is resolved on a higher, 'meta-' level. Variable topology, like liquid architecture and artificial life, is a condition in which invariance is not of form but of generative principle or algorithmic meta-form. Discrete or continuous, conditional or stochastic, variable topology provides useful characterizations of Deleuzean smooth space without requiring a mortifying loss of nomadic freedom.

Transarchitecture is a mutlithreaded, multitasking architecture that weaves the informational and the material, the virtual and the actual, the possible and the real. Rooted in notions of metamorphosis, the prefix 'trans~' signifies a condition of change that, though growing out of familiar sources, soon reaches an identity separate from those sources. The 'transdisciplinary' differs from the 'interdisciplinary' or the 'multidisciplinary' in that it reaches outside the purview of previous definitions, into previously unrecognized areas of inquiry. While Paul Virilio's lucid term 'stereo-reality' makes clear the stereoscopic effect of the doubling of the real by the virtual, I think the term 'transreal' explains the fundamentally alien character of the reality that emerges from that stereopsis, and points directly to the overarching project of the transmodern.